Homilies for November 2021

For November 1 (Solemnity of All Saints), November 7, November 14, November 21 (Christ the King Sunday), and November 28

All Saints’ Day – November 1, 2021

Readings: Rv 7:2–4, 9–14 • Ps 24:1bc–2, 3–4ab, 5–6 • 1 Jn 3:1–3 • Mt 5:1–12a  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110121.cfm

Friendship is important. Comradery is a must. It’s not hard to think of examples. When somebody does something difficult, it is meant to be done as a team. Even in the Olympics for individual events, there is still the broader team: the swimming team or the gymnastics team. If you’re a soldier planning on winning the war, you will not train by yourself or engage by yourself. Instead, there is always your patrol, your regiment, your division, and so on. Even going through school is done with classmates, and raising kids is intended by God to be done as a couple.

And the grandest of tasks is to journey towards heaven. If friendship is important for the examples I gave, then it will be even more important for our heavenly aim. Saints make saints.

It is All Saints’ Day, and you probably see me arriving at the conclusion that the saints must be our friends. However, before I arrive at that point, I want you to find the saints around you who are not yet in heaven and simply choose them as your friends. It might not be the perfect fit. They might have their goofy habits. But if you want to be holy, you’re going to have to saddle up with someone who is holy. If you found someone who is on the path to heaven, you’re going to have to hop on that same path with them. Holiness will rub off! Steel sharpens steel! The Christian who chooses to be individual and away from others will wake up one day and see that since they chose a path with no one else on it, nobody else arrived at their destination with them. They’ll either be the only ones in heaven, or they’ll have missed the mark!

In heaven, we won’t even be given a choice. It will be pure togetherness in love, like we heard in the first reading. And what else is friendship but togetherness in love? The citizens of heaven, the servants of God there, those marked with the seal will be from every different kind of situation — different languages, cultures, colors. But in heaven, they will do all things together. They will worship the Lamb together, sing hymns together, and rejoice together. They will be togetherness in love. Our future destiny must be the model for us on earth. And the beautiful thing is that God allows them to help us.

Friendship gives joy to the mundane. Friendship gives encouragement in the difficult. Friendships give consolation and hope in sadness. The perfect friendship is rare and many times we will have to wait for that heavenly glory. Nonetheless, good friendships are within reach, and these are still a heavenly treasure! One simply needs to open one’s heart, take the initiative repeatedly, and make that other person your friend. Friends make friends. Saints make saints.

That’s what we need to do with the saints. And sometimes, that’s what the saints do with us. Not everyone has these stories, but sometimes the saints will be the ones who open their hearts and choose us as their friend. We don’t passively wait for this to happen. On our end, we will hunt them down. We will find the ones that we relate with. We will choose them as our companions on this journey, so that we may rejoice with them at our destination. They can change us. Saints make saints.

Whatever your situation might be, surround yourself with holy people: the saints triumphant in heaven, and the saints journeying on Earth. We’re going to face discouragement. There will be the Cross. Tough times will come. But God’s bright light of hope and grace will reflect through the saints like diamonds in a chandelier. We need saintly friendships. We need saints! And that’s because saints make saints — it’s just part of God’s plan.

We might have the temptation to wait passively to be befriended, but that’s what everyone else is doing. Let’s be different, and let’s be that friend. Waiting is for those who wallow in loneliness. Let’s step out of that. Let’s find the saints. And let’s be the saints.

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – November 7, 2021

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10–16 • Ps 146:7, 8–9, 9–10 • Heb 9:24–28 • Mk 12:38–44 or 12:41–44    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110721.cfm

We might chuckle a little bit about how the first reading and the Gospel line up. In the Gospel (longer version), Christ rails against Pharisees of yesterday or today who make themselves more important by using other people and other people’s possessions. “They devour the houses of widows,” and houses meaning one’s livelihood. Christ condemns those, especially leaders, who prey upon widows and other vulnerable people.

And then here comes Elijah. He walks on up to the house of a widow, and what does he do? He asks her to give him their last bit of food. “Woman, give me your livelihood. It’s mine.” Elijah is not a bad prophet. However, God uses Elijah and this woman’s trusting generosity to supply her want through a difficult time. The great hero of the story is the woman! She has the experience that the more you give, the more you get back.

We could then ask, “Is God giving us the Gospel of Wealth, then? If I give, is God promising to give me even more? Am I going to harvest more than I planted?” We certainly do not believe in this. We believe that our job is to obey and be generous, and God’s job is to provide for us. We don’t believe that God will enrich us, but we do believe that we’ll have what we need. For example, at the Gospel’s conclusion, does the widow walk away a rich woman after giving her pennies? Nope. Jesus didn’t multiply her meager possessions.

Jesus is not condemning Elijah. Jesus is not promising us the Gospel of Wealth. This is what He is saying: You’re supposed to give everything you got. The widow gave everything she had to Elijah, even if it meant dying of hunger. The widow gave everything she had to God. And what happened to them? They are now praised thousands of years after their radical act of charity and faith.

Some of us may have been brought up with a certain sense of stewardship, or a certain sense of tithing. This is what I have heard: Give 10%, 5% to the parish, 2.5% to the diocese, and 2.5% to charity. There are other variations. I had three jars as a kid: spend, save, and share. That meant I was giving 33% as my tithe (which comes from the word “tenth” in old English—so my parents were having us kids go over the top!). I do not disparage these. This is a practical spirituality that is helpful, but it is important to get at the truth of Jesus’ spirituality. Without a dynamic Christ-based spirituality, this form of giving can become as mundane and flat as paying our taxes and writing a check to pay for the electricity.

Jesus teaches a new spirituality of giving through word and deed. First in word, He praises someone who has contributed their “whole livelihood.” Livelihood means money, sure. But think of what else it means: it means your job. It means your way of life. It means your pets. It means your family. It means your time. Have I given my whole livelihood over to Him? Do I let the Lord set my budget? My daily and weekly schedule? My priorities deep in my heart? My list of “to-dos” for Christmas? Or have I let the world take the lead on setting my values. Sometimes this can happen so gradually. I heard a story recently of a slowly rising flood that carried a ginormous RV into the highway. We might laugh at the idea that the world guides me and controls my decisions, but if we’re not aware, those flood waters of the world will keep rising to the point where I’ve lost total contact with the ground that is Christ, and I’ve begun to float wherever those waters take me.

Jesus teaches this concept more importantly indeed. What did we hear in the second reading from Hebrews? It talks about his eternal priesthood. The word “offer” is repeated twice. What did it say about that? Did Jesus offer 50% of his life for us? Excuse me for being a little silly, but it’s only silly because we know what He offered and how He offered it. He offered Himself. And He offered Himself totally, as only a death can signify. And He did so for love of us, to save us. The widow who saves Elijah offered her livelihood to Elijah at the risk of death. Now, Jesus fulfills this radical generosity. He gave all for us, all for love.

What does this priesthood mean for us? In our Baptism, we’ve received a share in his priesthood — not in a ministerial way like me, but all of us share in it in some way. Just as Christ died to sin, we must also die to sin and all worldliness. This can become a prayer. Our sacrifice is a prayer. We are sharers in his priesthood. We offer to Him our livelihood. And one of the ways we do that is through our regular giving to the Church. We offer to Him our livelihood when we go out of the way to help pay medical bills of a poor family, when we lay down our time before someone who just needs someone to listen, when we lay down our effort to someone who can’t quite get their yard mowed, when we lay down our hearts before someone (maybe someone fairly bothersome) who needs a friend to speak Christ into their lives.

With God’s anointing in Baptism, we have the power to be a pleasing offering of our entire livelihood with and through the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This is true stewardship. All that we have is Christ’s already. We’re just taking care of it. If Christ, did it for us, we must do so for Him. Take, Lord, all that I have and all that I am. I lay it down before you at this altar, at this Mass, at this moment. Amen.

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – November 14, 2021

Readings: Dn 12:1–3 • Ps 16:5, 8, 9–10, 11 • Heb 10:11–14, 18 • Mk 13:24–32    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111421.cfm

When I hear a little “ding,” I know my leftovers have completed the warming process in my microwave. When I hear some charming song float my way from down the street, I know it’s time to rush inside and grab some cash, so I can buy something from the ice cream truck before he passes by. Very few realities are unannounced and unexpected. This is what Jesus talks about when uses the example of the fig tree: you’re going to see some changes in the tree, and as you know, voila! It will be summertime soon!

Jesus didn’t say that because He cared about the summer. It was an example that points to a greater reality. Jesus is coming in an absolute and definitive way. While no one will know when it shall occur, not even angels or the Son, nonetheless, He says. It will not be unannounced and it will not be unexpected. Just as the ice cream man’s song foreshadows his arrival, there will be certain signs that will indicate His final coming.

We must see these signs as a great charity because they are a great charity. The nature of His coming is of the greatest importance to know. When He comes again, St. Michael the Archangel will rise to be somewhat of a herald. We hear in the Book of Daniel that it will “be a time unsurpassed in distress.” It refers to the very final end, when all the dead will rise from their sleep. “Some shall live forever (meaning into heavenly peace and joy), others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” And this final part means they shall have their bodies rise again to enter into hell.

The time of distress that was referred to doesn’t mean at all that everyone will be in distress, because for some, it will be the greatest and most glorious moment of their life. However, for others, their eyes shall be forced open when they had previously attempted to blind themselves, and the full weight of the course of their own living independently of God will be knowingly felt. Such is the distress and trouble that will be unsurpassed — it is the distress of those who were not wise, who did not lead others to righteousness, let alone themselves. While those who gave themselves to that righteousness of Jesus Christ will be the splendor of the firmament and be like stars forever, those who miss this will moan a deep and despairing utterance.

The reality that we Christians need to wake up to is this: I don’t know what my spiritual state will be like tomorrow. You don’t know what your spiritual state will be like tomorrow. Maybe all is great right here and now, but each of us has a perfect storm that the devil could use to knock us off our feet and be caught up in his snare. We have St. Michael the archangel fighting on our behalf, but we have our waffling free will. That should make us nervous and should help us take more seriously St. Paul’s advice: “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”

For this reason, it is a charity that God gives us signs for this moment. There is the reality of death. We always expect to die someday, but very rarely do we expect it on the day it comes. Yet for the final coming of the King and Judge, we should be expecting it. If we see disturbances in the weather that are unique, if we see great tribulations and conflict and fights among worldly powers, if we have earthquakes and other natural disasters, we can know without a doubt that the time is approaching.

Those who are wise will see these events today. Those who are wise will prepare themselves for the end of the world today. And those who are wise today will be ready for eternal glory tomorrow. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Christ the King Sunday – November 21, 2021

Readings: Dn 7:13–14 • Ps 93:1, 1–2, 5 • Rv 1:5–8 • Jn 18:33b–37    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112121.cfm

When I was a kid, we had a school project to debate who was the greatest leader in a certain epoch of European history — Napoleon, Peter the Great, and so on. There was a shared understanding that they were the ones who exercised the greatest dominion over their country, while having various degrees of cruelty. And when we think of kings, we almost always assume that they are bossy, spoiled brats who simply have a nation as their playground.

If Jesus is King, and He certainly is as we are reminded on Christ the King Sunday, then perhaps we can let him renew our imagination of true leadership, of true kingship. Otherwise, we might risk as viewing Him as an earthly king who makes arbitrary and mean decisions and whose playground includes all the nations.

First, a true king is someone with dominion, a kingdom, authority. He wouldn’t be much of a king if his authority and power extend beyond himself or his family. A king governs and has people that are governed. We see this in all kings.

Second, a true king is just. He knows each person’s dignity and each person’s due. Each person is owed kindness and respect because of the inherent human dignity they possess, but he also knows that they may be owed different things because of their situation in life or because of their actions. A general in war needs resources that the royal chef does not. A criminal should receive punishment, while a hero should be rewarded.

Third, a true king is gracious. He is not the king for himself, but for others. He is not a king only for the friendly, the smart, the good-looking, the rich. He is a king for all. He will have a special care, therefore, for those who might fall into the cracks. Saint Louis IX of France lived this wonderfully. He fed a hundred people each day, and he invited beggars to his table while he ate their leftovers.

These are qualities that are important for any parent, or boss, or mayor or anyone of any authority. But what does this look like for Jesus Christ our King?

First, Jesus has a dominion, a kingdom, and authority over all others. He created the earth and all humanity, and therefore there are none who escape His claim. If a parent or a governor or a president has authority, it is because Christ has given them that stewardship and they will be accountable to Christ. People might claim to step out of his kingdom by not accepting faith, but Jesus is King of the World because He is the Alpha and Omega, the Creator, and the Final Judge. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion.”

Second, Jesus is a just king. He created us with a dignity on purpose, which means that He will respect what He created. He chose to reveal His plan to us so that we know how we will be judged, how we will be approved, how we will be condemned. He does not hide this. He gives to us the resources we need to be good citizens, and to fulfill the mission and role He has given to us. He will give to us our due.

Third, Jesus is ever so gracious. John in the second reading from the book of Revelation gives the account that “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood . . . to him be glory and power forever.” Can one be more gracious than to care so intensely for the straying that he gives his own blood? That’s our king! He sees us when we’re ugly, when we’re His enemies, when we stray, when we don’t like Him. But He loves us more . . . so gracious! So gracious!

If we are citizens of His kingdom, let us love Him, let us fight for Him, let us serve Him. We should take Him at His word. We should follow His wise commandments. We should live lives of thanksgiving for our great King! Praised be Jesus Christ.

1st Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2021

Readings: Jer 33:14–16 • Ps 25:4–5, 8–9, 10, 14 • 1 Thes 3:12–4:2 • Lk 21:25–28, 34–36  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112821.cfm

Being asleep and being awake are two very different things. It’s a delight to have a child jump to you, but if you’re asleep — Ooph! It’s not a pleasant surprise. It’s a delight to have a nice, cold beverage. But if you’re asleep and it is forced down your throat, you’ll choke, and cough, and not be able to breathe. It’s a delight to receive a phone call from a friend from years ago. But if you’re asleep and it’s 3:00am, it won’t be so delightful!

Being asleep and being awake are two different things. They are opposite states of consciousness that affect how we respond to events. In these examples, note that the event does not change; only the person’s consciousness changes. They’re awake or asleep, and that makes all the difference.

In Advent, the event that we are preparing for is the coming of Christ. We await the coming of Christ as a little baby, but we also await the coming of Christ as the Master and Lord of the Universe, the God who will right all wrongs, who will reward the faithful, and punish evildoers. The prophet Jeremiah calls the one who comes, “The LORD our justice.” This is the event that we are focusing on. This is an event that will come truly, and nobody will know when it happens.

Here’s the straightforward situation: There will be two kinds of people on that day — the sleeping and the awake. I am not speaking of a literal state, since when Christ comes some of the people actually sleeping will be the most ready, and some of the people awake will be the least ready. I am speaking of the state of heart that Jesus describes in the warning: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”

The two kinds of people will have two kind of reactions. Those who are awake will “stand erect, for [their] redemption is at hand.” They are confident, ready, eager, and glad. It will be a good and glorious day. Those who are asleep, on the other hand, will experience this event as, in the words of Jesus, as a “trap,” as “tribulation.” Jesus says they will be in dismay and perplexed. They will die of fright before the justice of the Good God whom they chose to ignore in their drowsiness.

Just like there will be two kinds of people then, there are two kinds of people now, in this church, today. Some may be sleeping. They may choose to go about “carousing,” that is, caring more about fun and experience than about salvation. They may choose “drunkenness,” opting for the comforts of life, some of the comforts mood-altering, other comforts soul-numbing. They may choose “the anxieties of daily life,” loving to be busy, working to keep what they possess and increase it, making sure their kids/grandkids have the best of what the world has to offer. Yet God is an afterthought at the end of the day, and not the absolute reason of existence as it is for the person of faith.

Some may be awake. They scour Scriptures for wisdom and for any aid to unite themselves with God. They strive for a clean conscience, avoiding sin as best as possible and frequently going to Confession. They are on the lookout for Christ at all times. They take it on faith that they see Him when they one of God’s little ones, one of our weak, small, or suffering brothers and sisters. They are saddened by the sin of the world, and without being its judge, they pray and pray and pray for the conversion of sinners.

St. Paul advises us how to stay awake. “Be vigilant at all times . . . pray that you have the strength” to be ready to stand before the Lord of the Universe with gladness and eagerness. Right all the wrongs that you have been responsible for before the Lord does it without you, and you be found to be one of the unjust. We must live our lives not so much as for ourselves (we’ll forget that in the afterlife), but so as to please God. To walk blameless in holiness before God is the most beautiful, peace-filled, obvious thing to do. This is being awake, and we must wake up. If we believe ourselves to be awake, then we must take all possible precaution against the creep of worldliness and imbibe more and more of the heavenly way of living in Christ. May God strengthen us for His Coming.

Fr. Sean O'Brien About Fr. Sean O'Brien

Rev. Sean O'Brien is pastor in the Diocese of Tulsa. He holds an STL in moral theology and bioethics from the Accademia Alfonsiana, Rome. He is the host of the “Deep Dives with Fr. Sean: The Super Catholic Catechesis Podcast.”

Comments

  1. Awesome Fr. Sean! We miss you!

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