The widow’s mite

The poor widow in today's Gospel reading probably never imagined that her contribution to the temple treasury (sort of like an ongoing building fund) that she thought was private would be noticed by Christ and recounted for generations of Christians. Her private fidelity and generosity are in contrast with the public display of religiousness by the Pharisees.

She gave what she could. Widows in those days had to be self-supporting or become beggars. There was no Social Security, no welfare programs and no Meals On Wheels. A poor widow was very much on her own. Still, she gave as she could to support the temple.

Her example can lead us to examine our priorities. The clearest evidence of our priorities is the stubs in our checkbook. They tell the story of what things are important to us and whether the support of the church is one of them.

There was a moment in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament when the people had taken possession of the Promised Land. Joshua is approaching the end of his life and mission. He repeats the story of God's providence toward the people of Israel. Events that he witnessed were only stories from their elders for this young generation of Israelites. The Lord says through Joshua, "I gave you a land which you had not tilled and cities which you had not built, to dwell in; you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant." (Jo 24:13)

We have received benefits from generations before us. We have inherited a mighty institutional structure for the church. We have inherited churches, schools, hospitals, retreat houses and an array of diverse social programs. All of these Catholic institutions were built from the generosity of people like that poor widow.

What are we handing on to the next generation? Are we handing on schools that are equipped? Are we handing on parishes that are solvent? Are we handing on social services that support the variety of human needs in the name of Jesus? Or are we simply consumers of what has been left to us without any enhancement on our part and no serious provision for the future? Are we "eating of vineyards and olive groves" that we did not plant and are not planting for the future?

Pope Francis asked a similar question in his recent encyclical "Laudato Si'." He spoke about our common home - the earth. What are we doing with the water we drink, the air we breathe, the nature that surrounds and heals us in body and in spirit? What are we doing with the gift of life that is so precious? What are we leaving to the next generation?

We all have benefited from the generosity of people like that poor widow. We all have received "the jug of water and the cake of flour" from someone like the other widow in today's first reading.

Of course, we know that the church is more than its buildings and structures. That is true. But the structures and buildings we have are the framework on which the Body of Christ, which is the church, grows, expands and lives, like the trellises of a vineyard.

Today's Gospel calls us not to simply admire that poor widow but to imitate her as best we can. She supported the temple; we are called to support the church. She gave what she could; we are called to give what we can. She is an example from the past; we are providers for the future. She was noticed by Jesus; we will be remembered by the Lord.

The future of our church is not in the stars. It is in our faith and our generosity.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015