The law of the gift
“Your being increases in the measure that you give it away.”Bishop Barron on Elijah and the widow.
Bishop Barron’s sermon on the prophet Elijah is—as always—packed with wisdom, practical wisdom. He begins his homily by declaring this as one of his very favorite readings in the Old Testament. It’s easy to see why as we review the readings from the Book of Kings.
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.
And they had as much as they wanted
Bishop Barron reminds us that Elijah had proclaimed a severe drought as punishment for Israel’s refusal to follow the Mosaic Law. For years, the heavens were closed and Elijah had been living near a stream in the wadi. The water, along with meat and bread brought by ravens was sufficient. But the wadi ran dry. And Elijah was told to go to Zarephath where the Lord had told a widow to expect him.
Drawing on the manna raining down on our Jewish ancesters and Christ’s miraculous feeding of the 5000, Bishop Barron integrates the law of the gift with they had as much as they wanted: The old and new Testaments. The widow’s empty jars of oil and flour were miraculously replenished.
We have a choice when hearing and reading these readings. We can dismiss them as fiction and fantasy.
Or we can see ourselves as in a mirror.
Elijah and the widow’s story is about two righteous people. He who knows that God is directing him. And she who takes her last bit of flour and oil to bake the bread she is asked for. Believing that she and her son will starve to death, she gives away all that she has.
“”The human being, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself, cannot attain its full identity except through a disinterested gift of self.” John Paul ll shortened this statement from Vatican ll’s Gaudium et Spes into four words: The Law of the Gift.
In his excellent sermon, Bishop Barron addresses listeners who feel depressed and at the end of their rope. “When you find yourself totally depleted-exhausted, hollow….the sources of life are drying up, give the little that you have.”
How do you give when completely depleted?
Impossible while focusing on the countless reasons to feel awful…about our own sufferings. Worrying about the growing evil that cloaks our world.
But wholly possible when we consider Reality: He has placed us here and now for a reason. Not to gripe and complain but to live out our Baptismal grace and be prophets.
The signs of the times
compel us to take stock.
Not of our neighbor.
Not of our politicians.
Nor of our President.
Or our Pope, priests, Bishops or pastors.
But of our own hearts.
Perhaps in a a more profound way than ever before.
What does becoming a prophet mean?
Run out to the street with apocalyptic signs proclaiming the end is near?
Go camp on our atheistic brother-in-law’s couch and start to preach at him?
Turn our judging eyes and fingers inward, toward ourselves to cleanse our hearts and minds. And adopt better spiritual practices.
Only then can we hear Him.
And do what He tells us.
- Give alms.
What kind of spiritual practices?
“By putting us in touch with our own weakness and need for God, the struggles we confront in prayer and fasting dispose us to forgive, to have compassion, and to seek forgiveness. Filled with compassion, we learn to pray for our enemies rather than call down hell-fire on them. We find the courage to listen to the heart of our neighbor, especially if they are children or parents. We more readily recognize our own tendency to pre-judge as driven by our own shame, inability to take responsibility for our own actions, and our need to self-justify. As did our Crucified God, we must bear with one another patiently and persevere in love, even when with this means humbling ourselves unto death. Preserving true peace with one another requires implicating ourselves in one another’s plight, even at our own expense.”Anthony Liles
A dear friend, an OMI priest, told me in a recent conversation, that in the end, we will be judged on one thing only.
“How well did we love?”
“…Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide.
That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.
For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.”Gaudium et Spes