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32nd Sunday OT. What’s in Your Barn?

JMJ

Today’s readings refer to the plight of two widows. In the Old Testament story, Elijah visits with a single mother who has lost her husband. The prophet enjoys some hospitality but the woman laments that the cupboard is bare and after serving him she fears that she and her son will die.
Elijah offers some encouragement, reassures her, and tells her to trust in the Lord. She does, and the flour and the oil never run out.
In the gospel, Jesus is in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem. They didn’t pass the basket back then, and they didn’t have on-line giving, but there were treasuries, that is 13 ornate boxes that were shaped like trumpets there in the Courtyard of the Women. It’s where the people dropped in their required temple tax or a voluntary gift.
Jesus merely points out that the widow gives all of what little she has. He contrasts that to the generous, wealthier folks who, while making large donations, are only giving from their surplus. The widow you could say, gives her first fruits, the others give left overs.

I was first introduced to the tragedy and the fallout of widowhood when I was about ten years old. My uncle John died unexpectedly of a heart attack, at age 39. He had returned from the war, become a car mechanic, in Jackson, at Vandercook Lake. He and his wife Catherine, lived in a mobile home. They had six children. Life was a struggle.
I remember bits and pieces of the funeral. Mostly the wailing of my grandma, and my aunts. Including my mom. It left a lasting impression.
But I also remember the days that followed. Aunt Catherine didn’t cope very well. Who could blame her? She initially wanted to give the children up for adoption by the relatives, including us. The families said that they could each take one, or perhaps two, but they couldn’t afford to take them all. They were, after all, raising their own families.
Well, Auntie wanted to keep the kids together and was angered at the lack of help, and so, sadly, she disowned us. She distanced herself from us all.
The American Legion built them a house and she returned to her profession of nursing. Some years later when her kids missed their cousins, there was something of a reunion, a reconciliation and healing. But much damage had been done and her family had become dysfunctional.
Now Aunt Catherine had kind of prickly personality to begin with. She was sarcastic, cynical, and seemed generally unhappy. You see, she came from a pretty dysfunctional family herself. She was an only child, her father was a widower, and an alcoholic, and so in many respects, she had the cards stacked against her from an early age.
In the end she came around. She had regained her faith and became quite devout. She attended my ordination, and a few years later, in 2003, I officiated at her funeral.
Kind of nervously, I asked if anyone wanted to “say a few words” about their mom. There were no takers. I breathed a sigh of relief. But just as we were about to leave the church, there in the vestibule, one of the daughters stepped forward and asked if she could say something. I held my breath.
She acknowledged that there had been many problems along the way with mom and the way she did things. But, she forgave her, and extended an olive branch to all of her siblings who had been so deeply affected by the fallout of widowhood.
There are a few things I think we can learn from today’s readings. First off, with that first reading, I think that there is the example of the special love God has for those who suffer. And widowhood is certainly an example of great suffering. The prophet, acting on behalf of God, helps her out with simple encouragement. God helps her out miraculously, by subtly and quietly restocking her shelves.
We are, of course, called upon to be Elijahs’ for those in need. The widows and widowers, the lonely, the marginalized, the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the poor, the outcast. I think we do a pretty good job here at Holy Spirit parish through groups like the St. Vincent DePaul Society. They go to people’s houses and meet them face to face to assess their needs. They come back with some pretty heart-wrenching stories.
The rest of us here are typically very generous when we get asked to help, and not only them but many other causes as well. This weekend, for instance, we have the Annual Loaves and Fishes Appeal of the Livingston County Catholic Social Services.

The second dimension of today’s readings has to do with generosity. Now the first reading had to do with the woman having to be encouraged by the prophet to …..trust in God, perhaps even to be joyful in stepping out in faith. Her faith was rewarded. She and her son survived.
The widow of the gospel was apparently already convinced of the promise of God. She gave, and from her want. It must have been hard but she was actually following the admonition, or better yet, the invitation, of the ancient scriptures.
In the Book of The Prophet Malachi, God accused his people of robbing him. They asked, “how can one rob God? He responded by saying “In tithes and offerings”. And he said further, “test me in this. Give me the tithe and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven and pour down blessing upon you without measure.”
This has its parallel in the New Testament when Jesus said in Luke, “…..give, and it will be given to you , pressed down, shaken together, and flowing over, will they pour into your lap. By what you measure, it will be measured unto you.”
Now, all priests have to deal with financial issues from time to time. And they can deal with them in different ways. My friend Fr. Tim Nelson is the pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Jackson. A large, classic, old style church in the downtown area. Smaller families, lower mass attendance, flite to the suburbs. Combined with ever-increasing expenses, and costly repairs needed on older buildings, this all comes together to provide the setting for a financial crisis. Fr. Tim told me that he was going to approach the parishioners from the tithing perspective.
This usually means donating 10% of one’s income. 5% for maintaining the church and 5% for other causes outside the church, including the community. It was a hard sell for old-school Catholics. But Fr. Tim made a promise not unlike God’s promise in Malachi. Fr. Tim said,“Test me in this, and if God does not honor his ancient promise, I will give you your tithe back.”
So this is the pastor is stepping out in faith, and trusting in God’s promise, encouraging his flock to do the same. It was a virtual money-back guarantee.
Maybe I can report back to you soon on how well they did.
But the secondary message that I think that comes out of that gospel story has to do with the wealthy donors. Their donation may have been sizable but it really didn’t hurt very much. Again, they gave out of their surplus.
If there is anyone here who has a great surplus, and is looking for some ideas on how to spend it, let me share a few ideas.
We need new windows. You can actually see gaps to the outside in some places.
The refugees from Syria continue to suffer and the winter is coming on quickly.
Our furnaces are 30 years old and not very efficient. Mr. Santoni, our furnace man was unable to repair one of our old ones, so he donated a new and efficient one. Thanks Mark. ( Selective Heating and Cooling)
We could support the Catholic Chaplains of the Military Archdiocese of the United States. Our military chaplains kinda get forgotten. Maybe you could send a donation in honor of Veterans Day. This Wednesday.
In addition to all of this, The Humane Society takes care of injured cats. PBS provides programming which most watch for free, and, and, and.
Yes, I know giving is a challenging idea. And tithing has been a particularly controversial approach for Catholics, but I think more and more of the faithful are taking a closer look. But I can tell you this, if every Catholic trusted the Lord’s promise and gave a tithe, the financial problems of any Catholic Church would be over and done with.
Yes, give it a shot. As Malachi reported, go ahead, put God to the test,. And see if He actually opens those floodgates.

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