HOMILY WEEK 34 01 – Year II
Giving All to Christ:
Optional Memorial of St. Clement I
(Rev 14:1-5; Ps 24; Lk 21:1-4)
The message of the gospel today is to put our complete faith in Christ; to surrender to him totally.
It is interesting that in one translation, Jesus looked up and saw or watched rich people put donations into the treasury, but he noticed the poor widow put in two small copper coins. She caught his attention, because unlike the others, her trust was so great she put aside all concerns for shelter, the next meal, etc., and gave from what she had to live on. That is in stark contrast to those who walk away from the church out of some snub, or conflict, or inability to accept the brokenness of the church. It is as if she was saying by her gesture, “Lord, it isn’t much, but it’s all that I have. Take it, Lord, because you’re worth it. I give you my whole being.”
In one sense, the two coins represent us. One can be our mind and heart – the other our body and spirit. We are to surrender both to our God. The background to this is the First Commandment (You shall have no other god before me) and the Great Commandment (We must love God with our whole mind, heart, soul, and strength). Jesus doesn’t want part of us – he wants all of us. He wants us to trust him completely, to make him the centre of our lives, not just one of our priorities. He wants us to walk in an intimate relationship with him as our best friend.
A young man asked his friends if they believed he could push a wheelbarrow on a high wire over Niagara Falls. They didn’t and said no one could do that. He proceeded to set it up, and pushed a wheelbarrow over Niagara Falls. Then he asked his friends if now they believed he could do that? They replied, yes, they had seen him do it. He then said if they really believed, get in and he would give them a ride!
This is the faith of the widow putting in two small coins – all she had to live on. Her trust in God’s providence was complete. Our belief must move to faith in a person, to trusting that person, to surrendering our lives and wills to God, to getting into God’s wheelbarrow and going for a ride wherever God wants to take us. That is the faith Jesus wants and looks for.
We are to have no false gods in our lives, which are an obsession with possessions/pleasure; prestige/fame; power and control. Thomas Keating puts it slightly different – we are not to have an overly great attachment to the emotional programs for happiness of our childhood that don’t work any more – survival and security; affection and self-esteem, power and control.
When Robert burnt out because of work-a-holism, he was shocked when a fellow resident at a therapeutic center for clergy and religious claimed he was breaking the first commandment, because his god had become obsessive-compulsive work. Actually, any addiction can easily become a false god. One tall, husky man told me he was six feet tall, and his boss was eight inches high – a bottle of beer.
The widow also can be seen as a foil for the woman who poured expensive nard over Jesus’ head and anointed his body, scandalizing the onlookers. Hers was an extravagant gesture of generous trust, pouring out the whole contents, that Jesus defended, for that gesture of intimate love, tenderness and touch would give him strength to face the cross. As he said, she was preparing him to face his death.
The widow’s generosity, giving all that she had, is also a prefiguring of what Jesus would do in his passion, give his life for us, give all he had, back to the Father. And that is what we are invited to as well, to imitate both this widow and Jesus, in giving all that we have to him in faith and trust.
There are two saints we can highlight in this regard – Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Jean Vianney. Kateri gave her life completely to Christ, and her small-pox scarred face was instantly healed at the moment of her death. A miracle of healing for a young Finkleburg boy with flesh-eating disease led to her canonization. St. Jean Vianney had a philosophy of giving everything away, a poor priest who became a renowned confessor for all of Europe. I have a relic of each we venerate in rituals during missions.
According to Richard Rohr, one definition of good spirituality is that it is all about letting go – letting go of sin, of character defects, of painful emotions like resentment, and negative attitudes like stubborn self-will and false pride. According to Ron Rolheiser, one definition of purgatory is letting go of the things of this earth. The widow in the gospel was living both these teachings.
Today the Church offers us the option of honouring St. Clement I, someone who took an active role in seeking reconciliation in the early Church. Pope Clement I is recognized as third in succession to Peter. Other than the fact that he lived in the 1st century, little is known about his life or death. Tradition suggests Clement was a contemporary of Peter and Paul, perhaps a former slave of the imperial court. He was martyred in exile about AD 99. Clement’s fame rests in a letter he wrote to the Church of Corinth when Christians there revolted against their leaders. Intervening as bishop of Rome, he clearly expected obedience, an attitude that demonstrates the primacy of Rome at an early date.
The psalm today reminds us on this journey from earth to heaven, we don’t travel alone. We are a people who long to see God’s face. We see and find God in one another and help each other as we journey to our final destination, always moving towards our heavenly goal we actually in faith begin to taste here on earth.
One way we already taste that heavenly goal is to celebrate the Eucharist. We experience forgiveness by listening to God’s Word; we experience healing and transformation by receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. And like the widow, we are making Jesus the centre of our lives just by being here.
Finally, we are missioned and sent out to spread the good news of Jesus’ unconditional love for us, and the importance of making him the centre of our lives like the widow in the gospel.