Last week, we honored our heroes and heroines in the faith; members of our extended family who have either completed their journey to heaven or are being purified unto glory. Together with them, we form the one Church in its various states: militant, suffering, and triumphant. This week, we honor the men and women who like the widow of Zeraphat took great risks to share with others the last morsel of bread in their jar, and the last drop of oil in their jug. Sacrifice means giving up something to which we attach a great value, and the greatest thing we can give up is our life. Whether one gives up his or her life for a spiritual cause or for the peace and security of others, there is always the sense that the giver becomes “a beast of burden” or a veteran.
The Latin word veterinus from which the word veteran derives means “beast of burden.” The adjective “vetus,” meaning, “old” gives the sense of having many years. Hence, our veterans would be men and women who carried the burden of defending our faith, our country or humanity and have now grown old in the struggle; albeit some died in the struggle or from the injuries sustained. Military veterans who are living today recall memories of war, near-death experiences, images of fellow soldiers who fell in battle, women and children who got trapped and lost their lives, cities and villages pummeled, and all the travails of war. We say in the Church that the blood of martyrs form the seed of Christianity. May the blood shed by our veterans and the sacrifices of the survivors bear fruits of peace and mutual understanding in our world!
For the rest of us, today’s readings challenge us to give from our hearts, and to give until it hurts. The offerings of the two poor widows did not amount to so much, but had much spiritual value attached to them. For example, the widow of the Gospel gave two coins, which consisted of all she possessed; the offerings of the rich, according to Jesus, consisted of money they could easily part with, or their surplus. Both offerings are acceptable to God, because the house of God to which the offerings are made needs large donations to maintain it. However, the widow’s offering was deemed greater in the sight of God because she gave trustingly and meant her gift to be a challenge to God. Her financial situation would not have changed any better had she kept her two coins, as they were insufficient to sustain her life. Her gift, thus, was a prayer to God who sustains all life. Our gifts should always be a prayer to God who owns all and gives all.
Some rich people make a show of their gift to attract the praise and admiration of others, thus making their gift a prayer unto themselves and assuming and grasping the position of God to whom all praise belongs. They are often reluctant to part with the bulk of their wealth, which procures for them all the luxuries imaginable—beautiful homes, cars, boats, clothing, food, beverages, cruises, influential friends, and so forth. Many times, when they give away what they no longer needed, the purpose is to create room for the newest brands of material goods, to compete with their rich friends. And their gifts must be acknowledged in order that they may receive the tax credits. Charity like those of the poor women in today’s readings is measured not by what is given but by the intensity of love with which it is given. And such sacrificial giving, our faith tells us, is the shortest step-ladder to the supernatural, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The gospel of today is not meant to embarrass the rich, without whose donations we cannot have and maintain our Churches, hospitals and charitable organizations. The rich are rather called to emulate the spiritual poverty of the widow of today’s Gospel, and by acquiring the esteemed virtue of humility, transform their gifts into prayer and real equity for their bank in heaven.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo