Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of November 12, 2006
1st reading: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 145; 2nd reading: Heb 9:24-28; Gospel: Mk 12:38-44
Briefly I believe that we can summarize the word of God that you have heard in the readings, I am referring in particular to that of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament and exactly to the Gospel of Mark, in two expressions, respectively: the providence of God and God's love for the virtue of poverty.
So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread - only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it - and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:10-16).
Providence expressed through the story concerning the widow of Zarephath where, initially, one feels anxiety, tension, fear and sadness. This widow is aware that by now, the supplies she can still make use of are very small and after she has baked the last bread and put the last drops of oil in it, there will be no other possibility of subsistence for her and her son. With a sadness affecting his son's life more than hers, she says they would eat and then die. In this widow, with her orphaned child, deprived of the necessary, I see today, ideally, all men of the Earth who, similarly, are deprived of the necessary, live with difficulties and are even below the poverty line. These weeping children’s voices, these mummy’s tears who have nothing and move God’s heart, the innocent lamentations and the tears of mothers deprived of everything, find only the heart of God ready to respond and not the heart of men.
At the beginning of its history, the Church, and you can find confirmation in the Acts of the Apostles, lived in poverty, preached poverty. The early Christians had everything in common and, even when they sold their property, the proceeds were donated to the Church. In particular, we find that emblematic and meaningful episode of the couple who did not give all the proceeds from the sale of their property and was sharply reprimanded by Peter and unfortunately punished with death. It seems an exaggeration, but I would like to shout to today’s Church to return to being like the Church of the first century, as the Church closest to Christ, not only regarding the time of its existence but, above all, regarding its lifestyle. Poverty is a condition that unfortunately, after two thousand years of Christianity, not only has not diminished but has even dramatically and painfully deteriorated. How many widows, like Zarephath’s, still have nothing to give their children? And how many children are still waiting for the opulent Christian nations and the Church to give bread to the poor and, if necessary, sell their treasures for charity and to give money to these people? I want to quote a sentence from John Paul II, which today should resound all over the world: "Should Christ return, would he recognize his Church?" But how is it possible for Christ to recognize his Church, since his teachings have been disregarded? Today you have understood that Christianity can be gathered and summed up in one sentence, the one that Jesus said: "Love God and your neighbor as yourself". It was the truth of the Old Testament, it is the truth, made even more luminous in the New Testament, by the teachings and example of Christ: Christ, the Son of God, has no home where to be born, has no financial security to rely on, despite being the king of the universe that we will celebrate in 15 days, even if he never wanted to crown himself with the sign of royalty, which we know and identify in the image of the crown.
This widow, who represents all the poor in the world, gives a teaching that is repeated by another poor, small and weak creature during the life of Christ. Today, here, before you they are towering and are characters that must be taken as example: the Zarephath’s widow and the poor elderly woman who throws, in the mouths where the offerings to the temple are collected, her necessary, although it consists of a few small coins.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on." (Mk 12:38-44)
Today these are the people I offer to your admiration and to the admiration of the whole Church, they are more generous than those who materially give much, but do so only for ostentation, to draw upon them esteem, praise, approval and gratitude. These people will receive nothing from God because they have already received from men. For those who give, who could give and who have riches, these words of Christ resonate as a warning: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God". I don't want to make anti-class speeches, discourses for one social class compared to another, but I say that, if you are Christians, if you are pastors, if you are priests and bishops, look at the example of these two simple and poor women and follow them, depriving yourself of what is necessary for you to save them. How is it possible that churchmen live in luxury, in the abundance of comforts, in the most brazen safety, in the most absolute elegance? How is this possible when there are people who are starving? Oh Lord, I ask you to illuminate these minds, give evangelic poverty back to your Church. Remember that the poorer the Church, the more powerful the Church is; the more the Church clings to God, the more the Church finds ways to reach men.
We must try to give everything we can give. Have you realized that, in the path of our formation, the chapter of giving to receive has now arrived? Give to others to receive from God. This must not be a speech that only affects emotions, which can melt the heart only at certain times of the year, but must be a condition of constant spirit, to look beyond one's own laid table. If, on your table there is the sign of Providence, why there isn’t in others? Why are the others less worthy of us or are they not worthy of receiving what they need to live? Simply because wealth has been stolen from the others, what was in their countries was looted and stolen by European nations. Today their countries, could be, potentially, quite rich, yet they are still in poverty because they have been devastated by the greed and thirst for gain of the so-called western nations and many of them call themselves Christians too.
Is there anything Christian when you make the poor cry and suffer? Here, then, the words of Christ resound strong and modern: beware of the scribes, those who go around with elegant clothes and imposing brazen elegance. They love to be at the forefront and be honored, they even show compassion, but it is a false compassion that does not go to God and just satisfies one's vanity and pride. In the Gospel there is an awful sentence: "They devour the houses of widows", that is, the heritage of the widows, these two widows that, today, I consign and bring to your attention. They summarize all the widows and people of the world suffering the greed of brothers who should give spiritual and wise advice, but want to get paid handsomely for the service they do and do nothing if they do not hear the sound of coins or the scent, not quite nice, which is emanated from money of a certain value. This is why I too tell you to beware of those who speak of poverty, who ask for the poor, but do not give anything personal of their own in order to meet the poor. Beware of them: they have luxurious clothes, comfortable houses and economic security, but they are far from God. Look, instead, at these two women who give. That is why, in this community, and also in the Church, I hope that soon the desire will come to help those who do not have, to give to those who do not have.
Remember that God never lets himself to be overcome in generosity, I have personally been able to experience this many times. I have helped, I have given during my many years of priesthood, but God has given me much more than what I have given to those who were in need and, if this is the way God acts, if God did act in this way with me, he will behave equally with you. But the most beautiful, most consoling thing, the thing that fills most with enthusiasm, will be when we will be before God in Heaven and next to us, in giving praise and honor to God, there will be many brothers and sisters that we loved and helped without knowing them, but united by the same love that makes us feel all brothers and children of God. Pray so the Church may have the strength to get descaled from the power and wealth and may return to shine in the evangelical poverty desired by its founder.>