They like to parade around
St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars in France, achieved such note as a spiritual leader in the first half of the nineteenth century that many worthy but unwise people wanted to honor him in some way. Their efforts brought the saint not pleasure but agony.
His own bishop was the first to try. Bishop Chalandon, newly installed in the Diocese of Belley, called at Ars one day while the Cure was hearing Confessions. St. John broke away from the Confessional to receive his superior. After a little speech, the Bishop took out a hidden mozzetta (a silk shoulder cape trimmed with ermine) and put it on the priest’s shoulders. This was the garb of an honorary diocesan canon – something like the honor of Vatican Monsignor bestowed by the popes. The poor pastor was most embarrassed, and almost in tears. When the bishop left, Vianney quickly sold the mozzetta for fifty francs which he gave to the poor.
Sometime later, the Marquis de Castellane, civil official of the Ars district proposed that Emperor Napoleon III bestow on Father Vianney the cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor. “Is there a pension attached to that cross?” the priest asked when he was informed. “Does it mean money for my poor?” “no”, he was told, “it is just a distinciton. So the Cure asked the Emperor’s messenger to please tell his Imperial Majesty that he did not want the decoration.
Of course, the Emperor conferred it anyhow. When St. John’s friends now urged him to have his portrait painted wearing the mozzetta of canon and the cross of the Legion, he brushed their request aside with a laugh. “I advise you to paint me with my mozzetta and cross of honor, and to write underneath: “Nothingness, pride! ”
St. John Vianney, you see, was familiar with Jesus’ criticism of those Pharisees “who like to parade around in their robes and accept marks of respect in public.” (Mark 12:38 Today’s Gospel). And saint that he was, he particularly remembered Jesus’ criticism of those hypocrites who “preferred the praise of men to the glory of God.” The only reward that the good Cure wanted was a place in Heaven.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q397: Isn’t it cruel of Elijah to ask the poor pagan widow of Zarephath for her last bit of bread (1 Kgs 17:10-16), when she has no other source of food or money?
What the reading selection doesn’t tell you is that just one verse before (17:9), God had directed Elijah to go to Zarephath, a pagan town just north of Israel’s boundaries. In fact, God had “arranged” for a widow to provide for his needs in that town. So this is a twofold story of trust: first in the power of God’s word to provide for our needs, and also trust in the power of God outside of Israel.
At the time this is written (by an author called the Deuteronomist), the Israelites are in exile in Babylon, wondering if their God Yahweh has any power outside of Israel. After all, they are a defeated people “imprisoned” right in the pagan capital of the world, surrounded by images of pagan gods. The author retells the story of the Prophet Elijah who was sent by God to a pagan widow in another pagan area that was suffering from a severe drought. Elijah asks the widow to trust in the word of the Lord Yahweh. Because she believes in God’s word through the prophet, the power and providence of God is demonstrated. The pagan widow’s needs for flour and oil are taken care of abundantly for one year.
This memory of Elijah in pagan territory would give great hope and consolation to the exiles in Babylon. Just so, we too should have great trust in God’s word, no matter how dire our circumstances. God cares for us; God loves us; and somehow He is present with us in every situation we face in our various life settings. We are called to simple trust, knowing that God is faithful in all of his promises.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The prophet Elijah taught the widow to believe in the Word of God (CCC #2583). We must abandon ourselves in full trust of our God of Truth (CCC #215). That is true faith: the conviction of things not yet seen (CCC #146).
Q553: Why would a widow in poverty give away her last remaining coins to the Temple (Mark 12:38-44)? Isn’t that rather short-sighted?
Our “efficiency” side usually comes up with questions like that. But to be honest, isn’t that kind of question something we would expect from Judas, the keeper of the purse? Jesus is not looking at this scene from the viewpoint of a bookkeeper. Instead he is looking at the hearts of the people involved. There is a huge difference between the humble gift of Self and the self-serving donations of greedy hypocrites (such as the Scribes that Jesus was describing).
Seeing that poor widow, Jesus must have been reminded of his own mother, who was also a widow by that time. Mary did not hold anything back, but gave her whole Self to God, including her will – especially when she gave her unconditional “Yes” at the Incarnation. Her whole life was a donation to God! She gave her only son to the Father, presenting him in the Temple after his birth. She gave him to the world, for the world’s redemption at Calvary.
Compare your own “donation” to that of the two widows in today’s readings, and also that of Mary. What have you given fully to Jesus? Were there strings attached? Can you become a ‘widow,’ trusting fully in God’s providence? What are your priorities?
I am tempted to point to certain political folks on the national scene and suggest what their motivations might be, based on what they give (or take) in serving their constituents; but I will resist the urge. Jesus has made the point very clear. This gospel teaching is all about the interior motivations that guide our actions or inactions. The warning from Jesus is about the severity of the condemnation for those who make hypocritical choices.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Church’s love for the poor is modeled on Jesus’ love, and is a part of her constant tradition. It extends not only to material poverty, but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty (CCC #2444). On the last day, our attitudes about our neighbor will reveal our acceptance or refusal of divine grace and love (CCC #678).
Blessed Are Those Who Give
The readings today focus on those who have little but give much. The Widow of Zarepath had almost no food but she shared what she had with Elijah. The widow in the temple had only a pittance but gave it all. There are times when we have to give everything, little though it be, and this may change our lives, as in the complete mutual self-giving of husband and wife. Jesus on the Cross gave his all. In baptism we form one mystical body with him and so we perform our good actions, little though they be, in union with his total self-offering on the cross. Thus our insignificant acts and silent prayers become part of his eternal offering. There is no other way to eternal life and happiness than to give all we are worth, all that we have.
Lord Jesus, your keep faith forever. All that we are and all that we have is your gift to us. May we live with your compassion and be transformed into your likeness. Fill our hearts with your love so that our day may be spent in giving to all those around us.