Poverty of heart – Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The widow of Zarephath

Central idea: Give all you have to God. Doctrine: Poverty of heart. Practical application: Voluntary humility.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths.

(To read more about this approach, click here.) This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014).

To view Lectionary 155, click here.

Central idea: Give all you have to God

Reading 1 1 Kgs 17:10-16

In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
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.

  • The scribes of Jesus’ time devoured the wealth of widows and received a very severe condemnation.
  • What about Elijah? He asks first for a little favor—a cup of water. And then he asks her for everything. That little cake of bread in a time of famine would probably take all she had left.
  • It might look like Elijah was taking advantage, that he was devouring all that remained of the house of this widow.
  • In fact, he was saving her life and that of her son who were about to die of starvation. She trusted Elijah’s word and was not disappointed.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10

R. Praise the Lord, my soul!

The LORD keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.

The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.

The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.

  • Elijah sustained the fatherless son of the widow of Zarephath and the widow herself.
  • Christ did all these things for everyone he encountered personally. He does promise to do these things for the saved forever.
  • Christ asks us to do these things for those we personally encounter.

Reading 2 Heb 9:24-28

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.

  • The true temple is not the Temple of Jerusalem or any other place of worship but the humanity of Christ, the sanctuary in which God bodily dwells.
  • Christ entered this sanctuary at his Incarnation when he became true man. He reentered it when he rose from the dead.
  • Christ will judge each human being at the moment of his or her death. To those who have lived so as to be eagerly awaiting him, he will give eternal salvation.

Alleluia Mt 5:3

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  • The Church places two examples of the poor in spirit before us today: the Widow of Zarephath and the poor widow who gave to the Temple treasury all she had to live on.

Gospel Mk 12:38-44

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”

  • It is not wrong to desire to be recognized and honored and to feel happy when one is. After all, we all possess great dignity and God loves us.
  • Our Lord so strongly condemns the scribes because while they outwardly act pious (they recite long prayers) inwardly they are rapacious (they devour the houses of widows).
    • This is a sobering example, totally relevant in the Catholic Church in every age.
  • Our Lord so strongly commends the widow because while she is so poor (she only has two cents to her name) she is deeply generous (she gave all she had to live on). While the amount given was tiny, the sacrifice necessary was immense.
  • If the scribes who behave in this way “will receive a very severe condemnation,” what will the widow who “from her poverty, has contributed . . . her whole livelihood” receive? The Gospel antiphon gives us the answer, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Doctrine: Poverty of heart

  • The poor widow of Jerusalem gave to God all she had to live on. “Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them ‘renounce all that [they have]’ for his sake and that of the Gospel.” To enter the Kingdom of heaven it is necessary to be detached from riches. (CCC 2544)
  • Why must we be detached from riches to enter the Kingdom of heaven? I think the reason is that riches cannot give us life or make us rich in what matters. Only God can.
  • More precisely, if our affections are directed to worldly things, then they will not be directed toward charity (CCC 2545), which is willing the true good of the other, despite what it might cost us. On the other hand, “the spirit of evangelical poverty” does direct us toward charity. (CCC 2545)
  • Poverty of spirit, which Our Lord pronounces as blessed and which he himself lived, is “voluntary humility” (CCC 2546). This quality contributes to our possession of “an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace” (CCC 2546).
  • The rich try to “find their consolation in the abundance of goods” but “abandonment to the providence of the Father in heaven frees us from anxiety about tomorrow” and prepares us to “see God” (CCC 2547).

Practical application: Voluntary humility

  • Here is a kind of examination of conscience about lack of humility. These reminders are from Furrow 263 by St. Josemaria Escriva. If the shoe fits, we can do the opposite – with the help of grace – to grow in voluntary humility.

—Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say;
—Always wanting to get your own way;
—Arguing when you are not right or — when you are — insisting stubbornly or with bad manners;
—Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;
—Despising the point of view of others;
—Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan;
—Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own;
—Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation;
—Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you;
—Making excuses when rebuked;
—Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you;
—Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you;
—Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you;
—Refusing to carry out menial tasks;
—Seeking or wanting to be singled out;
—Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige…;
—Being ashamed of not having certain possessions….

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 519-521: Christ gave his life for us
  • CCC 2544-2547: poverty of heart
  • CCC 1434, 1438, 1753, 1969, 2447: almsgiving
  • CCC 2581-2584: Elijah and conversion of heart
  • CCC 1021-1022: the particular judgment






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