Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy. The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.
“And nothing again would be casual and small.”
The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord. Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.
Generally, though, my life feels casual and small. Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant. What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?
In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury. Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.
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.
In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small? Yes. What makes it stand out to Our Lord? The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.
Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently. While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.” I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember. Generosity is not a hallmark of mine. When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance. Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something. My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store. Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share. I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.
Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here. Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small. Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow. Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness.
Other people had far more money to contribute to the treasury, but they did not give sacrificially. When I see other people and the many gifts and talents they have, I often feel like I got shorted somewhere. Mentally, I have a short list of things I believe I do well and a significantly longer list of things I wish I did well. The widow, however, did not make excuses or apologize for the littleness of her gift. She simply gave it. I am called to make a gift of myself, little or insignificant though it may seem. Rather than quantify the gifts, I am called to use what I have, entirely, in service of the Lord.
What would it look like to give of myself as sacrificially as the widow gave of her money? I think it would mean embracing my poverty. It would mean ceasing to fight against my littleness and instead surrendering it all to the Lord. What does it matter if I have two gifts or twenty? The Lord Himself said that what set the widow apart was not the amount that she gave, but rather how totally she gave.
If I strive for this authentic gift of self, this radical laying down of my life for the Lord, than it is worth more than those who are supremely gifted yet only give themselves half-heartedly. This is how nothing is casual or small. As we give our poverty, our littleness, and our gifts to the Lord, He uses them in ways we cannot understand. The widow was not thinking of how she could leave her mark or make a big impression. Rather, she simply knew that she was supposed to make a complete gift of her resources and so she did.
Of course, I long for a great adventure and I wonder what the Lord will do with my life and the gifts He has given me. But more important than knowing these answers is giving the gift anyway. It isn’t the extras or the abundance that the Lord wants from me. He desires the parts I deem essential and the aspects I believe I cannot live without. Jesus called Peter out onto the water, into a place where trust in Jesus was the only thing that could provide. In a similar way, Jesus calls me to give Him all that I am, even though I am poor, even though it is little.
When I am in a state of needing to completely surrender, then the Lord can do His greatest work. And in that, nothing is casual or small.