Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Taste of Winter

Weston was graced with about an inch of snow on Wednesday AM.  One man said he had four inches in nearby Waltham.  Nonetheless, it was pretty to look at for a few hours.  The air had the unmistakeable feel of winter.  Though my aversion to driving in the snow is complete I am looking forward to winter and the kind of temperatures associated with New England in November and December.  February will prove to be something else entirely.

In a surprising fit of discipline I got the homily done by mid-afternoon, before the Penn State-Nebraska game.

First the homily for the 10:30 AM Mass tomorrow and then some photos.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
11 November 2012
1 Kgs 17:10-16
Ps 146
Heb 9:24-28
Mk 12:38-44

In a nice thematic trifecta there is a common thread running through the two readings and the Gospel.  That theme is: total self-donation.  The second reading from Hebrew's reiterates Jesus' sacrifice.  A sacrifice He made exclusively for our sake.  The depth of that sacrifice, a sacrifice of blood, is almost impossible to comprehend, but there is precedence, or at least an early hint, in the Old Testament.

The importance and significance of blood as a means of sacrifice in Ancient Israel cannot be overstated. The Old Testament frequently details the sprinkling of blood that was a necessary part of atonement.  The Hebrew community addressed in this reading would have been familiar with the ritual shedding of blood for the atonement of sins.

In today's reading, the writer contrasts the definitive shedding of Jesus’ blood with the necessarily repeated rituals of the old covenant.  The uniqueness of Jesus’ shedding of His blood was that it was once and for all.  It would never be repeated. The need to ritually and repeatedly shed an animal’s blood was mitigated in Jesus' unrepeatable act.  Jesus made a total self-donation of His body and His blood.  And in that self-donation He freed us from sin and death.

What is total self-donation?  Every Jesuit made (and makes) that act when, midway through his vow formula, after promising perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience, he said, either in Latin or his native tongue:  

"I promise that I will enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever"

Jesuits have a lot in common with the widows who figure prominently in the today's readings.  That commonality has less to do with finances than it does with total self-donation, with throwing oneself on God’s mercy in complete trust.  The vow formula again:   

"Therefore, by your boundless goodness and mercy, and through the blood of Jesus Christ, I humbly ask that you judge this total commitment of myself acceptable.  And as you have freely given me the desire to make this offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it."

The setting of the first reading  was a drought.  Stores of wheat were running low.  The olive trees were not producing and thus no oil. 

There are few things worse than anticipating death through starvation.   One of the things that is worse is a mother realizing that she and her child will die of hunger.  Yet, in her generosity and faith the woman acquiesced to Elijah’s request for a small cake.  She acquiesced on the basis of his promise that “the jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”  By sharing all that she had remaining with this itinerant exiled prophet the widow provided for herself and her son in ways that she never could have imagined. 

The Gospel narrative about the widow is placed in direct contrast to that of the scribes who, despite outward shows of piety and prayer, foreclosed on the homes of widows leaving them even more destitute than they already were through their lack of social status and inheritance. 

There are many modern versions of these scribes.  They are schemers and manipulators who feast on the paltry holdings of the poor.  Those who gleefully engage in elder abuse, be they telephone solicitors or the children who convince mom to sign over the house.  Sometimes these modern day scribes do the perp walk.  Other times they bask in their profit. 

Commentators vary in their interpretations of the widow's actions.  One notes the widow’s generosity but then wonders, “Is she generous to a fault?  Does Jesus really approve of her action or is he critiquing established religion that manipulated her to give what she couldn’t afford?  Is Jesus romanticizing the poor such that this Gospel can be used by the prosperous to keep the poor in that condition?"  I don’t think so.  Indeed it is a bizarrely concrete interpretation.

"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."  However, the woman’s poverty was determined not by her meager copper coins but by her status as a widow. 

In the Ancient Near East widow’s had no power or social standing.  They could not inherit or own land.  They were entirely dependent on male relatives, particularly their sons, and the kindness of neighbors and friends for support.  The two coins in her hand were most likely all she had. And they amounted to nothing. The little she had wasn’t going to move her from social dependence to financial independence.  With the coins or without them the widow was still destitute.  She was dependent on society for material things.  More importantly she was totally dependent on the grace of God. In this case however, she was rich in God's mercy. The widow made a total donation of self.  She no longer depended on her own resources, as meager as they were, but on God’s providence. 

When, in a few minutes, we say “Thy will be done” can we do so without caveat or exception?  Can we throw ourselves on God's mercy without adding a footnote as to what we want that will to be? If so we will stand with the widow and rejoice in the same grace.

The first photo is the view from my office earlier in the week.  The dust on the window is functioning like a lens filter.

A few moments later I took this in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.  

Then came the snow.
The chrysanthemums before. 

The chrysanthemums after. 
The roses didn't do much better. 

This was the scene at the fountain in front of the Pierce Pavilion.

And finally a detail of the fountain.  Love the ability to change color into high contrast black and white at the touch of a button. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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