‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Every now and again, Lord Acton’s remark made back in 1887 proves to be valid in our own times. The abuse of influence, the exploitation of every loophole and an imperceptibly growing sense of entitlement are part and parcel of life for some people. The most notorious scandal in recent times concerned expenses claimed by certain MPs. The most disappointing abuses and downright frauds, however, are those involving charitable funds. Controversies around the collapsed charity ‘Kids Company’ and around the Vatican are examples of the most recent, though hardly isolated, cases. Such behaviours undermine people’s faith in charities, and quite often make people rather reluctant to lend their support.
Let us make the contrast with today’s first reading in which the prophet Elijah relies on the outstandingly generous support provided by a widow, herself having so little that she’s actually expecting starvation and death after the remaining food has been consumed. Sharing that little with the prophet is an act of hugely generous hospitality, but it is also a great act of faith in the prophet’s promise that ‘jar of meal shall not be spent, jug of oil shall not be emptied before the day when the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.’ Thanks to her acts of total faith and generosity, she, her son and the prophet eventually make it through the drought. In the gospel, Jesus makes comments on people’s donations to the Temple in Jerusalem. A poor widow’s tiny contribution is singled out by Jesus as the most generous, because – unlike the others – she gave away everything she relied on.
This Sunday we remember and pay our respects to those who made the greatest possible offering: of their own lives. Not one of them was going into battle wishing to die; all of them had their plans, dreams and expectations reaching beyond the trenches. Many of them never saw the fulfilment of their dreams. We don’t celebrate war and violence, but we do appreciate their sacrifice that has made our freedom and our dreams possible. Thankfully, we ourselves are not called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. But that doesn’t mean that we are deprived of opportunities to follow their example in everyday life. In fact, there’s a plenitude of them every day.
I’m talking about tiny acts of generosity and kindness that we can offer to other people without their even noticing it. The way you drive or park your car; the five minutes of your time that you give to a talkative, repetitive family member or neighbour; taking your litter to a bin instead of dropping it on the street… when we consciously think about all those tiny, tiny opportunities, we can find plenty of occasions to make small acts of self-sacrifice regarding our own comfort or convenience. Nobody will notice, there will be neither a standing ovation nor a pat on the shoulder, nor loud congratulations. But what there will be is somebody’s life made a bit easier and more pleasant. These are the acts of valour for our time.