Rev. Joe Keating
32nd Sunday in O.T. (B)
Love: The Economics of Heaven
When I was in the seminary over in Europe, I would often check the exchange rate between the euro and the US dollar. Anytime I needed to pay cash at the stores or restaurants, I would go down to the business office to buy some euros. During my four years of study, the rate varied from around $1.10 to the euro at the cheapest, all the way up to $1.50 per euro. It was always advantageous to buy euros right at the moment when the rate would tick down a few cents, but it was a gamble; I never knew precisely when I was going to get the best rate.
I was sometimes tempted to hold onto my dollars just a little while longer, just long enough to squeeze out a few more euros when I went to the exchange. I knew that if I opened up my wallet too soon, I would end up losing value in the exchange.
In the readings we just heard, we get a sort of lesson in economics. But this is not a matter of supply and demand, calculating the GDP or anything else you may remember from high school economics. I’m going to call that the economics of the World. But in the readings today, we get a different picture. We are talking about the economics of Heaven.
We have two widows here, one in the first reading and one in the gospel. Also, widows get a mention in the psalm. So why all this talk about widows? The first thing to remember is that widows were even worse off in the ancient world than most widows and single parents today. They had no government social security. They had no child support payments. And most of all, they had no inheritance rights under Jewish law. That means they relied completely on the community to sustain them.
In the first reading, Elijah asks the widow for something to eat. And the widow is thinking in terms of the economics of the World. “I have nothing baked, there is only a handful of flour and a little oil.” She wants to hold onto that last bit of flour and oil, and who can blame her? Her country is experiencing a famine, or what we would probably call a recession. Her security is gone. So, she hesitates to give away what she has.
But then the miracle happens. When she gives all she has, she receives infinitely more in return—her jar did not go empty, and her oil jug did not run dry. It’s amazing; it’s a miracle. Because in the Economics of the World, that does not make sense. In the Economics of the World, she would be absolutely destitute. But instead, God reveals thru Elijah the Economics of Heaven. When we give all, we receive all.
Take, for example, the life of St. Lawrence. In ancient Rome, in a time when Christianity was illegal and the Church was persecuted by the Emperor, Lawrence was a deacon, and he was in charge of distributing food to the poor and giving assistance to widows. He lived a life of generous service to God and his neighbor. Then, when the Roman officials came to arrest him, they first demanded that he hand over the riches of the Church. Lawrence simply pointed to the poor and the widows and said, “Here are the riches of the Church.” And for this, they killed blessed Lawrence by grilling him alive on a gridiron. Yet, as he was slowly succumbing to the flames, he prayed for his persecutors. St. Lawrence gave everything, and so he received the crown of martyrdom.
In the Gospel we have another widow, who gives as Jesus calls, “her whole livelihood.” The rich contributors in the temple gave out of their excess. They had security. There was more money in the bank, and they were nowhere near what we would call today “the poverty line.” The widow, however, had no means of support. She relied on the charitable donations of the community, and yet she realized that she, too, was called to make sacrifices.
In a way, we are all like that widow. We really have nothing that was not given to us. We depend entirely on the generosity of our God. Even the money we earn was earned with our bodies, our minds, our talents, our education, all things that were given to us. Our wealth and our possessions, can give us the illusion of security. But really, we are dependent upon God for everything.
Now, I’d like to give a little economics homework. This week, as we spend some time in prayer, let’s think about what gifts God has given each of us, and thank God for those gifts. After we have taken stock of our gifts, let’s ask the Lord how he may be calling us to use those gifts to serve others. That is going to look different for each one of us, and thank God for that. We have such a diversity of talent. When we give of ourselves in a sacrificial way, we call that love. And love is the currency of heaven.
Take, for example, St. Katharine Drexel, a more recent saint. She was born in Philadelphia in 1858 to a rich family. She received an education thru the instruction of the best private tutors in America and Europe. Every week, her stepmother would open their home to the poor people of Philadelphia to distribute food and rent assistance. When Katherine was 25, she visited the western states and was moved to compassion for the plight of the Native Americans. When Katharine’s father died and bequeathed her a portion of a $15 million inheritance, Katharine donated her portion to helping black and Native Americans. But that’s not all. She realized that what they needed was not just someone to write them a check; they needed people who would love and care for them. So, under guidance from her spiritual director, she took religious vows and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. By the time of her death in 1955, she had founded 63 schools and 50 missions in 16 different states, and the sisters had grown to 500 members. St. Katharine Drexel gave not only her fortune, but her life in service of her neighbors in need.
Love is that currency that never depreciates, never gets weaker against the dollar, never diminishes in value. It’s the miraculous currency—miraculous because the more we give it away, the more we have.
The opposite is also true: the more stingy we are with love, the less love we have in our hearts. Perhaps it’s out of that disordered love of self that we call pride, or perhaps it’s because of a false humility that is really just self-loathing simmering beneath the surface. Either way, we are being motivated by fear, and fear is a trick of the Evil One.
He sows fear in our hearts—fear that if I make this act of sacrifice, maybe I won’t receive anything in return. So I hold back. Fear that maybe I’ll be rejected or ostracized. So I hide my talents, and I don’t even try. Fear that no one will notice me, no one will care. So I become loud and ostentatious. Or fear that we can’t afford another baby in the family. So we use contraception.
But do you see where this line of thinking leads us? It makes us into the corrupt scribes that Jesus condemns. We become more concerned with honor and popularity, arrogating more and more to ourselves. We become more concerned with outward show, and not conversion of heart. The fear of losing our status and security slowly suffocates the fire of love in our hearts. In a word, we become selfish.
Now if love is the currency of heaven, then we ought to know something about what love is. Let’s talk about what love is and what love isn’t. Love is not just an emotion, a warm fuzzy feeling. Sure, we say things like, I love chicken fried steak, or I love six-man football. In that sense, love is just liking something a lot. But when we’re talking about loving a person, we need a better definition.
To love a person is to will the best for him/her, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
Notice that it is not a feeling, but an act of the will. What does that mean? It means that I may not feel like doing the right thing. I may not feel like being obedient or sticking my neck out for someone else. I may not feel like getting out of bed when the baby is crying. But we still have control over our actions, even when our feelings tell us otherwise. We can choose to act one way or another. That’s using the will. And when we use the will for the good of another, that is love. To boot, our love is worth even more when it costs us something.
If you want to see an example of love, look no further than this crucifix. There is no greater love than this—to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus has called us his friends, and he has made the greatest act of love for us. If we are his disciples, we must do the same for others. We give ourselves away in our acts of love, just like those two widows who gave everything they had.
We need not wait for the perfect moment, as if the exchange rate is going to be just right. The currency of heaven never loses value. When we give love away, we receive love in return. Give yourself away, and you’ll find that your jar will not go empty, and your jug will not run dry.