A few weeks ago, my husband and I ignored the cold and tackled a mound of boxes in our garage. In the process, I found some of my mom’s things which have awaited my attention for far too long. Among these treasures, I encountered an image of Mary. Immediately, my thoughts turned to my mom’s beaming face the evening she returned home with this beautiful piece in hand. She could hardly wait to show it to us and to display it in the center of our dining room table. This piece served as a planter as well and my mom knew just which flowers and bits of greenery would showcase it best. My mom treasured this ceramic creation for the forty-plus years that remained of her life. It is the story behind this rediscovered artifact that explains my mom’s excitement.
My mom had attended a gathering hosted for the Helpers of the Holy Souls that evening. The Helpers are a congregation of sisters whom my mom held close to her heart. The sisters’ devotion to the souls completing their journeys to heaven touched my mom probably because we had lost many beloved family members, including my dad, within a few short years. So it was that she had become part of the women’s group which supported the sisters’ work though card parties, various fundraisers and prayer. On this particular evening, my mom won at either Bunco, cards or a raffle. I am quite certain that from the moment she eyed that image my mom was determined to win it. You see, my mom also had great devotion to Our Lady. Never mind that there was a small chip in the ceramic. In my mom’s mind, this only added to the character of the statue.
The rest of the story is that my mom ran our household on a tight budget. She had joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom supported the Helpers of the Holy Souls, dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent us to church with a silver coin in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated a can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet our quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow each of us to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. I call my mom’s ceramic planter a treasure because it symbolizes one of the greatest lessons my mom taught me: To be generous.
I share all of this with you because the scriptures relate the stories of two widows whose generosity endeared them for generations to come. Perhaps it is they who inspired my mom! 1 Kings 17:1016 tells of a widow and her son caught in a great famine. This widow finds that she has only enough flour and oil to prepare a single tiny loaf. After consuming this final ration, she and her son will surely die for they have nothing more to eat. In spite of her impending demise, when Elijah happens by, the widow shares what she has with him. Though she has no reason to do so, the woman listens with her heart to Elijah’s promise of God’s sustained nourishment and she gives Elijah her last morsel of bread. Just as Elijah promised, God rewards the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil that never empty. The widow, her son and Elijah eat well throughout the yearlong famine that continues.
Mark’s gospel (12:38-44) introduces a second widow who appears in the temple, completely unaware that she is in Jesus’ presence. The woman is very much aware, however, that she kneels before her Creator. It is with great reverence for her God that she reaches deeply into her worn purse to offer all that she has, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the offerings of the wealthy, these coins mean everything to the widow for she has nothing else. Though she might have traded these coins for bread, she hands them over to the temple, perhaps to assist another whose need is greater than her own.
The women in today’s scriptures tug at my heartstrings just as memories of my mom do. Each of them displayed heroic generosity that was no single event. It seems to me that placing the needs of others before themselves had become a way of life for each of them. My mom’s generosity provided a lifelong lesson to me. The widows of the scriptures have done the same for us all. Perhaps the best way to heed the scriptures and to honor these women is to do the same.
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved