Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Why are we still here?????

Have you ever thought about that?  Why is it that Jesus has been so long in returning?  Why hasn’t he come back to put all things to their proper conclusion?  Why do we still have wars being fought all over the earth?  Why is there still terror, and death, and sadness, and pain?  Why do our loved ones still suffer illness?  Why do relationships still break down and why do people still hurt one another?  Why can’t God just wrap things up and put an end to all this nonsense?  Why can’t we all go home to be with our Lord and our loved ones?

If you relate to those questions, then you probably can relate to the readings that we have from the prophet Daniel and from Mark’s Gospel today.  These are what we call “apocalyptic writings” which are usually written to give people hope in the midst of very hard times.  So you can see why they would be so important to us today.  Because we have hard times of our own, don’t we?  I would venture to guess that everyone sitting here is either affected in some way by the economic downturn, or else they know someone who is.  Do you know someone whose son or daughter was stationed at Fort Hood?  Judging from the number of funerals we have had here lately, I would say that a lot of you have lost loved ones recently, or know about someone who has.  And that’s to say nothing of the day-to-day stuff like relationships ending, and the darkness of our own sin.

When these things confront us, who among us wouldn’t call to mind the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel?  “The sun will be darkened,” he says, “and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  It often seems like our whole world is falling apart, and we are desperately looking for some sign of hope.

They are hard readings today, really kind of dark in nature.  They remind me of the darkness of the days that we have at the end of the year.  The sun sets a lot earlier than it did, and the skies are often cloudy.  It’s a darkness we can almost feel, and these readings that we have at the end of our liturgical year really echo that sentiment for me.

But I think that’s the point.  A lot of fundamentalist folks have spent the greater part of their lives trying to figure out when all these things would take place.  They want a day and time when the end will come, and they sometimes tell us they have figured it out, only to have the time come and go, and they have to return to their lives, if they can.  But these readings aren’t supposed to be a roadmap.  They are supposed to accompany us when our lives are as dark as the autumn nights.  The message they give us is one of hope.  No, we will not be spared the disappointments, frustrations, and sadness that can sometimes come in our lives, but we never ever ever have to go through them alone.

God will be with us.  He will, as the Gospel tells us, “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”  As the prophet Daniel tells us, “At that time [God’s] people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.”

And so that is why we are here today.  That’s why we are still here.  We are here to allow God to gather his elect, and we are here to help him do that. To that end, we have gathered eight of our brothers and sisters today, to welcome them and support them in their journey to become one of us.  Two of them are now promoted to the Order of Catechumens.  Catechumens are those being instructed in the ways of the faith.  This pertains specifically to those not baptized.  At the Easter Vigil Mass, they will receive all three of the Sacraments of Initiation: baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist.  Catechumens have rights in the Church: they can receive a Christian burial if they are called home before the Sacraments can be administered; they can be married in the Church sacramentally, and they have a right to the sacraments.

The others being welcomed today are candidates for full communion with us.  They have been baptized, some Catholic, some not, and so they already share with us the foundation of grace and are being called to confirmation and first Eucharist to complete their union with us.

If we take the readings today seriously, and I think we should, then these eight people are simply a nice start.  We know that one day, we won’t still be here, that Jesus will return to complete all things and initiate the reign of God’s kingdom.  And we want everyone to be there.  In many ways, we cannot any of us go if we all don’t go.  It’s not just “me and Jesus.”  Salvation is not an individual thing, it’s something we all receive together.  And that’s why we have the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  That’s why we actively reach out to those not among us and call them to communion with us.  We need to gather up all God’s people so that, one day, we can all be seated around the banquet of God’s people in heaven.

Back to my first question, then.  Why are we still here?  We’re still here because there is work still to be done.  There are many more people to gather from the four winds so that their names can be written in the book of life.  God is still working salvation among us; we need to cooperate with that saving work.  It’s not going to be easy, and some days may seem oppressively dark, but we are never alone.  Heaven and earth might pass away, but God’s word is forever.  It will not pass away.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Today’s readings

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who was called “Mother Cabrini” during her life, was a humble woman of great faith and fortitude, who stayed with her mission. She was refused entrance to the religious order that had educated her. So she began working at an orphanage, eventually becoming a sister in the religious order that ran it. She later became their prioress. She went to New York intending to found an orphanage there. The house they were to use turned out not to be available, and the bishop advised her to return to Italy. But she stayed, and eventually founded not only that one orphanage, but 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. She died at Columbus hospital in Chicago, which she also founded. She was the first American citizen to be canonized a saint.

Today’s first reading encourages us to clear out the clutter in our lives.  The wisdom writer says, “For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.”  Lots of things of earth seem good, but nothing is good but God alone.  So what is it in our lives that is distracting us from God?  Perhaps today we might clear them away so that we can accomplish more in God’s name.  We might not found 67 institutions like Mother Cabrini, but who knows what the Spirit might do in us once we have cleared away our distractions.

St. Josaphat, bishop and martyr

Today’s readings

Saint Josaphat was born in what is now Poland to Orthodox parents.  He later became a Basilian monk, and was chosen bishop of Vitebsk, in what is now Russia.  His task was not an easy one, because the orthodox monks did not want union with Rome.  They feared interference in liturgy and customs, but over time, using synods and other instruction, he was able to win many of the Orthodox in that area to the union.

But the fight was far from over.  A dissident faction of the church was formed, and they fomented opposition to Josaphat.  Eventually the mob murdered him and threw his body into a river.  The body was recovered and is now buried in St. Peter’s basilica.  Josaphat is the first saint of the Eastern Church to be canonized by Rome.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that before the coming of the Son of Man in all his glory, he must first suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.  That was true for Jesus, of course, and clearly true for Josaphat.  Those who take up their cross and follow Jesus will usually have to deal with rejection and suffering.  None of us will be immune to it.  Let us pray for the grace to follow Christ anyway, as Josaphat did, to the praise and glory of God.

Pope St. Leo the Great, doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Pope St. Leo the Great was known to be a wonderful administrator of the Church.  But far from being caught up in purely administrative matters, he was also a very spiritual and prayerful man, many of whose great writings have become part of the lifeblood of our Church.  He was elected to the papacy in the year 440, and he set the tone as a pope who believed in the pontiff’s total responsibility for the flock he led.

His work included extensive defense of the church against the heresies of Pelagianism and Manichaeism and others, he played the role of peacemaker, defending Rome against attacks by the Barbarians, and very significantly helped to settle a controversy in the Church of the east on the two natures of Christ.  His work on that issue was promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Leo was well versed in Scripture and ecclesiastical awareness, and he also had the ability to reach the everyday needs and interests of his people.  We have many of his writings to this day, and some are used in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Some of his prayers also exist today in the Sacramentary.  He would probably have echoed the words of the parable servant in today’s Gospel: “We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.”

St. Leo held that holiness consisted in doing the work we were called upon to do in our station in life, but not so much that it costs us our relationship with Christ.  Prayer and spiritual growth are also required of the disciple, and holiness consists of doing both work and prayer in proper balance.  Following that way, we too can say that we have done what we were obliged to do, and trust that God will be pleased with our efforts and bless our lives.

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome. Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s church, but that’s not true. As the Bishop of Rome, his Cathedral Church is the Lateran Cathedral, once dedicated to our Savior, but now named for St. John the Baptist. This site has served as the Cathedral church for the pope ever since the first structure was built in the late 300s. It served until the pope was moved to Avignon, and upon returning, it was found to have been destroyed. The present structure was commissioned in the 1600s and is one of the most massive churches in Rome. Because it is the parish church of the pope, it is in some ways considered to be the parish church for all Catholics. Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication on November 9, 324 by Pope St. Sylvester I.

The disagreement between Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel reading today showed what was really a difference of opinion on what Church is.  The many services that were being offered outside the Temple were required for the sacrifice, so they supported the worship that went on there.  In a sense then, they were legitimate enterprises.  But Jesus came to bring about Church in a whole new way.  His uncharacteristically violent reaction was frustration that those who should know better did not see what God really wanted in worship.  He didn’t want birds or animals, he wanted people’s hearts so that he could re-create them anew.

Any feast like this is an opportunity for us to take a step back and look at this thing we call Church. The misunderstanding in the Gospel between Jesus and the Jews tells us that we cannot view Church as just a building. The reality of Church is brought to great perfection in the Body of Christ, and we see that because of Christ, the Church is a living, breathing thing that takes us in and out of time and space to be the body we were created to be. So today we celebrate Church; we peel back the Church’s many layers, touching and learning the concrete, living the experiential, asking for the intercession of the heavenly, and yearning to be caught up in the eternal. The Church is our Mother who has given us birth in the Spirit and who nurtures us toward eternal life.

The river of God’s life flows forth from the Church to baptize and sanctify the whole world unto the One who created it all. The Church has its foundation in Christ, who also raises it up to eternity. Blessed are all those who find their life in its sanctuary.

The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls)

Today’s readings

It’s been a couple of years now since Dad died, but I still miss him all the time.  Yes, with time, the grief has subsided a bit, and the days are a little easier.  But the memories, great memories, are still there, and the absence of my father still leaves a hole in my heart.

But that’s okay.  That’s how grief works.  It might seem sometimes like it would have been better to live without love, but we know deep down that that’s not true.  Sadness and even death are temporary; love is eternal.  As the Church’s vigil for the deceased tells us, “all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” We know that death only separates us for a short time, and even though there is that hole in our heart, the sadness that we feel is way better than never having loved at all, never having had our loved ones in our lives at all.

Today, the Church gives us the grace of remembering all of our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, and all the dead whose faith is known to God alone.  The Church is great in wisdom in giving us this feast every year.  Because even though on this day, we might shed a few tears, still we will have the grace of remembering the ones who have given us life, given us wisdom, those who have been Christ to us, those who have made God’s love tangibly present in our lives.

Even if the memories aren’t the best, and even if we struggle with the pain of past hurts mixed with the sorrow of grief, there is grace in remembering today.  Maybe this day can be an occasion of healing, even if it’s just a little bit.  Maybe our tears, mixed with the saving Blood of Christ, can wash and purify our wounded hearts and sorrowful souls.

And I know it won’t all go away today.  We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table, and that hole in our heart. But sadness and pain absolutely do not last forever, because death and sin have been ultimately defeated by the Blood of Christ. We can hope in the day that our hearts will be healed, and we will be reunited with our loved ones forever, with all of our hurts healed and relationships purified, in the kingdom that knows no end. The Eucharistic Prayer itself will tell us today that there will come a day when “every tear will be wiped away. On that day, we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.”

Eternal rest grant unto all of our departed loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

How would you react if someone called you a saint?  We hear that, sometimes, don’t we?  When we do something good for someone, sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, thank you, you’re a saint!”  But how does that make you feel?  Do you bristle a bit and think, “not me!”?  I think we all have that kind of reaction.  Saints are the people we see in statues and hear about in amazing stories.  No way could we ever be confused with people like that.  More often than not, we would be likely to say to someone, “now I’m no saint…”

… As if that were a good thing.  When we think about saints, we get stuck, I think, on those saints of statues and medieval stories.  But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way.  Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages.  We are told that Pope John Paul II canonized some 482 saints during his pontificate.  This is an impressive number, to be sure, but it is even more impressive when you realize that that is more than the previous seventeen popes all put together!  Some criticized him for doing that, saying that it cheapened the process of canonization.  But his feeling was that the Church is in the business of bringing people to heaven, so canonizing many holy people was the right thing to do.

And that’s an important piece of information about our official saints.  Canonization recognizes that the person is certainly in heaven from what we know of him or her.  That’s why the process is so intricate.  And this is contrasted with the fact that the Church has never said any person is in hell.  So we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven, but no one who is in hell.  This illustrates that God’s will is done in the end, doesn’t it?

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way.  There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was.  One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.”  Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there.  Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have let that light shine through.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business.  But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way.  Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints.  We can’t be saints all on our own.  We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven.  But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us.  The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be.  We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints.  The reason John Paul could canonize so many saints is because he had so many to choose from.  None of them were good on their own merit; they became more and more like their heavenly Father by joining themselves to Christ.  Jesus said, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized.  Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways.  But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

So yes, today we honor the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Petronille, Francis and Dominic, and all the rest.  We glory in their triumph that was made possible by joining themselves to Christ.  We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away.  If God could do that in their lives, just maybe he can do that in ours too.  Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can keep us “strong in times of trials and doubts; courageous when challenged; compassionate to the broken; wise for those who are searching; outspoken when others hold a fearful silence; anonymous in performing loving deeds; persevering when struggles will not just evaporate; defending justice when the world ignores or presses down those on the margins; gentle and strong in the face of what opposes the gospel.”[1]

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we think about those official, canonized saints.  But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well.  The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God.  What could be better than that?

One of my very favorite hymns in our tradition is the one we sing today: “For All the Saints.”  It speaks of our great battle with evil, and the grace of God that overcomes it all in the lives of the saints.  When we picture ourselves as part of that great throng of saints, it changes the singing of the song.  Would it not be great if we could be part of that countless host of which we sing:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

[1] Jude Siciliano, OP, First Impressions.

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