By Canon Gerry Conroy
Religion is no certain antidote to that very human condition of self-worship that closes us off to an openness to anything greater than ourselves. The Scribes Jesus criticised were clearly more interested in themselves than in God and the comparison with the widow who had nothing yet was able to recognise something greater than herself must not fail to make us stop and look at ourselves. I don’t think that the Gospel story is about money or generosity; it’s about an ability to see beyond ourselves and recognise that there is something greater than ourselves, something more important than ourselves that calls us to give ourselves to it. That is an important part in growing up, in moving from that self-centredness that we all pass through as children to being able to recognise the value of something outside ourselves, that what is other than us has a value in itself, a value not dependent on us, on our like for it, or our desire for it, or the joy or pleasure it gives to us. It’s that respect for something outside ourselves that is able to recognise the dignity of what is other than us; that it has in itself and that is what enables us to have an adult relationship with others.
In addition to our own selfishness, our own generation would seem to have its own particular obstacles to surmount in order to move beyond that narcissistic gaze that is caught in its own reflection. That puts before us another obstacle not only an obstacle to being able to form relationships that are mature and healthy and long lasting, but also to be able, like the widow in the Gospel, to recognise the necessary place of God and our faith in our life. What I mean is that our society, as a consumer society, needs to sell things to us if it is to survive, if it is to prosper. And if it is to sell things to us, it needs to persuade us that we would be better off with whatever it wants to sell us. And to do that it necessarily holds up before us a mirror that keeps our gaze fixed on ourselves and our contentment as the most important thing. Not only that, it is repeatedly sending us the message that our contentment is possible and is attained through these material things. If we hear it often enough, and we hear it several times every day, something of its message is going to sink in. We will end up being much less interested in anything that isn’t all about us; and what feeds that happiness, advertising tells us, is all about having whatever they have to sell us. Our society itself can become a screen that shuts us off from God, or a mirror that does not let us see beyond ourselves to anything greater than us, it concentrates our attention and our admiration on ourselves, just like the Scribes did and far from the truth the poor widow saw. That is harmful to all relationships, but especially to a relationship with anything that is greater than ourselves, especially to God. If it doesn’t serve us, we dismiss it; if it isn’t subject to our desires or interests, we judge that it is of no use to our lives or we change it till it does fit in with that reflection we have grown to believe is who we are. The Scribes were blind to their hypocrisy and falseness; the widow poor as she was, was closer to the truth of herself and of life. The Gospel teaches us the importance of acknowledging and seeking a real relationship with God who is greater than we are – and worship is an important part of that.