Homilies for November 2018

For Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 18, and Nov. 25.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 4, 2018

   Readings: Dt 6:2-6 • Ps 18:2–4, 47, 51 • Heb 7:23–28 • Mk 12:28b–34

Our first reading from Deuteronomy and the Gospel taken from St. Mark succinctly proclaim what is of quintessential importance for the life of the believer. Both summon the listener to carefully heed what regards the marrow of God’s law, with Christ’s summary expressing most perfectly the divine intent.

The scribe addressing Jesus in the Gospel wishes to be justified in the eyes of God and to offer pleasing worship. Perhaps he has been impressed with the wisdom reflected in Jesus’s replies to the elders and scribes who sought to trip him up previously by their questioning. This scribe however seeks to understand what matters most to the heart of God. So he asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus answers him citing the text of the Shema from our first reading from Deut 6:2–6: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” These words of Moses (and now spoken by Christ) recognize the unique prerogative of the Lord as GOD ALONE and ISRAEL’S GOD and also thereby the absolute allegiance that is due Him by the people of the covenant. All devout Jews would have known these words by heart and recited them daily. They were inscribed on parchments placed in a little box (the mezuzah) affixed to the doorposts of homes and worn during prayer in phylacteries on the wrists or the forehead (M. Healy, The Gospel of Mark, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008]).

But to the scribe’s request for the “first” of the commandments, Jesus, the Divine Author of the Law, adds a second commandment taken from Lev 19:18b: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Christ’s “explicit linking together of these two familiar Old Testament texts [had] no Jewish precedent” (R.T. France, Mark, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002]). Jesus’s hinging of the law upon a twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbor reveals with new emphasis the inextricable tie between worship of God and charity toward others. God’s revelation in Jesus — wherein the Word assumes our humanity — mandates that they who seek to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24) must love others as God has loved us in Christ (Jn 13:34). For this reason the Letter of James speaks of this command to love one’s neighbor as oneself as “the royal law” (Jas 2:8).

The attentive scribe expresses comprehension of the inner logic of Jesus’s reply by his enthusiastic approval and noting that this twofold commandment is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And in turn, Jesus commends and challenges the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” It is to say the scribe demonstrates understanding, but it remains for him now to act upon it accordingly.

So it remains the case for each of us to do the same. Jesus’s fastening of love of God and love of neighbor challenges us to weigh the value of our worship in God’s eyes. We cannot help but be sobered each time we read or listen to the criteria for the Final Judgment in Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you . . . hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, a stranger, etc.?” The saints before us understood that our life shared with others — whether with family or in a religious community — is the privileged place for growing in the likeness of Christ, the God who assumed our humanity, so to touch the leper, to welcome the outcast, to forgive offenses, to become a servant to others, and to reveal the goodness of the Father. St. Catherine of Siena records these words of the Father: “You cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me — that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me” (Dialogue 64).

Christ calls us beyond the spiritual complacency of those who say “Lord, Lord” but fail to serve the Lord present in their brothers and sisters. “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88).

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Nov. 11, 2018

  Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10–16 • Ps 146:7–10 • Heb 9:24–28 • Mk 12:38–44, or 41–44

“Do I have enough?” We ask this question countless times in our lives, in any number of scenarios — shopping and preparing for large meals, packing for a long trip, fueling up the car for a journey, making plans for retirement, and even (from another perspective) assessing my skills and experience for a new job or (very often) providing time for a task. “Do I have enough?” is a perennial concern in our lives.

The two widows in today’s readings, the widow of Zarephath and the widow in the Temple, must face this question having to weigh their material need (i.e., do I have enough? what do I need to live?) and that justice due to God (i.e., what is the honor and worship I owe to God?). Within the Scriptures, widows are among the poorest of Israel, since they had no rights of inheritance. They are often mentioned together with orphans as those for whom God had particular concern, especially those neglected or oppressed by the powerful.

During a time of famine, the prophet Elijah asks the widow of Zarephath for a “small cupful of water” and “a bit of bread.” The man of God interrupts this widow who is preparing for what she believes will be the last meal for her and her son, for she has nothing more. She is sure that they both will die eventually of hunger. Yet, Elijah asks that she first prepare “a little cake” for him, and then to look after herself and her son. He asks her for a radical act of faith in the promise of God, to put aside her immediate self-concern and to first hope in the faithfulness of God. Her choice to provide for the prophet of God out of her very sustenance justifies her in God’s eyes and consequently “the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”

Similarly in the Gospel, another poor widow places her “two small coins” in the temple treasury, “her whole livelihood.” In the eyes of Jesus she outshines the rich donors who noisily toss in their large sums. Just as “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7), so God recognizes those who give their all, hoping in him, in contrast to those who give by halves and whose worship rings hollow. God wants and “needs” the hearts of men and women, not their wallets or purses alone; his interest in our material possessions only concerns whether these choke the heart and provoke conceit or whether they foster charity toward others.

Both widows in the readings radically and generously acknowledge God even in the face of their extreme poverty. Love for God leads them to put aside the question of “do I have enough?” as a first concern. Most of us, on the contrary, are fairly adept in rationalizing away the demands of God upon our life and our time. We tell ourselves “surely, God is reasonable!” in what He expects of my time and my resources. We may easily reduce the role of God to that of a benign, offsite landlord, or we can “domesticate” Him as one who readily accommodates “my way of thinking” or simply accepts what we deem “enough.”

But God calls us to a bold generosity of heart founded upon trust in God’s abundance. He charges us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, assuring us all our needs will be provided for besides (Mt 6:31). Just as Elijah encourages the widow in the midst of the famine, “Do not be afraid,” so Christ repeatedly exhorts his disciples to trust in the abundance of his mercy and love and to give of themselves following Christ’s own example.

Our reading from Hebrews fittingly proclaims that Christ’s sacrifice of love on the cross, given “once for all,” is ENOUGH. The blood he shed freely in love for the Father and for us serves as an inexhaustible means of justification and offers to us the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s gift of himself on Calvary is God’s final answer to our questioning, “Do I have enough?” His perfect offering to the Father stands ready at every moment to provide for our want. Jesus is our provision for the forgiveness of sins, but he also resembles our two widows in the totality of his gift and in his lavish surrender to the will of his Father. May we also live our lives mindful of what God most desires of us and may our confidence in his abundance enable us to live unfettered by the concern for “having enough.”

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Nov. 18, 2018

   Readings: Dn 12:1–3 • Ps 16:5, 8–11 • Heb 10:11–14, 18 • Mk 13:24–32

Though it was many years ago now, there’s an experience I remember well from my days in elementary school, because it could happen several times during the day. Our teacher would need to leave the classroom briefly, whether called into the hall by another teacher or for whatever reason. We were usually told in a stern and slightly threatening tone of voice: “I need to leave for a moment. Don’t open your mouths or get up from your seats!”

Yet, without fail as the clock ticked, restless students would begin to turn around at their desks. Some began to whisper and then giggle. Gradually, the noise volume would rise and maybe a paper or a pencil was tossed across the room. Most students would finally give in to full-voiced conversations, since it had seemed like forever since the teacher had left the room. Of course, there also those few “well-behaved” students who kept painfully still and quiet, fearful of what would happen at the teacher’s return. (I won’t tell you which of the students I was.)

So, here we were turned around in our seats talking up a storm when — suddenly! — like a thief in the night, the teacher would appear standing at the door, striking surprise, if not dread, into the hearts of students who seemed to have forgotten the teacher would ever return.

I was reminded of this classroom experience as I sat with this Gospel text. It is not unusual in our time to turn on the radio or television on Sunday morning and to hear televangelists speculate on the “end times” — often shouting out verses from the Book of Revelation, or pointing to troubling current events throughout the world. The message focuses on the coming of Christ the Judge, the One who alone will settle all outstanding debts and who alone can “fix the world’s mess.” Historically, at the turn of each century (and we saw it recently at the turn of the millennium), there is particular fascination with the end of the world. And to be honest, as a native New Yorker who once worked in the World Trade Center and who also lived and worked in Washington, DC, for several years, these same thoughts entered my head when I watched the Pentagon burning and the World Trade Center towers collapse to the ground on September 11th.

When we see such terrible things and feel our powerlessness we often ask ourselves: “Where do we go from here?” And more personally, for any of us who have experienced the death of a loved one or experienced some great personal loss, maybe a broken relationship or the loss of a job, it’s not unusual in these situations to feel that our world is coming to an end.

We are nearing the end of the liturgical year, when we listen as a Church to Jesus’s words concerning the end times. And when we listen to these readings we can either grow anxious about the coming of the end or we can look with hope for a new beginning promised by Christ. Each of us has been baptized into Christ Jesus, who died, who experienced fully the “end times” of human life — abandonment, suffering, and death. But this same Christ Jesus has transformed the end, as we know it, into the beginning of a greater, more marvelous existence. And that life begins now.

From its beginning the Church has professed that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and that his kingdom will have no end. The Church has been waiting nearly two millennia for Christ’s promise to be fulfilled. Are we not sometimes like the elementary school children squirming in their desks, easily distracted by one another, often forgetting for a time where we are or WHO WE ARE? Frankly, aside from the troubling headlines in the daily paper, we are commonly distracted by others in our life, whether by the legitimate needs of family or, maybe, by being prone to compare ourselves to our neighbors. Maybe we are anxious about our responsibilities in life or what others expect of us. Do Christ’s words about the “end times” become for us yet another cause for anxiety or distraction? Do we become like school children who carry on with their own affairs while keeping an eye on the classroom door?

God does not call us to anxiety, but to confidence and vigilance. Our reading from Hebrews reminds us that Christ remains our high priest who has offered himself for the forgiveness of our sins. God knows what it is to be human. But the Lord calls us to stay awake amidst the distractions of life, that on the day of our visitation we will recognize him. St. John of the Cross wrote, “When evening comes, you will be examined in love” (Sayings, 60). We prepare for the day of Christ’s coming by first recognizing him in our brothers and sisters and by knowing him in his word and his sacraments. Let us keep vigilant — and not be anxious — for that day when God who is love calls us and looks at us with love.

Jesus tells us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” We may be sure that Jesus Christ will come again, triumphant over sin and death. Let us ask Christ who is kind and merciful to increase our faith and hope and to make us ready to receive Him when He comes in glory.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King
of the Universe – November 25, 2018

  Readings: Dn 7:13–14 • Ps 93:1–2, 5 • Rv 1:5–8 • Jn 18:33b–37

We live in distressing times. The daily headlines speak of terror, state-sponsored assassinations, political protests, gang-related crime in our cities, the plight of refugees and migrants, the renewal of a global nuclear arms race, and on and on. We seem to spend much of our waking life burdened with fear and an increasing distrust of the world we live in. Most of us long wistfully for lasting peace and justice. We long for life-giving order to reign in our world and in our hearts. This authority we long for is found in JESUS.

Our Opening Prayer today speaks of God’s power: “Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.” Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to confront the rising tide of secularism among the nations. The pope hoped that the feast would have three effects in particular: first, that nations would be reminded that the Church “has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state” (Quas Primas, 31); second, that “not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ” (Quas Primas, 32); and third, that the faithful would “gain much strength and courage” from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our minds, wills, hearts, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

When asked “What exactly is the kingship of Christ?”, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “It is not that of the kings and of the great of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, soften a hardened heart, bring peace to the bitterest conflict, turn the thickest darkness into hope. This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom” (Angelus, November 22, 2009).

The kingship of Christ is not coercive. Unlike so many earthly rulers, the legitimacy of His power is not demonstrated by external force. Instead, His goodness and power attracts us and summons us, revealing to us the DEEPEST truth concerning our life and who we are. Again and again, the Lord says to his disciples and to us, “But who do you say that I am?” He bids us to freely confess him and to follow him, so to reign with him.

Consider the bearing of Jesus coming before Pilate — even while a “prisoner” awaiting judgment, Jesus speaks with great calm and majesty. He speaks serenely and without threatening Pilate. Christ is not a competitor in the political arena and he needs not curry favor from any earthly ruler. His power is proper to WHO he is, as the Incarnate Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega. So with us, God has no need to compel us by force. He had no need to create us but He did so only to share his life and love with us. And Jesus, the Eternal Son, bears our humanity ONLY in order to share his divine life with us.

In Jesus Christ, a King who washes the feet of his servants, we discover an All-Powerful God who “kneels down before us so as to exalt us” (Ratzinger, ­­God and the World, 259). We have a King who exercises his power only that we might reign with him. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary who cried out before His birth: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . . . He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and he has lifted up the lowly (Lk 1:46–47, 51–52). Christ comes to make all things new and to establish an order founded in truth and life, holiness and grace, a “kingdom of justice, love and peace” (cf. Preface).

What is the power of God’s kingdom that Christ wishes us to welcome into our lives? What is that “divine authority” that the Lord Jesus has come to bestow upon a world that suffers from fear, constraint, and violence? It is the power of forgiveness and mercy. It is the grace to choose God’s eternal and undying life by living in faith, hope, and love, and to welcome his newness into our own life. Pope Francis has said that “the starting point of salvation is not in the confession of the sovereignty of Christ [with our lips], but rather the imitation of Jesus’s works of mercy.” Because “the one who accomplishes these works . . . has opened his heart to God’s charity” (Homily, November 23, 2014).

What does our King want of us? Only our very HEARTS. The Lord Jesus does not come to “subjugate” us, but to lead us to live in his peace, to discover in our suffering and loneliness the power of his cross bringing truth where there are lies, life where there is death. Let us open our hearts to welcome the One who has power to liberate us and to enable us to realize the deepest longing of our hearts. Long live Christ the King.

Fr. Michael Berry, OCD About Fr. Michael Berry, OCD

Fr. Michael Berry, OCD, currently serves on the formation team for the Discalced Carmelite friars in studies at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Washington, DC.




  2. Avatar valente b toledano says:

    I found these homilies helpful to faith formation