I became an uncle at the ripe age of seven and so I wasn't much older than my nieces and nephews. Sometimes when I played with them and had a toy of theirs, they would grab for it even if their own hands were filled with toys. They had to let go of one in order to have the one they wanted, the one that I had.
I thought of that in the light of today's Mass readings which teach us that it is only the empty hand that can receive. Or as the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi goes: "It is in giving that we receive."
Our first reading (1 Kings 17: 10-16) tells the story of how a non-Jewish widow helped the great prophet of Israel, Elijah. She was dirt poor. She had only a hungry child and a little oil and flour. There was no "safety net" in her society. A terrible drought had ravaged the land. She was about to prepare a final meal when Elijah came along and asked her for water and food. Something about the prophet moved her to give away part of her food. She could have held on to it, not shared, and then, it would indeed have been her last meal. But her charity to the wandering Jewish prophet opened the way for God's power to perform a miracle. The jug of oil did not run dry and the jar of flour did not go empty for an entire year.
In the gospel (Mark 12: 38-44) we see another widow. We see her in contrast to religious leaders and wealthy people who make a show of putting large amounts of money into the temple treasury. Ashamed of how little she has to give, she tries to put two small coins into the treasury hoping no one will notice her meager offering. But Jesus notices and praises her. The others gave vast sums from their surplus, from what they could afford to give and not experience any threat to their lifestyle. She gave sacrificially, from what she could not afford to give. They gave for show, to win the attention and admiration of the crowd. She gave for one simple reason--for love of God.
Perhaps Jesus saw in her a reflection of himself.
Like her, Jesus did not hold back. He gave all. He gave his very life, sacrificing it on a cross. And he continues to give all.
Every celebration of Mass makes present that total offering of Jesus on the cross. As the second reading (Hebrews 9: 24-28) says, he gave "once for all." He does not need to die again and again. But in a mysterious and miraculous way he makes that "once for all" offering of himself present in every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And after making this offering present to us, he gives himself totally to us--body and blood, soul and divinity--in Holy Communion. He holds nothing back but gives himself totally to each one who receives him in the Eucharist. This gift of himself, which we receive with open hands and hearts, gives us the ability to love as he loved.
How can we give all to God? Let me make a few practical suggestions.
First, at every Mass, as the bread and wine are placed on the altar and then lifted up as the Body and Blood of Christ, we place ourselves on the altar and join ourselves to Jesus' perfect offering of himself to the Father. It is important to be aware of this, to consciously unite ourselves to Jesus' offering as he is lifted up and makes his total, self-sacrificing offering of himself present to us. It's also important to have an intention for which we are praying as we join our offering to that of Jesus.
Second, we are called to live, in our daily lives, the offering we make with Jesus at Mass. This is where a Daily or Morning Offering Prayer can help us. It can be as simple as waking up and, before getting out of bed, thanking God for another day and offering that day to God. We can tell God in our own words that we want to offer every thought, word, and deed of the day; every breath and beat of our hearts; every prayer, work, joy, and suffering of the day in union with his total offering on the cross and at Mass. Then, during the day, especially when we encounter something challenging and difficult, something frustrating and painful, something we would rather not have to face or do, we can renew the offering, telling God that we are going to do this thing we have to do out of love for God and neighbor, as an act of love and for the salvation of every human soul.
Those things that we offer to God may seem very small in comparison to great acts of love for God, like martyrdom. They may seem very insignificant. But remember the two widows. The widow of Zarephath offered the little she had and her charity led to a miracle. And Jesus said the widow in the temple gave the most because she gave her all out of love. What matters to Jesus is not the amount, but the love that motivates the giving.