As our Church year draws to an end and as we journey through the month of November, our prayers and readings at Mass invite us to reflect on the four “last things:” death, judgment, heaven and hell. In other words, to remember that how we live now, will be our future. Or, as a spiritual writer put it, “our future is now!” This week, our readings focus on the importance of living a life of generosity and giving, and how these are not just a matter of duty, but rather, they are acts of faith and love.

In the First Reading, we hear a very moving account about the faith and generosity of a poor widow. We know of the vulnerability of widows in many ancient cultures, especially as there were no social services or support. What is worse is that a terrible drought had struck the land and the widow’s hardship is now complete. In fact, she is preparing to die, along with her son. Despite this, in an act of great faith and generosity, she uses the only food that she has left to feed this strange man (actually the great prophet Elijah) who shows up in town.

It is easy to miss a detail that makes this widow’s act of generosity and faith even more remarkable. Notice that Elijah asks her to make him something to eat before she cooks anything for her and her son. In other words, she would have to use up her last stock of food to feed him, in the hope that the promise made by Elijah about the food not running out would come true. She shows not only great generosity, but also great faith, as “she did as Elijah had said.” What is more, Elijah’s promise came to fruition … and how!

In our Gospel, we find Jesus in the temple area observing all that is going on in that holy place. The Temple in Jerusalem was actually a large campus with various buildings and it was the religious heart of Israel: an impressive and very visible sign of God’s presence among His people. The treasury was located in one of the inner courts of the temple and it was the place where people made their offerings for the financial support of the temple and the various ministries associated with it. As we hear in the Gospel, a poor widow enters and then gives all that she has as an offering. Again, it is easy to miss a small, but important detail about how she gave her last few coins. The word that is used in the original language of the Gospel referring to her giving is bion, from which come words such as biology or biosphere. So, she literally gives her whole world or existence. Not surprisingly, Jesus praises her giving, her generosity and her incredible act of faith.

As always, such incidents and encounters are as fresh for us today as they were 2,000 years ago and 6,000 miles away in Jerusalem. It is great, for example, to see in the news how generous people can be, especially in the face of great need and so often despite their own difficult situations. We have certainly witnessed this in the various recent and sad natural disasters both here in the USA and elsewhere, as well as with the pandemic. Folks who may have lost everything themselves still come forward and help those around them in need, or put their life on the line to care for those who are sick. A few weeks ago, I watched as a TV interviewer talked to a man standing outside the ruins of his own home, but who had spent the last few days helping others. Speaking not so much about himself, but rather about the neighborhood, he simply said, “it is what we do, it is who we are.”

Every week, many of us have the truly wonderful and great privilege and joy of witnessing the generosity of others in our own local community, whether it is someone caring for a sick or dying friend or relative; or all those who do so much to support a food pantry or the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, or other outreach programs. We can think of a recurring message of Pope Francis about our Christian vocation of helping and caring for all those who are in need. In doing this, we are imitating Jesus himself, in His love and care for the poor and the needy. This message is also timely, as next Sunday will be the “World Day of Prayer for the Poor.” What is more, the Thanksgiving Holiday is fast approaching. What better way to show our thanks: not just in words, but also in deeds of kindness and generosity to others? May we indeed be generous and giving; not just from a sense of obligation of duty, but from a deep sense of faith and love. What is more, it is a wonderful way of preparing for the life to come.