The Widow's Mite, engraved after a painting by W.Artaud, published in <i>The Pictorial History of the Bible,</i> 1834

Fr Neil’s homily for Trinity XXIII, 7 November 2021

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.¹

Every time we come together to celebrate the mass we bear witness to the one eternal sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of fallen humanity. His total, triumphant self-giving for the sins of the world has burst open the gate of Sheol for all who have longed for salvation.

Christ’s sacrifice is eternal, not repeated, for — having made the perfect offering of himself — sin and death are defeated and the way to healing and wholeness is made available to all.

This path to eternal life requires of us trust, faith and obedience. These virtues are illustrated well by the two widows in our Old Testament and Gospel readings. Indeed, it is often the women who lead the way. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the perfect model of what it is to be a Christian and she embodies the future destiny of the Church.

I wonder how anonymous these two widows were to the vast majority of people? But they weren’t to Elijah or Christ. Christ points out the widow’s mite given to the temple offering and the true act of faith. Her trust in God was total as she gave all that she had, believing that God’s generosity would come back to her in great blessing even though she didn’t know where or how. How easy it is for us to give a bit from the abundance we have, be it self, time or resources — but who of us trust enough to put it all at God’s disposal?

This month we are remembering the dead and are reminded of our own mortality. We are made aware that the physical, material world on which we often build so much security will be stripped from us. It will be no use to us in death. Death is a great leveller and reveals what we have built our hope and trust upon. In that simple offering the widow of the Gospel revealed that her hope was placed upon God alone. If the world had taken the time to notice her, it might have judged her actions as foolish. Yet what the world did not see, nor would have understood, God sees and honours. The widow is forever remembered because of her abundant act of self-giving in faith and thanksgiving to God: the God who has emptied himself and given everything.

The widow in the great famine of Elijah’s time had nothing but a final meal for herself and her son before facing death. She would have had every right to turn down the prophet’s request that she use her last meal to feed him. It has to be remembered that this widow wasn’t even a Jew but upon hearing the word of God spoken by the prophet and the promise that death would not be the final outcome, she puts the last resources she has a God’s disposal. This act of faithful obedience leads to an abundance of blessings for her and her son.

Faithful obedience is often a stumbling-block for many of us. To often we have related the call to obedience with the mindset of fearful, slavish obedience. The result is often resentment and rebellion. We can find ourselves viewing the teachings of the Church, especially its moral theology, as being a set of arbitrary rules put together by out-of-touch, crusty old men in the corridors of the Vatican. Sadly this is illustrated by the discovery that 56% of lay Catholics in America² and 61% in Britain³ think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

We desperately need to recover the understanding that the word of God, and its teaching kept safe in the Church, always seeks to point us to the way that leads to life. On a safari, guides are given to lead the visitors via secure paths to enable them to see the wonder of the wildlife in a manner that keeps them safe. If a tourist decides to ignore the guides’ advice and wanders from the safe pathway, he is in danger of being eaten or maimed by the wild animals he has come to see. We might indeed believe him to be foolish. There are guides in the Church who seek to call the faithful who have wandered from the path of life in Christ: how extraordinary it is that they are so often accused of being compassionless, rigid, and legalistic. What is the more loving thing to do, to call the lost back to life or just shrug our shoulders and let people wander off without any warning at all?

In an act of faith and obedience, both widows had to give up and let go of what little they had in this life to be able to receive the blessings of God’s eternal graces. We are called to do the same, but this act of self-surrender isn’t easy. Throughout our walk of discipleship with Christ there will be times that require our need for healing of old wounds, for letting go of false securities and facing some difficult challenges that demand changes in our lifestyle.

This dying to self is the way of the Cross, and helps illuminate the call to take up our own cross daily and follow Christ. It is, however difficult at times, the way to life in the Easter joy of the Resurrection. Indeed it gives us a profound gift when we physically die, and all material things are stripped from us, that reveals a faith and hope in God which is the desire and longing of our hearts⁴. It is this gift, his rod and staff, that leads us even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death⁵, that provides a secure way of navigating death into communion with the saints in heavenly glory.

¹ Hebrews 9:28
² Pew Research
³ NatCen Social Research
⁴ Cf Psalm 84:2
⁵ Cf Psalm 23