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How Do We Look to Outsiders?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
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“As the Lord your God lives.” With this exclamation, the widow of Zarephath sets the tone for her encounter with Elijah, the great man of God. She was not an Israelite. Elijah had no claim no her charity or her soul. She was not part of the covenant. And yet, she responded as though she was. In fact, her response was far more generous and immediate than that of most Israelites to the message of the prophets through the centuries.

The widow of Zarephath begins with only a vague notion of who God is, but in her neediness and her humility, she was living closer to the heart of God than many who knew the Torah by heart. Elijah, who had been wrestling with the kings and leaders of his people, must have found as much nourishment from her attitude as from the small cake she offered out of her meager supplies.

In the Gospel, Jesus warns the crowds about the hypocrisy and corruption that can creep into the leadership of any group, even a religious organization. Before the touching example of the widow giving her last two coins to the temple collection, he pointedly condemns those religious leaders who get rich on just such sacrifices. The actions of both widows have one thing in common. Both display a trust in God that puts more conventional spiritual types to shame. Giving all that they have to live on is admirable not because God wants people to be destitute, but because God wants people to put their trust in him rather than in the things of this world: Money, weapons, fortresses, power. Letting go of power is a hard lesson for those who have it.

Widows and orphans in Old and New Testament times represented those who had little support from society. They were left on their own to make their way as best they could in a society in which the men of the community were the sole support and protection for their families.

While we are no longer living in that kind of overtly patriarchal culture, we know all too well that single mothers and their children still struggle far more to survive than most others in our society. And far too often they’re condemned by the men (and women) who have more than they need.

It’s not surprising to hear about poor people giving generously of their time and even their meager resources to help others. They know what it is to be in need, and they know that they can do something to help, even if it’s not much.

Learning to trust is a lifelong task. But again and again the Scriptures teach us that trust in God is at the heart of our lives. Letting go of a little of our economic security is a difficult but rewarding way to begin to do this, especially in a culture like ours that puts so much emphasis on wealth. Elijah and Jesus hold up as examples those outside the conventional power centers. They themselves were often on the wrong side of power and authority, but perhaps they had greater influence because of that very fact. They knew that being one with the people mattered more than being rich and famous. Their good works carried more weight than their elegant words. And even outsiders recognized them as people of God.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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