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Saturday, 7 November 2009

She has put in everything she had, her whole living (Mk 12:44)

The Gospel for this Sunday is from Mark 12:28-44. The passage contains two sayings of Jesus, which may not on a first reading seem to have that much in common, but on reflection it seems to me they do.

In the first passage, Jesus is warning his disciples about the way of the scribes, who "like to go about in long robes" (Mar 12:38 RSV), and "have salutations in the market places" (Mar 12:38 RSV). They like to be the center of attention, but their heart is not orientated toward God. At the same time of showing off they "devour widows' houses" (Mar 12:40 RSV) and their prayers are only "a pretense" (Mar 12:40 RSV)


Our relation with God is personal and has to be that way: "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Mat 6:6 RSV) With this does not mean that it is not communal. We are all part of the body of Christ and very importantly we come together to celebrate for example the sacrament of the Mass every Sunday, but we do not show off how good we are. Jesus put a lot of emphasis on the communal aspect of the Church, but there is a risk that if we don't have our personal relation with Jesus that it becomes shallow very quickly, and especially when we replace it with public display.


Our life is flowing from God, our joy is tending towards being with Him: "O God, you are my God, for you my soul is thirsting, my body pines for you, like a dry weary land without water" (Ps 63:1-2). If our practices become mere rituals, and our hearts are not tended towards God, we can notice that our lives become more shallow. Reflecting on my own meditations, there are periods where there are all kind of distractions which seem to popup, from musing over philosophical topics from Plato to Kant, by thinking of managing websites to writing reflections, even from servers to network switches (even in religious life I don't seem to be able to escape that).

These can take over our thoughts, but we have to realize that they are really only secondary, and that we have to make time in which we try and spend time with God, and this sometimes, or in my case often, takes a bit of effort. In the office of readings, on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo this week we could read that him saying "Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for theoffice or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?"


Recollection is important, and sometimes it is important to realize that. There is a very delicate balance in realizing that we are weak and that we are pron to get distracted, and not getting frustrated about this but to accept this disposition. However on the other hand we should not just accept it and do nothing about it, indulging in feeding our wandering thoughts. For myself, I have to realize that I should not indulge in letting my mind wander around, especially once I am becoming aware of this. I have to recollect myself. St. Teresa of Avila says in the Interior Castle: "as the will is not always enflamed with love, the activity of the understanding is sometimes necessary to revive the flame". 


She then continues to point back to her way of Prayer of the Glance, "It will be enough for the memory to recall the mysteries of Christ and His love, which the soul will consider by a simple glance, and this alone will be enough to enflame the will", with the eyes of our soul we behold the face of Christ, and His love instantly stirs our hearts, even if it is only for a split second, we know He loves us and we know why we are there to be with Him...


Then the second part is talking about the widow who "put in two copper coins, which make a penny" (Mar 12:42 RSV) compared to the "many rich people put in large sums" (Mar 12:41 RSV). Jesus praises the widow because the "poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury" (Mar 12:43 RSV) for the simple reason that "[the rich people] all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living" (Mar 12:44 RSV).


Jesus is not saying that it is bad for the rich to give much from their abundance, but is more pointing to the total commitment of the widow to give everything she has to God. She gave up her whole living to God, and completely surrenders herself to Him, not keeping anything in reserve, not even to feed herself. 


Connecting this to the first part of the reflection, I think we can try and include this in our prayer. In the time we pray we completely give ourselves over to God, we give as much as we can, and this includes trying to recollect ourselves and even give over our own thoughts, our own worries, our mental hobby horses etc. 
By trying to make contact with Jesus, possible by trying to look at His face with the eyes our our heart/soul as St. Theresa of Avila suggests. 
To start a 'conversation' with Him as you would with a friends, even if it is just a silent being together as two lovers who just hold hands. 
To completely surrender ourselves to Him and trust in His love, it flowing into our soul filling us up and reviving us, giving this deep peace and joy which only knowledge and love of God can give.


"O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not thy face from me!" (Psa 143:7 RSV)

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