Jesus really understands the poor widow’s gift and her predicament. Jesus notices the widow’s offering perhaps because it is his story too. Hounded, harassed and eventually condemned by the local religious authorities, he too will freely choose to give over all he has to live on- his very life blood and his precious body- because love is more important. Love and giving from the heart, real generosity, always have the quiet power to overthrow oppression. Compassionate mercy is enfleshed in Christ Jesus. It is he alone who really truly understands, understands each of us, our context, our stories. We are invited to have this compassionate mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus. And so a huge part of our life together in the monastery is coming to understand each other, to learn the stories that we hold within us, the stories that we are. Then perhaps we can learn compassion.
Some years ago we heard the story of a parish conducted by a certain religious order. In the community there was one priest who was the bane of the brethren, judged by all as lazy and inefficient, always disheveled; clearly an embarrassment to everyone. He slept in late and could only manage to preside each day at the noon Mass, then have lunch and go back to his room. They never saw much of him. And soon they never saw him at all. One day he didn’t show up for his Mass; and soon after the superior found him dead in his cluttered, stuffy room. After he died the doctor told the superior of the rare incapacitating disease this priest had endured for years; the bone-numbing fatigue that was part of it. The rector recounted the priest’s daily routine- the one Mass, the drowsy lunch, the laziness. “Oh no, not laziness, Father,” the doctor assured him. “The little he was able to do was truly heroic.”
Maybe we come to understand. So much has happened. So many stories, stories that have formed and sometimes deformed and burden us still; so many triumphs and sorrows that have marked us. Only Jesus sees and really understands the little we have to live on and what we live with. He always notices. And slowly but surely we are invited to begin doing likewise. Even now, the little things we do no matter how unremarkable give Jesus pleasure. And His promise to us, as to Elijah’s widow in today's first reading, is that when we are generous, we will have more than enough to get by. We can afford it. Our task is to keep noticing with the compassionate, merciful eyes of Christ and so to get on our way to becoming compassion for one another.
Photographs by Brother Brian.