Sunday Sermon for November 8, 2015, the Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: 1Ki 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
In the Gospel reading today we hear two points of importance. The first is the condemnation for those who use religion as a pretext for some selfish purpose. The second is the teaching on the widow who, though she offered only a couple of small copper coins, gave more than the people who put in large amounts of money because she gave from her want, not from her surplus.

Even when we put these two things together we can see how they apply to us. Our goal is to love God with our whole heart, soul, and strength. There are many who give lip service to God while their hearts are far from Him. Some of these people truly want to to love God and neighbor, but their spiritual lives are not developed enough yet to allow that to happen. In cases like this their lip service is not really a pretext; rather, it is more of a statement of where they would like to be.

On the other hand, if a person is using religion to try to impress someone or, worse, to get money or goods, if they are trying to appear trustworthy when, in fact, they are not, these kinds of things are really a pretext. But even for people who are striving for holiness, we have to ask about any pretext in anything that we might do. Sometimes it comes out as trying to make ourselves look better before the Lord. For instance, coming to prayer and trying to appear all put together when we are actually falling apart. We can’t fool God.

The greater problem for most people who are striving to do God’s will is the selfishness that creeps into so much of what is done. We say we want to do God’s will, but as soon as He gives us a Cross, we get upset, we reject it, we complain, etc. When we think something should be a certain way and it does not work out that way, we all too often fail to accept it with resignation, let alone rejoicing, knowing that it is the will of God. As one grows in holiness, God will purify things more and more.

I often marvel at the widow from Zarephath who is mentioned in the first reading. Jesus mentions her at one point as an example of a person with more faith that anyone in Israel. Even though she is not Jewish, she answers Elijah “As the Lord, your God lives…” She has faith in God, but she had to have had a fairly profound spiritual life as well because when Elijah asks her for some bread she states that she is going to use the last of the flour she has to make cakes for her son and herself, after which they would die.

God tests this woman’s faith and charity severely. Would she make a cake for Elijah instead of for herself? Would she trust that the jar of flour would not go empty as Elijah promised? She passed the test and demonstrated her amazing faith and generosity. There was no pretext because there was no possibility for it. What she offered was complete and it was an act of total trust and charity. The same can be said of the woman in the Gospel with her two small coins.

We see this same pattern in the second reading where St. Paul speaks of the sacrifice of Jesus. Our Lord did not give bread or money, He sacrificed Himself. He was certainly not trying to impress anyone, nor was He going to the cross for any kind of personal gain. He offered everything, literally, purely for the good of others. His sacrifice was for love of God and love of neighbor and it was a perfect act of charity.

The notion of priesthood implies two things: sacrifice and mediation. St. Paul points out that Jesus offered Himself once for all to take away sin by His sacrifice. This means once for all time, which is why the sacrifice is not offered over and over; rather, at Mass His sacrifice is being offered still. It is the same sacrifice being offered continually, not a new sacrifice being offered again. St. Paul also says that our Lord appears before God on our behalf. So He is mediating for us as our High Priest. Once again, we see that there is not pretext, just pure charity.

We come back again to ourselves and we have to ask how charitable we are. Most of us are charitable to a point, but we draw a line where we will go no further. The two widows did not do that; Jesus did not do that. If we want to be without pretext, we can put no limits on our love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit