So many religious people tend to get concerned about the end of time. Some years ago, there was a serious of books called Left Behind, and a couple of movies made from them. The premise was that Jesus returned to take all the faithful people home, and “left behind” everyone else. It’s a notion known as the rapture, which is not taught by the Catholic Church, because it was never revealed in Scripture or Tradition. In fact, no Christian denomination taught this until the late nineteenth century, so despite being a popular notion, at least among those who clamored after that series of books, it is not an authentic teaching.
I mention this because you might hear today’s Gospel and think of the rapture. But Jesus is really talking about the final judgment, which we hear of often in the readings during these waning days of the Church year. In the final judgment, we will all come before the Lord, both as nations and as individuals. Here those who have made a decision to respond to God’s gifts of love and grace will be saved, and those who have rejected these gifts will be left to their own devices, left to live outside God’s presence for eternity.
So concern about when this will happen – which Jesus tells us nobody knows – is a waste of time. Instead, we have to be concerned about responding to God’s gift and call in the here-and-now. John tells us how to do that in today’s first reading: “Let us love one another.” This is not, as he points out, a new commandment; indeed, Jesus commanded this very clearly, and pointed out that love of God and neighbor is the way that we can be sure that we are living all of the law and the prophets.
The day of our Lord’s return will indeed take us all by surprise. We’ll all be doing what we do; let’s just pray that we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do: love one another.
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Josaphat, who 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 to bridge the divide between the Roman and Orthodox Church, but this was not easy, 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.
Josaphat had an insurmountable task to accomplish. But he had faith that God would give him what he needed to accomplish the mission. He knew well Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel: that the smallest seed of faith has power to uproot trees and plant in places where nothing like faith grows. In just the same way, a small seed of faith on our part can cause awesome growth in improbable places, if we let it.
Today’s Gospel has some rather obvious applications, not all of which are entirely accurate. For example, many may hear this Gospel reading as a condemnation of the rich or a warning against having too much money or pursuing wealth. Indeed, riches can be a distraction and an obstacle to a relationship with the Lord, and our Lord does warn in other places against pursuing wealth or not using it correctly. Saint Paul says to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) But having money is not in and of itself evil; in fact, having money can be an opportunity for holiness if one uses one’s wealth to serve and build others up. But I really do not think that Jesus was using this particular opportunity to condemn greed; I think he was going for a different message here.
Another application of this reading might be to encourage stewardship. Here the idea would be that virtuous stewardship consists of giving sacrificially and not just pledging some of one’s surplus wealth. There’s something to be said for that, because the requirement to be a good steward does include the notion of sacrificial giving, giving from one’s need. In giving from our need, we trust God with our well-being, and he never fails in generosity. So maybe Jesus is calling on us to give more so that he can give more – when we create want in our lives, there is space for God to give more grace.
So in both of these applications, the subject is money and its use. But when it comes down to it, I don’t think Jesus intended money to be the subject here. I think instead, he was focusing on the sacrifice.
Look at what he said the widow did. She put into the treasury a small amount, but it was all she had: Jesus says, “but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, hew whole livelihood.” Not so different from that is the sacrifice of the widow of Zarephath in the first reading. Elijah had prophesied a drought over all of the Land, God’s punishment for the wicked acts of their kings. And so water and food were in scarce supply, and God sends Elijah to the widow. She’s just about to use up the last of her flour and oil to cook a final meal for herself and her son, when Elijah meets her and asks her to make him some food. He encourages her to trust God, and when she does by giving all that she has, she finds God faithful to feed all of them for some time.
So I’d like to suggest that both of these widows had given everything for their relationship with God. They trusted Him with their very lives by giving everything had to give. It’s a super-scary thing to do, isn’t it? We are ones who love to be in control of our lives and of our situations, and so giving up all of that gives us more than a little pause. But honestly, it takes that kind of a leap of faith to get into heaven. If we still are grasping onto stuff, then our hands are full, and we cannot receive from God the gifts and the grace he wants to give us.
Look at the cross. That, friends, is the prime example of giving everything. And our God did that for us. Jesus went gave everything he had by giving his life, suffering the pain of death that we might be forgiven of our sins and attain the blessings of heaven. God is faithful and so he will not leave us hanging when we give everything for him.
But here’s an important message: the time is short. The Church gives us this reading very purposely on the third-to-last Sunday of the Church year for a reason. Because if we’re still hanging onto the stuff that keeps us bound to this life, we may very well miss our invitation to eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. To get to heaven, we have to choose our relationship with God over everything else in our lives. Everything. We have to empty our hands of all this earthly wealth so that we might obtain heavenly wealth. We have to give everything we have for our God who gave everything to us and for us, or we’ll be left out. Hell is truly having nothing, not even Christ, and that’s real poverty. So we need to model our lives after the example of the widows in our readings today, giving everything, so that we might have Christ who is everything we need.
Today’s Gospel calls us to examine our perspective. Jesus asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Well, those men he talked to were shepherds, or had shepherds in their family, so they would have responded “nobody would do that!” Why on earth would they risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one?
And as far as the coin goes, why bother staying up all night? It would probably have cost more to light the lamp and search all night than the coin was worth. It would be wiser to wait until she had the morning light and could find it easily.
But here’s the perspective part: God is not like us. Every sheep among us is important, and he will relentlessly pursue us individually until he has us all in the sheepfold. And if we’re lost, he’s going to light a lamp and stay up all night until he has us back. For him, one of us is every bit as important as the other ninety-nine. Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.
And that’s all well and good, but we always have to ask ourselves why the Church gives us this reading again in the closing days of the Church year. We hear these kinds of parables typically in the summer months, when the Church wants us to see that God loves us and wants us to be his disciples. But hearing the parables in these days, there’s a little more urgency. Time is running short, and it’s time for the lost ones to be found and gathered up and celebrated. These waning days of the Church year are a foreshadowing of the end of time, and so we need to cooperate with God in making the urgent message of God’s love known in every time and place.
And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a relentless pursuit and a flurry of activity until we are all back where we belong. Once we are all with God, the joyful celebration can continue, knowing that we are all back where we were always meant to be.
Go out to the highways and hedgerows
and make people come in that my home may be filled.
Today, Jesus is still at the home of the Pharisee where he went to have dinner, as we heard in yesterday’s Gospel. One of the people at table says to him, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.” While not disagreeing with that person, Jesus intends to clarify who will be at the table and who will not. Those who will be dining in the Kingdom are those who intentionally live in it. While the Pharisees may have thought that meant it was they who would be blessed, Jesus tells a parable to clarify the matter.
The parable illustrates that those who were invited were occupied with other matters: a new field, a new team of oxen, a new spouse. Their rejection forced the host to offer the dinner to a new group of people: those outside of the accepted group. And so his servants went out into the streets and alleys, hedgerows and highways to fill the house, because none of the original invitees would be welcome at the table. So Jesus is doing something new. Since the religious establishment had found other more pressing matters than relationship with their God, he would now turn to those who were rejected and marginalized, and invite them to dine in the Kingdom.
But that command to the servants is for us, his servants. There’s plenty of room in the Kingdom; the table is large and the spaces at it are plenty. We are being sent out to the margins to “make people come in.” This demands that we be missionary disciples. We have to be the ones to help people to know they are welcome, no matter how far they have strayed, no matter who has refused to welcome them in the past. The mission is always new, and always pressing. If we are serious about serving our God, we have no other choice but to go out looking for dinner guests!
“In you, O Lord, I have found my peace.”
I believe that one of the goals of all our lives is to find true peace. And unfortunately, we spend time looking for that peace in too many of the wrong places. We might think we can find peace in wealth, or status, or whatever, but these things tend to lose their luster rather quickly, and the pursuit of them often stirs up something far less than peaceful in our lives.
But the Psalmist tells us exactly what is going to bring us that true peace that we look for, or rather, who is going to bring it. And that is the Lord. We could go after great things, looking for something beyond what God wants for us. Or we could go after things too sublime, things that require more from us than what we can give, but the Psalmist refuses to go there. Rather, he says, he has stilled and quieted his soul like a child on its mother’s lap.
True peace is a product of quieting one’s soul and finding God’s will. Reaching for things that don’t concern us, trying to get involved in things that are not what God wants for us, letting ourselves get dragged into sin, those things will never bring us peace. Only in the Lord is our hope and our peace.
This morning’s Gospel reading presents us with perhaps thefoundational principal of living the Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor. We love God with great fervor because he loved us into existence. And God teaches us how to love: to love him and to love others; in fact we manifest our love of God in very real ways by loving others. Loving others is what brings us here together this morning as we celebrate our annual Mass of Remembrance for those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. Our love of them doesn’t end when they leave us; and it is that love that intensifies our grief. And so we gather this morning to remember and to take solace in God’s love for us, knowing that the grave is no obstacle to love, and that death has been defeated by our Savior who loves us more than anything.
One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer. There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long. And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa. That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain. We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss him.
I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died. My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, as so many parents unfortunately do, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision. Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.
I still miss Grandpa to this very day. He had a wonderfully silly sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh and probably rubbed off on me, to be honest; he made a homemade ravioli that blew away anything I’ve ever eaten since; he came from Italy and made a beautiful life for his family, and the stories of that have been an inspiration to me every day. The same is true of all of my grandparents, all who have gone on to the Kingdom, all of whom I miss and all of whom were a great example for me.
I miss Grandma Mulcahy when I’m planting flowers in my Mom’s garden, because she did that better than anyone, and while she did, we would talk about Ireland and I would hear about life in the “Old Country.” I miss Grandma Mastrodonato – Mom’s Mom – when I’m out in a public setting and see people doing crazy things because she always enjoyed people watching and listening to others. I missed Dad’s Dad a lot in my job previous to seminary, because he built the monstrous printing press that was, at the time, printing a job for my one of my best customers.
And I miss Dad, so very much. When I’m having a rough day, I just want to sit down and talk, knowing he’d listen and understand, and support me in whatever way I needed. And there are aunts and uncles who have gone on to the Lord, too. All of these characters have been inspirational to me in some way, and I find that the grieving, while it may dissipate a bit, never seems to completely go away. I don’t think it’s supposed to. Because when we have loved much, the passing away of one we have loved leaves a hole in our life that just doesn’t go away. That doesn’t mean that our life comes to an end: we move on, as move on we must, but always with a sense of loss, hopefully tempered with fondness for the relationship we had, hopeful of a reunion in heaven one day.
We come together today to pray for our deceased loved ones that they may be purified of any sin so that they can enter the kingdom of God. Praying for the dead recognizes that all of our lives here on earth are not perfect, and the only way that we can attain the saving grace necessary for life in heaven is by turning to our Savior who gave his life for us. Our second reading today gives us confidence that we can do this, and that his sacrifice on behalf of our loved ones, and of us, is sufficient, because his is a priesthood that never passes away. He offered himself once for all, and that is enough, if we turn to him and ask his mercy.
In a few moments, I will sing words that have comforted me so many times in my sorrow. They are the words of the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer: “Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” This echoes the words of the Prophet Isaiah who confidently proclaims: “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; The reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.”
During November, the Church continues to remember those we prayed for on the second day of this month, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. And for this remembrance, I have chosen to reflect on our experience of grief, and I’ve done that because it’s an experience we all have, on some level, at some time in our lives. I want you to know how very natural grief is, and how very blessed an experience it is. We must always remember that blessed experiences aren’t always pain-free. Our God never flees from our brokenness, instead he has chosen to redeem it. That is why he offered himself willingly for us.
And so we are confident, because we know that death only separates us from those we love for a short time, and that death never has the last word because Christ has triumphed over death. The beginning and end of everything is Christ, and Christ is with us in our first moments, and also in our last. He is with us in our pain and with us in our joy. He helps us to remember our loved ones with love that continues beyond our death and beyond the grave. Grief and loss and pain are temporary things for us. Love is eternal, love never ends, love can never be destroyed by death, love leads us all to the great glory of the resurrection and eternal light in that kingdom where Christ has conquered everything, even death itself.
Therefore, it is with profound sadness, but also with ultimate trust in Almighty God that we commend our loved ones to the Lord, knowing that his mercy is great and that his love will keep us united at the Eucharistic banquet until that day when death is conquered and sadness is banished and we are all caught up in God’s life forever.
Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The very most important piece of the Gospel today comes right at the end, when Jesus says to the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That’s actually a pretty remarkable thing for him to say, because he was always berating the scribes and Pharisees for not getting it, for being so concerned about dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” of the law, that they totally missed the spirit of the law. Jesus always maintained that they were going to completely miss out on the kingdom of God because of this blindness. So here is a scribe who actually gets it, who knows what the first of all of the commandments is. But somehow, in the tone of his congratulatory statement, I think Jesus is throwing in a bit of a challenge to the scribe: now that you know it, it’s time to live it.
That challenge is there for us, too, of course. This Gospel reading is foundational to our call as disciples. In order to be on course for the kingdom of God, we have to love God and love our neighbor. Living these commandments from our hearts is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. So love of God and love of neighbor, the heart of the Christian life, needs to be the center of everything we think or say or do. Love of God and love of neighbor needs to be the lens through which we see everything.
With that lens in mind, I want to say a few words about Tuesday’s election. You’ve heard a lot about the candidates, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it frustrating. If you’re like me, you’ll be glad for Wednesday when you don’t have to hear any more rancorous political ads on television, or receive robo-calls from the candidates. Enough already. And I’m not going to stand here and tell you who to vote for or who not to vote for; we’re not permitted to do that, and I think that is disrespectful of you as a Catholic and as a citizen. My job is to make sure that you know what the Church teaches about our responsibility as citizens, and help you form your conscience so that you can exercise your right to vote in a responsible manner.
Toward that end, I want to leave you with a few basic principles that the Church gives us for voting responsibly.
The first principle is that if you can vote, you have to. We don’t get to choose whether or not to be a good citizen. Discipleship requires that we do everything we can to make the place where we are living a good place to live. We are required to make our voice heard so that God’s will can be done. Voting is one of the most important ways that we Catholics witness to our faith; we strongly believe that our faith has much to say to our world, and that our faith should help to shape the world in which we live. We accomplish that, in part, by voting.
The second principle is that we vote according to our conscience. Doing anything contrary to what our conscience tells us is always seriously sinful. But voting according to our conscience is not the same thing as voting according to what we like or what we think sounds good for us. Voting according to our conscience demands that we form our conscience; that we actively seek to understand our faith so that we vote in accord with it. This is what the sticking point can be for many of us; because our faith, which informs our conscience, often requires that we vote in a way that is not popular, or not convenient for us, or in a way that requires that we take a position or give witness to a precept that is unpopular. That’s hard to do, but it’s sinful not to.
The third principle is that, of the many important issues that confront us in any election, there are some that are most important, and that bind our consciences. Abortion and respect for life is the paramount issue for us as Catholics. And today’s scriptures tell us why: we can’t begin to love our neighbor if we support a policy that could kill them, and we can’t love our God if we don’t reverence life, the most fundamental and important of his many wonderful gifts. Voting for a candidate who is not pro-life violates our conscience, manifests something far less than love of God and neighbor – the greatest of all the commandments, and therefore is sinful.
The fourth principle is that we don’t live in a perfect, black and white world. Would that we did. Would that our decisions were easy. But they’re not. I don’t know of a candidate who is perfectly pro-life; certainly neither of the major gubernatorial candidates can claim to be. Man times, none of the candidates in a given race is perfect for the job whatever the office. That makes our job so much harder: voting according to our conscience is a real conundrum, and generally very frustrating. The principle though is that we sometimes have to vote for the lesser of the evils with which we are presented. We vote for the candidate who supports life and rejects abortion in more circumstances, we vote for the candidate who allows religious organizations to function according to their moral teachings. This takes study and discernment.
The Liturgy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, calls on us to work with God to establish, here on earth, a kingdom of love and peace, a kingdom of justice and truth. Voting in a way that follows our conscience is a way to do that. May the Holy Spirit guide us all as we go to the polls this Tuesday. May the results of this mid-term election help us all to manifest a deep and enduring love of God and love of neighbor.
Today, the Church militant – which is all of us – rejoice with the Church triumphant – which is all the Saints in heaven – because of the great glory of God. This glory they can already see; we hope to see it one day. And we will see it if, please God, we perfect ourselves and grow in holiness to the point that we too become saints for the Kingdom of God.
But I think many of us bristle at the very idea of becoming a saint. We might even throw up our hands in some conversations and say something like, “hey, I’m no saint…” Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote. Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood seems way past our grasp.
But that’s all wrong. We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven. Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us. That’s what we were put on earth to do. Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, and that’s where we were meant to return some day. To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them. We have to grow in holiness and make our reliance on God’s grace and mercy the central focus of our lives.
It may help to know that most, if not all, of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.
And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one. We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic and so many others. But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows. And most importantly, in celebrating them, we vow to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today. On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!