“A man came by with his truck this morning and offered to plow my driveway for free,” my elderly neighbor Eleanor told me in a recent conversation.
“Wow, that’s really nice,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied as she poured the water for a cup of tea and handed it to me, “I guess people really like to help out a widow.”
Her words stayed with me after I left. It really is nice to note the ways that people feel moved to help out a woman who has lost her husband. When a friend of mine, a husband and father of young children, recently died unexpectedly, a GoFundMe page raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his widow in just a few days.
Looking through Scripture, we often see widows referred to, along with orphans, as being among those most deserving of our compassion and generosity. This makes a lot of sense because many times these individuals are left without any means of supporting themselves. Jesus himself took great pity on a grieving widow once, so much so that he performed a miracle and brought her dead son back to life.
“When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” – Luke 7:13-15
For older women, becoming a widow is a difficult transition, but not an unexpected one. For those who lose their husbands earlier in life, though, widowhood is uniquely challenging. Losing your husband before you’re old and gray is not a plan any of us envision for our lives, and yet it does happen all the time.
Many great saints were widows who responded to the unexpected challenge of loss in heroic ways. For example, St. Matilda of Ringelheim, whose feast day we celebrate March 14, lost her husband, King Henry I of Germany, at the age of 44. This surely was not how she thought her life as a queen would go.
And yet, in the face of unexpected adversity, St. Matilda focused on growing in virtue and being generous with others. She founded a convent where she then lived and continually gave away her wealth and possessions to the poor, much to the dismay of her grown sons.
Similarly, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lost her husband when she was just 29 years old. Unlike St. Matilda, St Elizabeth had a household full of her own children and her husband’s siblings to care for, and no royal riches to speak of.
And yet, despite her challenging circumstances, St. Elizabeth Ann, like St. Matilda, focused on the work she knew God was calling on her to do, and she went on to found a school and the Sisters of Charity, the first American congregation of women religious.
The example of these two great women saints encourages me to refuse to settle for mediocrity in my own life. It can be easy to consider ourselves a victim of life’s circumstances and think that we don’t have much to offer. After all, how can we do much good for God’s kingdom and his people if we are poor, busy, distracted, sick, or stressed out?
But St. Matilda and St. Elizabeth Ann wasted no time despairing their circumstances and instead focused on God’s will for their lives, trusting Him to make up for any place they were lacking. Their legacies today speak to the importance of trusting in God to do great things with us and through us instead of relying on our own strength or skill.
In the stories of these two remarkable widows I also see an invitation: Which “widows” is God asking me to take care of in my life today? Who needs me? The widows in my life might be women who have lost their husbands, but they also might be the hungry person I see standing on a street corner in the cold, a lonely friend who calls and tends to chat too long, or my own teenagers who need meals, rides, encouragement, love, and attention.
Like St. Matilda and St. Elizabeth, I can achieve all that God is calling me to by listening for and focusing on His will for me. Then, all that is left to do is trust in his grace and strength alone to accomplish any big or small things that my future holds. I want to be faithful. I want to persevere. I want to find out what God can do.
St. Matilda of Ringelheim and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent,You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.