10 November 2012

'But she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 12:38-44 [12:41-44] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

[In his teaching Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."] 

And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."


At the grave of my Great-uncle Lawrence Dowd in Belgium, September 2001.
Uncle Larry, my maternal grandmother's older half-brother, was killed on 6 August 1917. I was the first relative to visit his grave.

Pope Benedict XV, Bishop of Rome from 3 September 1914 to 22 January 1922,in 1915 granted priests permission to celebrate three Masses on All Souls' Day, one of their own intentions, one for all the faithful departed and one for the Holy Father's intentions. He had been elected pope a few weeks after the Great War, later known also as World War I, began. He made many attempts to bring about peace, nearly all of which were rebuffed. He was conscious of the slaughter of so many and of churches destroyed and wanted all who died in the war to be remembered in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

November 11, or the Sunday closest to it, is observed as Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the USA) or Remembrance Sunday in many countries. This was originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of fighting in World War I at 11:00 am on 11 November 1918.

In today's gospel Jesus praises the poor widow who out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living. The Great War created many widows, mostly young wives of men who died in the war, many of them left with young children. It left many grieving parents, seeing their sons - it was mostly sons - die in their teens and early 20s. The vast majority were never able to bury their loved ones or to visit their graves after the war was over. Countless soldiers lie in unknown graves. Others lie buried in beautiful cemeteries but with no name on their gravestone.

On the occasion of my officiating at the wedding of two friends in Belgium in September 2001, Stefaan a Belgian and Joy a Filipina, they were able to help me locate the grave of Corporal Lawrence Dowd who died in the Third Battle of Ypres (Ieper), also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, or simply 'Passchendaele', on 6 August 1917.

I don't know why Lawrence Dowd enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The whole of Ireland was in the United Kingdom at the time but Irishmen, unlike young men in Britain, weren't conscripted. He was single and in his 30s. Many young men joined their countries' armies out of a sense of patriotism, ready to give up life itself.

Most of the men who fought and died in the Great War came from backgrounds of poverty. Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne described the conflict as 'just a sordid trade war'.
Yet there is no question of the choice that many made to put in everything they had, for the highest reasons.

Two of these, from my native Dublin, were not from a poor background. One died ten days after Uncle Larry and in the same battle, Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917). Father Willie Doyle chose to go to be a chaplain in the war and  it was his steady practice of virtue over the years, and his cooperation with grace, that created the hero of the trenches who was willing to run across a battlefield battered with shells and bullets to bring help to his 'poor brave boys', as he called them. [Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ].

In the trenches Fr Doyle made no distinction between soldiers in British uniforms and soldiers in German uniforms when he ministered to them on the battlefield. He died in action having run 'all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy'. His body was never found.
Bust of Tom Kettle in St Stephen's Green, Dublin

Thomas Kettle (9 February 1880 – 9 September 1916) was a lawyer and was a Member of Parliament in Westminster for some time representing the Irish Parliamentary Party. He kept volunteering to join the army and was turned down a number of times because of poor health. He was eventually commissioned as an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and left Ireland on 14 July 1916. He was killed in action on 9 September that year during the awful Battle of the Somme in France. He too has no known grave.

Shortly before his death he wrote a poem to his three-year-old daughter Elisabeth (Betty) which I always find incredibly moving. It also has a connection with Columban Father John Henaghan, one of five Columbans, 'The Malate Martyrs', who died during the Battle of Manila in February 1945. He had written a number of books but a few years after his death another was published, the title taken from the last line of Tom Kettle's poem, The Secret Scripture of the Poor.

Fr John Henaghan (1881 - 10 February 1945)

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
by Thomas Michael Kettle
dated ‘In the field, before Guillemont, Somme, Sept. 4, 1916’.

IN wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother's prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You'll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,         
To dice with death. And oh! they'll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,  
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

St Martin of Tours sharing his cloak with a beggar. El Greco, 1597-99. 

St Martin of Tours, soldier and later bishop, feast day 11 November.

On this day let us pray, through the intercession of St Martin of Tours, for all who, like the widow in the gospel, freely gave their everything, their very lives, as so many of them believed, like Tom Kettle, for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed, / And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

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