Women are models of true discipleship. Jesus praises them.
Women are left vulnerable in religious and social institutions. Jesus laments with them.
Two of the readings we hear from today both include widows, women who are left vulnerable by their social and religious institution. In the first reading, we hear of this woman who is trying to survive a famine. She encounters Elijah, the prophet and Elijah is asking a lot from her. Please bring me water and bread. All she can respond to him is “I have nothing baked.” “I do not have what you desire.” And Elijah says, “do not be afraid.” Her response was one of faith. To go and trust that God will provide for her and her son.
In our Gospel today, we see Jesus gather the disciples and say “hey, do you see that woman there? She has contributed more than anyone else even though she contributed few cents. But what she contributes comes from her poverty, not her abundance.” True discipleship. The actions of this woman and Jesus recognizing her, reflects the call of Jesus for each of us to give of ourselves freely and to live and offer ourselves in our own poverty. She models this for us.
I have to be transparent, what you are hearing today is not my original homily. You see, I spent a few weeks working with these readings and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use these women to talk about the role of women in the Church and I wanted to talk about how the structure of our Church and society today, still leave women vulnerable and on the margins. I wanted to empower this Church community to see these women as models of discipleship - powerful faithful people who call us to give of ourselves generously. In a way, I felt pressure to give this kind of homily. Our Church is broken. Our country is broken. These women provide us a space to lament in the social and religious structures that leave us vulnerable, while also reminding us that it is in our tradition, our sacred text, that women lead the way for a life of faith and discipleship. How can I not preach about this?!?
I had a really good homily actually. Its powerful. But of course the Spirit works in mysterious and funny ways. A few days ago while I was editing, now this so called really good homily, I became aware of this soft invitation to go deeper. It was an invitation that I can now recognize was there from the beginning of my process of creating this homily. These were the questions that began to stir in me:
· How was I being like the Pharisees and scribes in preparing my homily?
· How was I being like the wealthy people, only contributing from my surplus, from my abundance?
· Now here is a tough one, this one was the one that slowed me down - how was I more focused on my external success in breaking open this word today, rather than allowing these texts, these readings, these women to work in and through me?
I stopped immediately, and I began to pray with the readings, instead of using them.
Please do not get me wrong Church. These readings certainly call us to lament and to confront the challenges and graces of discipleship. These women certainly model for us how to be in the brokenness of the world and to offer ourselves generously. However, in my attempts to bring my anger, lamentations of the brokenness in our Church and country today, and my desire for the voices of women to be lifted, I became much like the Pharisees and scribes. I was more focused on how I would be received and who I would impact in breaking open the word today, than being aware of how my heart was responding to these readings. I must be a strong woman preaching. I must show people I have a theology degree. I must make an impact. I need to show from the pulpit that I am angry and my voice demands to be heard. I was driven by these narratives and titles. Once I began to pray with these readings, I was drawn to look inward and challenge how I may be contributing from my surplus, not from my poverty. My invitation for you to come to this table today is centered on looking inward. What must change in my life and heart, so that I too may offer myself generously, from my own poverty, to the work of God in this world.
So now that I told you about this awesome homily that I am not going to share with you, let me share with you a story that brings this all together. Women. My good but not in the right Spirit homily. Inward-focused. An offering of self from my own poverty.
I am a new high school teacher. I started teaching last year in religious studies at a Catholic School in the Bay Area, and my prior experience was in campus ministry, so this was very new for me. I work really hard to create lesson plans that can help students connect with the Bible, that can create a space for students to wrestle with their faith and ask questions about God. I had a hard time learning how to do this well - I am still learning! I remember there was this one lesson that I had spent hours preparing. I was exegeting a text from the Hebrew scriptures. I crushed it. I pulled in cultural references, I pulled in their own experience from HS. I had images, videos, board work, group work. I was on it! And they were with me! They were engaged the whole time, I made them laugh, I made them pause. And most importantly, I gave them space to ask questions about the text and gave them tools to discern their own interpretation. In the moment, I felt alive: to be creating that space with my little sophomores, it’s a good feeling.
Afterwards, when the bell rang, the students were very energetic and were saying, “Thank you Ms. Miguens.” It was awesome! And then I had a student linger. I'm picking up my things and I say, “Whats up?” And this student says, “Ms. Miguens, I just want to say thank you.” Immediately, of course, my ego is like, “Oh yeah, I know, it was an awesome lesson. This feels good.” And this is what the student told me: “Ms. Miguens, I wanted to say thank you because at the beginning of class you said hey, how are you doing? And you were the only person throughout this whole day that has asked me that in a way that made me feel like you actually wanted to know how I was doing. And I felt safe enough to tell you how I was actually feeling. And I just want to say thank you for that, it means a lot.” At the time I was like “absolutely, no problem. I always want to know about my students, I want to know how they’re doing.” The student leaves. My immediate thought was of course, the Pharisee and scribe in me, that was an awesome lesson, but you liked the “Hey, how are you?” Okay, I will have to find a way to receive that as best I can. So I pushed this conversation aside as if it was nothing. And of course later on in prayer it was a moment of grace in my day.
This student was a reminder of what I am called to offer those I minister: I offer my gifts, myself from my place of poverty. Let me try to explain.
My lesson and work in the classroom is rooted in my desire for students to connect with scripture and God, so in of itself, is good. However, sometimes I am more focused on how “awesome” my lesson plan is going to be or I am too worried about how my students will like or be engaged with a lesson, that I give myself only to that. Sometimes it is easier for me to produce a good lesson, than it is for me to take the time to say “how are you” AND mean it. Time in a certain sense is my poverty when I’m at school. I am pulled in too many directions. I am always on the move. But when I stopped, I paused, I looked at the student and I said, “Hey, how are you?” I offered myself in a way that was worth a lot more than hours of lesson planning. Please know that I am well aware that lesson planning takes time, I love to do it, I will do it well as I am responsible for the education of these students...yes, yes and yes. However, I am always responsible in giving of myself much like the woman at the temple in the Gospels. Sometimes, what I give in the smaller moment, what I give in the busiest of time, is the most I can give students. That lesson plan - awesome. My presence and care for students, a deeper invitation and calling forth of an offering of self. That student was a gift in reminding me that the external, though important, cannot take priority of the internal work, which at times might seem smaller or simpler.
Today, the readings invite us to be present to what is happening internally. Much like the models of women in these readings, how are we preparing our hearts to not only give generously but to give even from our poverty? How are we allowing our titles, honor, ego, or our reputation get in the way of being present to others? What needs to happen in our lives to be more attentive to the widows of our world, those who can show us the path towards true discipleship. We cannot dismantle structure if we are not in check with what needs to happen in us. The women in these readings show us that there is a brokenness in our world leaving them vulnerable, and like them, we must have faith, we must be courageous to see the brokenness, and we must act generously from our own poverty, even if it begins by admitting that a homily that was written was not in the right Spirit or even if it begins with “Hey, how are you?”
Kelly Miguens currently works as a faculty member in the Religious Studies Department and Campus Minister at a Jesuit high school in California. Kelly is an alumni of the University of Scranton, where she received her bachelors degree and participated in the Casa de la Solidaridad program in the Spring of 2009. Most recently, Kelly received a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA.
Kelly is passionate about social justice, Jesuit education, and Ignatian spirituality. This passion led Kelly to work as a campus minister at the University of Scranton for a few years. Prior to that she served for two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in San Francisco, CA and Detroit, MI. Through her professional work and service, Kelly has developed retreats, created social justice programs, and has accompanied college and high school students on immersion trips throughout the United States, Central America, and South America. Kelly is also passionate about her time spent teaching classes and ministering to women at a Federal Corrections Institution in CA. Additionally, Kelly serves as a support person for the Berkeley-Oakland Jesuit Volunteers.