Lent 02, Year A
- Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (Jn. 8:12)
An old story recounts that there was, once upon a time, a widow somewhere in China who lost her only son. Terribly devastated by her son’s death and looking for comfort in her grief, the widow sought the help of an old wise man.
The elderly sage directed her to go look for the rarest of mustard seeds. He promised to concoct for her out of those seeds a healing potion.
And so off went the widow in search of the special mustard seeds. Not finding them in her native village, she went forth to other villages. But the mustard seeds were nowhere to be found.
Pain and misery were what the widow found mostly in the homes she visited to inquire about the mustard seeds. And moved with compassion, she would stay awhile to provide comfort and help. She did so for months on end, all the while that the mustard seeds she was looking for continued to prove very elusive.
Yet as the widow’s focus shifted from her own pain and loss to others’ pains and losses, her feeling of devastation and grief started to subside. Soon enough, when all her sadness had finally vanished completely, she came to realize that she was no longer in need of a healing potion or of any mustard seeds. She likewise came to understand the sage’s wise and real prescription.
The widow of this wisdom parable stands, it seems to me, for anybody who manages to avoid what Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., calls a “death-bearing danger,” that is to say, the danger “that we will gradually slide into self-sufficiency that blinds us to our need for others and their need for us” (cf. his letter as Superior General to Vincentians throughout the world for Lent 2002). The widow, in other words, is everyone who sees both his need for others and others’ need for him, and ends up prevailing against darkness. This vision is not altogether unrelated to the vision that St. Vincent de Paul had. “Finally, after more than three years,” says Jacques Delarue of St. Vincent, “he emerged into the light, established in faith once for all, on the day he vowed to consecrate the rest of his life to the poor … (The Holiness of Vincent de Paul © 1960, Geoffrey Chapman, Ltd).
The widow represents every believer, who looks up to Abraham as his or her father. While still Abram, the father of believers went forth from the land of his kinsfolk and from his father’s house to an unfamiliar and uncertain territory, on the strength solely of a promise of blessings. Abraham went against the all too human thrust to self-centeredness and instead reached out of himself toward a wholly Other, who called him, and calls all of us, “not according to our works but according to his own design ....” Abraham was the exact opposite of those St. Vincent characterized as “pampered peoples … who have such a limited outlook, who fix their sights and their plans on a near horizon and shut themselves up in it as if they were on a pin’s head; they don’t want to leave that spot; and if you show them something further afield and they do go out to have a look at it, they hurry quickly back to their center like a snail into its shell” (December 6, 1658 conference, as cited by Jacques Delarue).
The widow is like Carmen who, by her own account, fled to France from Spain at age 22, on account of political troubles, having only 100 pesetas in her pocket and without the help of those who until her escape had been her comrades (Cristianisme I Justicia Booklets, no. 103 [October 2001, Barcelona, Spain]). Soon without money and without a job, she suffered hunger and extreme cold. Had the street-wise pimps, prostitutes and pick-pockets not helped her, she would have drowned in her own internal chaos. From these marginalized street people of the red-light district—Carmen confesses—she learned, among other things, that only the poor know how to give truly because they alone know how to receive, that the poor, since they possess nothing, cannot give things but only themselves. And Carmen admits that, in their midst, she does not forget the crucified Christ and thus it becomes possible for her, by God’s grace, to be a Christian in Europe.
And the widow points to Jesus, the wounded healer. Though God’s beloved Son, Jesus was not spared (Rom. 8:32). Rather, he was handed over for us all. As the prophet Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, Jesus suffered, died—outside the city gate, says Heb. 13:12 explicitly—and rose again. He thus teaches us what Christian transformation or transfiguration consists in; he indicates through where and at what places passes first and stops the uphill climb to true glory. Setting us free through his cross and resurrection, the Savior of the world fulfilled to perfection the Law and the Prophets. So then, as commanded by the voice that came from the cloud, we listen to Jesus, and proclaim his death until he comes in glory. We embrace the truth that the glorious elevation of the host and chalice—giving all glory and honor to our almighty Father, through Jesus, with him in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit—only after shown to the faithful are the host and chalice over which has been pronounced in part: “This is my body which will be given up for you. … This is the cup of my blood … shed for you and for all” (cf. rubrics 91, 92 and 95 of the Order of Mass of Vatican II's Roman Missal).
Needless to say, Jesus’ saving story far surpasses in every way the story of the Chinese widow.