“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
This little passage is always been one of my favorites from the Gospels. Not that I identify myself immediately with the widow and her great generosity and love, but because the praise of Jesus offers hope to all of us who likewise have little to offer in comparison with others.
This incident points me in the direction of Chesterton’s element of democracy inherent in the Communion of Saints. In fact, it’s a much greater “democracy” than what we normally mean by democracy in the political sense. In the Communion of Saints, a lack of material wealth or a lack of natural talents does not bar anyone from reaching the heights of glory and sanctity. I think this has always been a problem for those who like to configure the church in accordance with what seems to come naturally in this world. It also may well be one of the real obstacles in embracing Catholicism for the aristocratic classes in western countries or the upper castes in eastern countries. These privileged people tend to think of their standing in society as the result of a kind of natural selection in the line of evolutionary theory. It seems unseemly that Catholicism seems to level the playing field and considers the poor just as important as the rich, in that a lack of material resources or natural talents is no hindrance to achieving the heights of glory among the saints or high standing in the Church on earth.
God is not impressed with our material accumulations nor with our natural talents. What Jesus says is divinely impressing is much more the generosity and love that underlies our human actions in honoring God and doing good for our neighbors. No matter how large one’s “donation” to God and his church, it’s ultimately nothing in comparison to God’s own greatness. What truly matters, as in all morality, is a combination of the goodness of the act and the goodness, generosity and love in the person’s intention.
Think about that, how it gives us all real hope regardless of our standing in society or our lack of natural talents. The person who puts more love and generosity into his or her good works, charity and divine worship is the one who pleases God the more. There is no natural class or caste system inherent in the human will’s capacity to love with generosity. We are not genetically programmed in this regard, where different persons would have a different natural capacity to love. That is the case with our intellects, which, in this world at least, do have a genetic component, and thus different people do have different capacities to learn, and different talents to earn.
But that is not the case with the human will. It can be incapacitated by sin, though never totally in this life, and it can be marvelously expanded in its capacity to love by the grace of God. In this area of our life, from the natural point of view, we all start out equal, though the final result in heaven will certainly not be equal, which is also indicated by Jesus’ words, “more than all the others.” For everyone responds to God’s grace differently, and God does in fact give more grace to some than to others, as we know from Mary’s stupendous gifts from God.
So our will and its capacity to love and do good is not at all limited by nature, although it is limited by sin, which itself is not part of nature. This fact is the great equalizer, at least when it comes to the starting point of our lives. Because someone else has greater talents than I does not limit me at all, nor give that a person a head start in holiness, because what counts in the end is something that is found equally in all of us, from a natural standpoint, and ultimately depends upon God’s grace and our cooperation. Surely that truth gives hope to all of us and no reason for any natural envy of others. We all really can be like the widow, if only respond to God’s grace the way she did. That’s a happy truth.
Categories: Weekday reflections