Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College
Thursday of Ninth Week of OT, Year I
June 5, 1999
Tobit 12; Mk 12:38-44
Today’s Gospel is more than about money. The old widow is more than a poster-girl for the grand annual collection. Rather, she’s a model of discipleship singled out by Jesus for her overwhelming generosity in response to God. As we see, she gave all she had to God.
Such scenes like the one in the Gospel have been played out countless times in Church history. In the early 1800s at Le Grand Seminaire in Lyons, France, there was a similar scene. After the virulently anti-Catholic pogroms of the French Revolution, the seminary was thriving again with numbers. There was no shortage of seminarians, priests and prelates who, like some today, would parade around in their ecclesiastical vestures, accept marks of respect in public, front seats in the churches and places of honor at banquets. There was also no shortage of extraordinarily talented seminarians, who were offering their sizable amounts of intelligence, gifts and strength to God and his Church. Many of them in fact went on to be bishops. But Jesus meanwhile was pulling the saints aside in heaven and telling them to watch the poor, dim-witted, emaciated farm boy from Dardilly named Jean-Marie, who came in and laid all he had, which wasn’t much by worldly standards, in front of the altar.
Such a scene happened as well in Palestine two millennia ago. When Jesus was choosing his first apostles, he did not select, curiously enough, the most intelligent men he could find, the bravest, the toughest, the holiest, the most impressive candidates. He chose a bunch of simple, heavily-accented fishermen, a despised tax-collector, a zealot, a traitor and a few other relative nobodies in Galilee. He chose them for one reason: because, with the exception of Judas, they were willing to give everything they had to the proclamation of the Gospel, even their very lives in gruesome martyrdoms. Jesus wasn’t trying to put together a faculty. He wasn’t trying to put together a board of directors for a new enterprise. He was trying to build His Church. He chose those to whom God had given only pennies’ worth of talent in the eyes of the world, but those pennies were the ones that built His Church.
Still today we live in a world and in a Church that will tell us often how generous we are in entering the seminary and following God’s call. In a world that will indirectly compliment us by saying how much of a “waste” it is for guys as talented as we are, as capable, and in some cases as handsome, to “give it all up” to enter the seminary. Too often statements like that can make us to begin to believe that we’re doing just fine on the generosity index, because like those wealthy contributors in the Gospel, we’ve already put in sizable amounts. But too often we’re giving merely from our surplus wealth. Sure, we keep the commandments like the Rich Young Man, even add to them the minimal expectations the Church has for her seminarians and priests, but too often we buckle like the Rich Young Man before the appropriation of the evangelical counsels, which we can rationalize as not part of diocesan priestly “spirituality.” We can sit confortable and contented in our cozy air-conditioned rectories, while God would love to be doing so much more with us. Meanwhile most of the work of the salvation of souls is being done by the small percentage of us who really do give *everything* to God and thereby allow God to do great things through them, whether it be a simple Albanian farm girl named Agnes Bojaxhiu, or a super-talented Pole nicknamed Lolek.
I finish with an image from St. Peter’s Basilica. Standing directly opposite the entrance to the sacristy is a mosaic of Sapphira’s being struck dead in front of Peter. You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira: they sold their property and pretended to lay all of the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, but they kept something back for themselves. Peter accused them of lying to the Holy Spirit and then they were both struck dead. Of all places in St. Peter’s Basilica, why was this placed opposite the sacristy? Because the Church wanted every priest processing out to celebrate Mass to look up and see Sapphira — dead — in order to help him examine his conscience and his resolution before Mass. The Church is reminding each priest that he promised publicly that he had left Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Wife, Home, Career, everything, and supposedly laid down all of his gifts and being at the feet or disposition of the successors of the Apostles, in order to follow the Lord completely. By this visual interrogation, the Church is asking him, is asking us, if we’ve been good to our word.
As we, who stand or aspire to stand in persona Christi, approach this altar today, may we keep this image from St. Peter’s in mind. Jesus gave *everything* out of love for us, even humbling himself to become our food under the appearance of mere bread and wine. He has asked us to follow him in like manner, giving totally of ourselves, dying to ourselves out of love for him and our neighbor so that he may live completely in us and bear fruit that will last. And hence today, in honor of His generosity and the loving widow’s, there will be a collection. When in a few minutes those patens in the middle of the aisle are brought forward to be lifted up to heaven, please, brothers, place on them all you’ve got.