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Bible Reflections View Comments

How Do We Look to Outsiders?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
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“As the Lord your God lives.” With this exclamation, the widow of Zarephath sets the tone for her encounter with Elijah, the great man of God. She was not an Israelite. Elijah had no claim no her charity or her soul. She was not part of the covenant. And yet, she responded as though she was. In fact, her response was far more generous and immediate than that of most Israelites to the message of the prophets through the centuries.

The widow of Zarephath begins with only a vague notion of who God is, but in her neediness and her humility, she was living closer to the heart of God than many who knew the Torah by heart. Elijah, who had been wrestling with the kings and leaders of his people, must have found as much nourishment from her attitude as from the small cake she offered out of her meager supplies.

In the Gospel, Jesus warns the crowds about the hypocrisy and corruption that can creep into the leadership of any group, even a religious organization. Before the touching example of the widow giving her last two coins to the temple collection, he pointedly condemns those religious leaders who get rich on just such sacrifices. The actions of both widows have one thing in common. Both display a trust in God that puts more conventional spiritual types to shame. Giving all that they have to live on is admirable not because God wants people to be destitute, but because God wants people to put their trust in him rather than in the things of this world: Money, weapons, fortresses, power. Letting go of power is a hard lesson for those who have it.

Widows and orphans in Old and New Testament times represented those who had little support from society. They were left on their own to make their way as best they could in a society in which the men of the community were the sole support and protection for their families.

While we are no longer living in that kind of overtly patriarchal culture, we know all too well that single mothers and their children still struggle far more to survive than most others in our society. And far too often they’re condemned by the men (and women) who have more than they need.

It’s not surprising to hear about poor people giving generously of their time and even their meager resources to help others. They know what it is to be in need, and they know that they can do something to help, even if it’s not much.

Learning to trust is a lifelong task. But again and again the Scriptures teach us that trust in God is at the heart of our lives. Letting go of a little of our economic security is a difficult but rewarding way to begin to do this, especially in a culture like ours that puts so much emphasis on wealth. Elijah and Jesus hold up as examples those outside the conventional power centers. They themselves were often on the wrong side of power and authority, but perhaps they had greater influence because of that very fact. They knew that being one with the people mattered more than being rich and famous. Their good works carried more weight than their elegant words. And even outsiders recognized them as people of God.


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Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

 
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