Whenever I hear or read the story of "the widow's mite," I am amazed. That woman, destitute as she was, did not lose her ability to choose wisely and in a radical way.
She could have kept those two small coins and bought some food. She could have – in view of her utter poverty and the loss of her husband – blamed God for her misery and turned away from the Temple.
She could have said to herself, "If God does not look after me, why should I look after his house? He gave riches and luck to the others, let them contribute to the upkeep of the Temple, not me. I need even these wretched pennies, however little they can provide me."
The woman could have hated the Temple, knowing its treasures, its solid gold angels within, its costly marble pavements and architectural decorations – when she had nothing. From hating the Temple, she could have progressed to hating God too. Wasn't he in charge of human lives?
Instead, she gave away all she had, "her whole livelihood." God himself is impressed with her generosity and even more by her child-like trust. By donating even those reserves that she had, she put herself completely in his hands. She has nothing but him and his love.
She must have been a woman of deep faith and prayer to have chosen so wisely because only prayer opens our eyes to the reality of the Divine. Those two small coins would have gotten her a piece of flat bread at best. Yet, instead of being "lost" to the cause of God, they became her treasure in heaven. What lasts longer - a loaf of bread or heaven?
'She out of her poverty has put in everything she had.'
"Widows' mites" come in different shapes, sizes and colours. We usually don't see them at all. If we do, we are humbled by their small size and low value. Only God knows the true worth of widows mites.
When a deeply depressed wife smiles to her husband or a child – despite the torment of emotional and mental darkness – a priceless widow's mite is dropped into God's treasury.
When an alcoholic refuses a drink, despite the craving, and begs God to let him survive another day without that poison, a widow's mite dances its way into heaven's coffers.
When a priest makes his way to an empty church and spends a lonely hour in the confessional before he says Mass facing three people in all, he is placing his widow's mite onto the palm of God. In time, he will see a long queue to the confessional and the church full.
A widow's mite rolls triumphantly up, up, carried by angels to heaven.
Widows mites, unlike our earthly dollars, are a sort of universal heavenly currency which is recognized also in purgatory. This is good to remember because most of us will end up there.
My aunt Helen who, having lost her house during the Second World War, first to the Germans and then to the Russians, old, ill and bedridden, asked me to go every month to our local parish and ask for a Mass for souls in purgatory. She had almost no money, her tiny pension hardly sufficed for bare survival and her greatest treasure was a soft woolen shawl my sister brought her from England.
She could use those earthly "mites" of hers to buy a nice sweater or a dress, a book. But no. She never asked me to go and buy her anything; it was always to take her offering for one Mass. When I asked her why she did it, she told me calmly that it was more important to help those who could not help themselves than buy anything that is not eternal.
"Aren't ours in heaven?" I asked, surprised, remembering saintly Aunt Jane and my Grandma who had been the cornerstones of our family. "I do not know," she answered simply. "Besides, there are others, and many souls do not get much help."
In that, she was a woman of great faith, but also a realist.
We may assume that all decent people who die, go straight to heaven. The murderers, the thieves, adulterers yes, . . . they could use some hard purgatory. But never us, the ordinary small-time sinners.
Aunt Helen understood better than I did that one cannot enter the home of the King in everyday dress or a patched skirt. With her rosaries silently recited, her quiet acceptance of suffering and poverty, her asthmatic attacks borne heroically and especially with those Masses, she was "buying" wonderful dresses and princely jewelry for all in purgatory who might need them.
This was her clever investment of the currency known as widows mites made in heavenly real estate.