Engaging the Gospel – Mark 12:38-44

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 12:38-44

The widow’s mite

Unlike the self-serving scribes, who are more interested in prestige and human respect, the poor widow in this Gospel has a self-giving attitude: she wants to contribute what she can, however small, to the Temple treasury.

The Gospel harmonizes with today’s first reading from 1 Kings, highlighting another poor widow who exhibits radical trust in God: the widow of Zarephath is down to her last bit of flour, but still feeds the prophet Elijah from it. She puts her in faith in his word that they will not be lacking, and God does indeed provide.

Jesus commends the poor widow for her offering, given in a similar spirit of reliance on the Lord, despite her poverty. She exemplifies generosity, as well as the moral virtue of justice, “the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion’” (Catechism paragraph 1807), whereby love “leads us to render to God what we as creatures owe Him in all justice” (2095).

In keeping with our obligation to give God and neighbor their due, “the faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities” (2043). “From the very beginning, Christians have brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need” (1351).

Question for reflection: When have I made a financial sacrifice out of love for God?

Accompanying Jesus in the Desert

As disciples, we accompany Jesus in every phase of our lives, following Him wherever He takes us, and never wanting to be separated from Him. So when the Lord goes into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days, we go along with Him.

Far from just a sentimental kind of mimicry, this season of Lent is serious business for our spiritual health. It is a grace-filled opportunity for renewal, a spring cleaning of our souls, to make us ready for the great feast of Easter.

During Lent, we are called to examine our lives, repent, confess our sins, and do penance. As we ask the Lord to help us overcome our weaknesses, He asks us to do our part to strive for self-mastery.

The Church guides us through this process, encouraging us to follow the traditional practices of penance – fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. That is why one of the Church’s precepts is to observe the days of fasting and of abstinence from meat. This is not to be legalistic, but rather to help us join Jesus in His fast.

We give up some of our creature comforts, not merely to deprive ourselves, but to free us for something greater. Even tiny ways of self-denial help us to grow in freedom, strengthen us to be faithful in more serious matters, and enable us to climb higher spiritually.

As St. Peter of Alcantara said, “With a pampered and satiated body, the soul is not free to fly high.”

Grace and Justification

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1987-2051:

  • Grace is the “free and undeserved help” that God gives us so that we can respond to His call to friendship and communion with Him; through grace comes our justification – being cleansed of sin and infused with God’s righteousness.
  • The Holy Spirit showers us with the initial grace of conversion, empowering us to repent, turn away from sin, and open ourselves up to receive God’s abundant forgiveness; not a single one of us can merit, or deserve, this initial grace, which is simply a sheer gift of God.
  • But justification goes well beyond just canceling out our sins; it extends to our total interior transformation, our sanctification, and even more radical, our partaking of the divine nature.
  • Our justification is so ardently desired by God that the Father sent His beloved Son, Who willingly endured death by the torments of crucifixion to accomplish it; as a result, justification is an awe-inspiring work of God, revealing the depths of His love and mercy toward us.
  • Through Baptism, we receive justification: we are incorporated into Christ, adopted as God’s children, and filled with his sanctifying or “deifying” grace, which draws us into the very life of the Holy Trinity now, and makes us fit to share His glory for eternity in heaven.
  • Sanctifying grace is an “habitual gift” enabling us to “live with God, to act by His love” (a state we lose by committing a mortal sin); besides habitual grace, God also gives us helps called “actual graces” at particular times, e.g., in the sacraments, graces for our state in life, and charisms, or special graces, to build up the Church.
  • Although the grace of God goes before us, and seeks us first, we have the free will to act upon that grace and draw closer to Him, or to fritter it away; God does not treat us as automatons, but wants us to be free and willing co-workers with Him.
  • Once we are members of the Body of Christ, we can merit additional graces for ourselves and others; even so, our ability to gather more graces is in itself due to the merits of Christ; His grace is constantly at work in us, supporting our own efforts every step of the way, and making our own “merits” possible.
  • Because we share in the intimate life of the Holy Trinity, we are all called to holiness, each and every one of us; our vocation to holiness is fulfilled in the Church, where we are fortified by the sacraments, illumined by the Truth, and inspired by heroic role models – the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
  • Just as the Church infallibly transmits the doctrine of faith, so does she hand on authoritative teachings on morals; in this context, the precepts of the Church enjoin us to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days; confess our sins at least once a year; receive the Eucharist at a minimum during the Easter season; observe the days of fasting and abstinence; and support the Church materially.

Live Your Faith

Our justification cost Jesus His life. If God Himself went to such extraordinary measures for us, we have no excuse for settling for mediocrity, or imagining that a lukewarm, half-hearted “getting by” is enough.

Instead, we are called to give a similarly radical response — nothing less than total commitment to God. Such an extreme spiritual makeover would contribute to our personal growth, and serve as a powerful witness of our faith. Just by living morally, we become highly effective evangelizers.