Sunday, November 11, 2012

how we should give

The widow giving her mite in today's Gospel puts me in mind of old Mrs Foley, the sacristan of the church where I was an altar boy many years ago. Mrs Foley had been widowed young & never re-married. She was in her 70's when I knew her, a tiny woman, far smaller than the ten year old boy I was then. She always dressed in black from head to toe, topping the ensemble with a black shawl. She wore thick round glasses and had rather a large nose and was unfailingly cheerful.

We altar boys loved her. Not, I must confess because we recognised what a wonderful, virtuous woman she was. Our affection stemmed from the fact that she gave each altar boy a 'stand' of 'two bob' after each Mass. Looking back, I'm astonished. Two shillings was a reasonable amount of money back then. Using my school-boy brain calculator & converting the number of sweets I could buy with that money then with what the same number of sweets would cost today, it was the equivalent of at least three euros in today's money. And there could be five or more altar boys at a Mass, especially the later ones. And she was no cheap-skate - she liked to see lots of altar boys at every Mass & sometimes she might ask you to do two ... and if you did, you got the stand twice.

She was easily laying out two or three pounds of her own money on this 'encouragement' of her young scalliwags. This in a time when the widow's pension wouldn't have been very generous & if she was getting anything from the church to compensate her for the long hours she put in as sacristan, it wouldn't have been much ... probably no more than the few pounds she distributed to her boys ... and quite likely less.

Mrs Foley, I'm quite sure, was taking food off her own table by what she was doing. But as I said, she was always cheerful, always smiling. She was happy in what she was doing. She was doing God's work. She kept the church clean. She made sure everything was in order for every Mass & every other service. She ensured a plentiful supply of altar boys to make the liturgy more beautiful ... and perhaps to encourage vocations to the priesthood (that may even have worked in at least one case ... though perhaps not in exactly the way she might have hoped for!).

Mrs Foley was like the widow Jesus speaks of today. A woman who gave not from her abundance, but from her poverty, with a generosity that would put a rich man to shame. Jesus held up the widow as an example for his disciples to follow. So the question we should ask ourselves is: where are the Mrs Foley's today? Do you know any? Do you see even a hint of her when you look in the mirror each morning? You should. We are all called to be like her ... do we even come close? I pray that we will try ... and with God's grace succeed. Amen.

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