The Gospel of Mark (12:38-44) presents us with one of the most well-known women in the New Testament. To me, she is unforgettable. So I want to share with you four stories about some women of our times, women of deep faith… like the woman in Mark’s Gospel reading.
The first comes to us from an account of a Philippine bishop who, by the way, on November 24th is about to made a Cardinal, the youngest Cardinal in the College of Cardinals in Rome. “I remember” he relates, “an experience in the market of our town of Imus, the seat of our diocese. One Saturday morning I went to monitor the prices of goods and the condition of the simple market vendors. I saw a woman selling fruit and vegetables in a corner. She was one of those who went to Sunday Mass regularly. It was only 10 o’clock in the morning but she was already closing her store. So I asked her the reason. She told me, ‘I belong to a prayer group. We have a big assembly this afternoon. Some tasks were assigned to me. So I want to be there early.’
Upon hearing this, the pragmatic side of me surfaced. I responded, ‘The Lord will understand if you extend your working hours. You have a family to support. You can benefit from additional income. I am sure the Lord will understand.’ With a smile, she said, ‘But Bishop, the Lord has been faithful to me. The Lord has always been there for us. We may not be rich but we have enough to live by. Why will I fear?’ Then looking at me tenderly, she said, ‘Are you not a bishop? Are you not supposed to be encouraging me in faith?’ I was quite embarrassed. But for me it was an experience of spiritual worship. I, the religiously and culturally accepted presence of God was revealed to be a faltering representation of God.
That simple woman, offering herself to God in trust for love of her family, became for me the manifestation of the presence of God. She had brought the Eucharistic sacrifice and Jesus’ spiritual worship from the elegant Cathedral to the noise and dirt of the marketplace. God must have been well pleased.” It’s pleasing to know that a young bishop about to be made a Cardinal a few days from now is carrying that story around in his soul.
Now for my second story. Some time ago I learned of a woman who in her childhood was crippled by polio. She became angry with God and became a mean and nasty woman, angry with everyone around her. She was a miserable human being. By chance one day she came into contact with members of a parish who gave her a whole lot of love. She went to their parish Masses every Sunday and eventually joined it because there she found so much love from many of its people. Her frozen heart warmed up. She found the freedom to “walk the spiritual walk” even though her body remained crippled.
As time went by the parish entered into a campaign to raise funds. The woman surprised her family at that year’s family Thanksgiving Dinner by announcing that she was giving $45,000 to her parish for its building campaign. Her family was stunned. When they asked her where she was going to get all that money she told them that throughout all her years since childhood she had been saving bit by bit in order to buy a handicap van with a lift. Now that she had the money she decided to give it to the parish. Why? Because, she declared, her parish was now more important to her than her dream van. Said she: “I am so thankful that God healed me of my crippled heart. He gave me the freedom to walk in the way of His Son. I now need my parish more than I need that van.”
A third story is of a woman in Detroit who had two boys to raise all by herself. Their father, her husband, had been shot dead when those boys were babies. She and her boys lived in Detroit’s inner city where she was a public school teacher. She had done a wonderful job with them, pouring out her whole life into them. Her two boys were in college and headed toward successful careers when they were both killed in a horrible accident on the bridge going over to Belle Isle in the Detroit River. What did she do? She went back to teaching in Detroit’s public schools, pouring out the rest of her life into other children in order to bring them to successful careers. Because of her, many of her students went on to live happy and successful lives.
Finally, let me tell you of a single young woman with two boys. Her husband, their father, had died of cancer in his early thirties. Somehow she found the strength to go on. Then, several years later, she met a handsome, strapping young Vietnam veteran who had come into her life and the lives of her boys.
They were engaged to be married. A few weeks prior to the wedding ceremony he was over at the home of this woman and her boys, climbed up a tree in their front yard and began trimming its branches. The branch he was sitting on broke off. He fell to the ground and broke his neck. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down, doomed to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and on a ventilator. The accident happened just three weeks before they were to be married. This young woman with the two boys whose father had recently died of cancer went ahead and married the man she had come to love but now was a quadriplegic forever to be in a wheel chair and on a ventilator. They joined their parish’s Youth Ministry team and devoted themselves to caring for the parish’s youngsters and teens. Their influence and gift to those kids obviously made an incredible impression on all who knew them.
These women whose stories I have just now shared with you make the women in the first reading (1Kings 17:10-16) and gospel account very real for me. The question you and I face is this: “Do we give God what’s left over after we’ve taken care of everything else?” Or do we give God from our substance? We have much, and we can give God much. We can give God our trust, our reliance upon Him, our dependence upon Him. Take our daily efforts, for instance. Are they to accomplish our purposes or God’s purposes? They can be the same, you know. We can make our purposes God’s purposes and we can make God’s purposes our purposes. Caring for the ones you love, caring for your wife, your husband, and your children is giving your life to God. Providing for the happiness of others is giving your life to God. Working for peace, working for justice and fairness in our world, and many other efforts is, in fact, giving your life over into God’s care.
Let’s be clear about it. God isn’t interested in your money. He has all of the riches He will ever need. No, God wants more than your money.
God wants YOU. He wants your daily life. He wants to be what you depend on each day. He wants to be what you live on and what you live for.
Our giving to God is only giving Him back what’s already His in the first place. But giving God our hearts? Ah, that’s quite something else! The gift of your heart is what He’s looking for. It’s our gift to Him each time we’re at Mass. And when we gift Him with our love, when we give Him our hearts and our lives, our interests and desires, what He will give back to us cannot be measured.
One final story. Back in the time of England’s Queen Elizabeth the First, there was a retired admiral of the Royal Navy who in his retirement was now running a thriving business. The Queen asked him to return to military service during a time of this national crisis. The man hesitated, asking ” … but what will become of my business?” The Queen replied: “You look after my business, and I will look after your business.”
We can learn from that. When we look after God’s business He will look after ours.
What requirements, what guarantees, do we expect from God when it comes to generously giving our love to Him? Can we have hearts and souls as trusting, as full of faith, and as generous in loving God as these women whose stories you have just heard? Oh, and by the way … remember the woman crippled with childhood polio who was cured by the love of a parish she joined? Not only was her family stunned by her announcement that she was giving her $45,000 to the parish building campaign but many of her fellow parishioners went down on their knees and back to their prayers to examine their own souls. And when a group of men heard of her sacrifice and experienced her radiant joy in her newfound freedom, they banded together and bought her a lift-van, that which she had saved to purchase throughout those many years of her life. They remained anonymous … and when she was presented with her new van there was a note on it from these parishioners that simply said: “Thank you for showing us how to walk with Jesus.”
In the 1st Book of Kings (17:10-16), we read:
For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘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.’ She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.
Evidently faith in God isn’t something that was required only of people who lived thousands of years ago. Evidently faith in God is something that we, likewise, must encounter in our days too.