“How Deep Is Your Love?” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, November 7, 2021

I’m sure I have told you the story before about St Pius of Pietrelcina, though you probably know him best as Padre Pio. This Franciscan priest was collecting money to build a hospital in the area of Italy where his community lived. One day, a widow came up to him and offered him a few lira notes for the hospital fund, which was all she had and which, in fact, amounted to very little in the way of real money. Padre Pio at first refused to take it, because he knew the woman was destitute. As she took the money back, the widow said, sadly “Yes, Father, you’re right. I suppose this is not an important donation, because it is so small”.

At that , Padre Pio changed and took the money from her, saying “No, you’re wrong. This is the most important donation I have received so far.”

I’m sure at that moment, St Padre Pio had remembered the story in our gospel  of the widow’s mite, as we call it, and how Jesus pointed out the widow putting two small coins into the temple treasury and said that she had put in more than all the others who were coming into the temple to make donations. Jesus wasn’t commenting on the quantity of money given, but on the quality of heart of the giver. The other donors were probably giving much more cash than she, but it really cost them nothing  compared to what it cost this woman. I was watching a news item during this last week, about a billionaire who was willing to donate six billion dollars to help alleviate world hunger, and I was thinking to myself “Wow, that’s really generous of him”. Until he said that to raise the money, he would sell off some of the shares in his company, and I was no longer so impressed. He probably had a lot of shares, all worth a considerable amount, so to sell some of them wasn’t such a big deal after all. Not like the widow in our gospel story, who, according to Jesus, had put into the temple treasury “all she had to live on”. 

As I said earlier, it is not the quantity of the gift that matters most in God’s eyes, but the quality of the heart of the giver. The story of the widow in our gospel mirrors, of course, that of the widow in our first reading. Both give everything they have, the former to honour God by supporting the upkeep of his temple, the latter to honour God by taking care of his prophet, Elijah. What is startling in the latter case, is that the widow isn’t even of the same religion as Elijah, nor a citizen of his country, Israel. And yet she responds in compassion to his need, over that of her own and her son’s, and in obedience to the word of Elijah’s God, Yahweh, the God of Israel.

Both widows obey inner promptings from the Spirit of God within them, as so many have done in the past, and continue to do so today. It is not uncommon for me to hear that someone has made a donation to a good cause after consulting with God about how much they should give. I have also heard on many an occasion that each prayerfully guided donation has led to the giver being unexpectedly blessed in return. In the book of Malachi, in the Old Testament, God challenges his people to contribute the full extent of their tithe to his temple, as the Law commands, and says to them “Put me to the test…and see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Malachi 3: 10). Speaking personally, and also knowing many others who have been obedient to God in this, I have discovered that God will never let himself be outdone in generosity. I want to challenge you, brothers and sisters, to “put God to the test” in this. 

The tough part is that we have to be the one who goes first with God. We have to make the gift, the donation, and wait to see. We cannot proceed by expecting God to bless us first, then we will contribute. That is not walking by faith; that is walking by sight, in the words of St Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7. Furthermore, St Paul reminds us, that God “loves a cheerful giver” ( 2Corinthians 9: 7) – so no grumbling or complaining when we are making our donations to God’s cause. In fact, it is worth reading the whole of that particular passage. Paul writes: ”the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9; 6-9).

Psalm 37 is quite clear on this point. In verse 5, it says: ”Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, then he will act”. You see how it is meant to go. We commit, then God responds, We can’t say to God: ”You show me what you have got first, then I will show you what I have”, as if we are playing cards and gambling with him. It doesn’t work like that, in any part of our relationship with God.  Because God wants us to grow as men and women of real faith and trust and love. St Paul reminds us that we are to have faith and trust in God, because “our love for him urges us on”. When we are in love, we will do anything for our beloved, as any honeymoon couple will surely attest. Unfortunately, that love can get stale, as we know, and we are not nearly so willing to be so generous to our spouse as before. In Revelation 2: 4, Jesus says to the church in Ephesus, rather sadly I feel, that “you have fallen away from the love you had for me at first”. 

I often ask myself, “Is that true of me, am I less loving, less believing, less trusting of Jesus, than I used to be?” What about you, brothers and sisters?

If we are less loving, then we are less willing to sacrifice, or to sacrifice so much. We hold back, we are less trusting, life has taught us to be more circumspect, more skeptical, more selfish. But the example of Christ challenges us in our holding back. We look at the Cross, and we see Christ holding nothing back, not even to the last drop of his blood. And we ask ourselves, “Why? Why would Jesus go to such lengths for a poor sinner like myself?” And the answer is: because he loves us, he loves us, he loves us. And that love will never diminish, never deteriorate, Jesus will never fall away from the love he has always had for us, even before we were born. As St John writes in his first letter: ”This has taught us love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us first, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4: 10).

The readings today challenge me as a supposed lover of God, and disciple of Jesus, to ask myself: “How much love for God, how much faith and trust in God, do I really have? Do I, for instance, have more love for my children, or my spouse, or my boyfriend or girl-friend, than I do for God? Does He have first place in my heart and in my life? Would I be willing to lay down my life for Him, as He has already laid down His life at the cross for me?”

These are difficult questions, brothers and sisters, but I sense that, going forward, we will be tested as never before in these areas, and will come to discover how much faith, trust and love in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, we really have. And the answer may not be all we would wish for.