Homilies for November 2022

For All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, November 6, November 13, November 20 (Solemnity of Christ the King), November 27

Sunday homilist: Rev. James Orr

For All Saints and All Souls: Rev. John Cush, Editor-in-Chief

Solemnity of All Saints – November 1, 2022

This great solemnity is one in which we recall to our memory the company of the Saints, the Holy Ones of God. This Holy Day reminds us of us of what should be our two main goals in our life: what should be our ultimate destination, Heaven, and how we can get there, by centering our life around the Lord, by becoming saints.

What does the Lord really want from us? Perhaps only this — to make the Lord and the Lord alone the center of our life. He is asking us more than anything to refocus our spiritual eyesight, to move from our spiritual myopia and readjust our vision to focus on what truly matters, namely the Lord and the things of the Lord.

As we well know, the sense of eschatology, the sense of the four last things, namely death, judgment, Heaven and Hell, was so much greater in the early Church. These followers of the way, who daily were risking their lives because they believed in Christ, who were considered enemies of the state due to their faith, truly believed that, at any moment, Jesus, King of Glory and Lord of the World, would descend, just as he had ascended to judge each man according to his deeds.

Naturally enough, when Jesus didn’t come back, after a year, after ten years, after fifty years, even as followers of a religion considered to be a dangerous, seditious cult, followers of the way began to become complacent. They settle into their daily routines and the concerns of daily life became more and more important. They began to focus in on the little things of life, naturally enough, and began to miss the big picture. Hence the reason why such an epistle like 1 Corinthians needed to be written. The Christians in Corinth began to forget that, at any moment, the one true Bridegroom could come again, like a thief in the night, and they could be caught, wallowing in the muck and mire of their own sin. Made for immortality, they are stuck in immorality.

As history progresses, this is even more true. When the danger of being Christian seemingly fades, when Christianity becomes, in a sense, mainstream, like after Constantine in 313 A.D., and even more so after Theodosius in 380 A.D., and, indeed throughout most of western civilization, instead of the big picture, we put our focus in on the little things, as important as they might be and miss the forest for the trees. We as Christians made the swords we fall on issues of maniples or overlay stoles, of inclusive language in the Universal Prayer, rather than issues of the Kingdom — Truth, Justice, and Joy.

The same is true today, even with the reality that being a Christian today, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in other places, can and might get you killed. In the U.S.A., in the age of the cult of political correctness, we may not be physically killed for our faith, but we are considered completely irrelevant and, sadly, to be the enemy by a large portion of society. We have lost that eschatological edge, and, I think, we need to reclaim it as soon as possible, if we are to regain the proper focus in the Christian life.

The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich asked what is our area of ultimate concern. What did he mean? Many people have concerns about certain things in life — education, careers, marriages, their health — however when asked what their Ultimate concern is, it is harder to answer. Paul Tillich attempted to define religion by saying that it is our “Ultimate Concern.” He defined religion as “the state of being grasped by ultimate concern.” For Tillich, a person’s ultimate concern is something that they base their lives around; it is the most important thing. All that we think are our “ultimate concerns” will vanish after death; however, our belief in God will remain. Tillich said that our area of ultimate concern must become a significant part of our life and that we should consider it when deciding what to do in all the situations of our life. So, what’s our area of ultimate concern? What’s really our ultimate concern? If it’s not the salvation of our immortal soul, then we need to reevaluate our lives.

The Church is more than just her living members. There is the great Communion of Saints who spur us onwards. Who are the saints? Bishop Robert Barron writes:

The saints, in a word, are those who have allowed Jesus to get into their boats and who have thereby become, not super-human or angelic, but fully human, as alive as God intended them to be. The entire purpose of the church, as we saw, is to produce saints. Scripture, tradition, liturgy, official teaching, moral instruction, and the sacraments are all means to the end of fostering friendship with God.[1]

The saint is one who, simply put, has God and God alone as his or her center of ultimate concern. Bishop Barron further writes:

The holiness of God is like a white light: pure, simple, complete. But when that lights shines, as it were, through the prism of individual human lives, it breaks into an infinite variety of colors. The four women we’ve considered in this chapter couldn’t be more different from one another — and that is why each one allows a unique dimension of the divine holiness to appear. God’s grace shone through the particularity of Edith Stein and gave us the clarity of her intellectual work and the beauty of her martyrdom; it shone through the uniqueness of Therese of Lisieux and gave us the little way; it shone through the individuality of Katharine Drexel and it produced a miracle of transfigured justice; it shone through the unrepeatable identity of Mother Teresa and brought forth the Missionaries of Charity. The church revels in the variety of its saints because it needs such diversity in order to represent, with even relative adequacy, the infinite intensity of God’s goodness.[2]

Let’s aim to make it home, back to our origin and source, the center of our ultimate concern, Christ Jesus the Lord! Let’s aim to become who we were created to be, namely saints, those who have God and the things of God as our area of ultimate concern!

[1] Catholicism, 196–197.

[2] Catholicism, 223.

All Souls Day – November 2, 2022

I think that All Souls Day can teach us two lessons: one, to understand and to embrace our own mortality, and two, the Christian obligation to pray for the dead.

First, there is the very real need for Memento mori — remember that we are all passing away. The Capuchin Crypt near Piazza Barberini teaches us this lesson, as does the Capela dos Ossas in Portugal, whose inscription over the chapel’s door reads: “We bones that here are, for yours await.” I have seen the grave in which one day I will be placed in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Every day, we come a little bit closer to it.

It’s a reminder to me that I am slowly decaying, getting older, and that, with each day, I am approaching death. And so too is everyone in my life whom I love. And I hate the thought of it. It’s scary.

As I get older, it seems that the days just run into each other, that the pace is so much quicker, and time spent with family and close friends get shorter and shorter. Now, this is all part of being an adult, but it can be a disconcerting feeling.

The truth is, with each day I am passing away and so is everyone else, just like everyone before us. But the even greater truth is that death is not the end. It is not, as Shakespeare calls it, the “unknown country,” but something we know by faith, something that we grasp, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “hoping against hope.” We have a place prepared for us who believe and who try, even in our own imperfect way, in heaven.

This feast of All Souls is a beautiful one, one which makes us stop and take account of where we are and where we are going. These are our mysteries of our own dying and rising in Christ. Through faith and through our incorporation into the Body of Christ by baptism, we have the assurance that all those whom we have loved and lost, all those whom we love and cherish here on earth, we will, please God, be united around the heavenly throne one day.

Two resolutions, then, in light of this fact of our faith: first, let us live each day on this earth as if it is our last, cherishing in and relishing in the gift of our lives in this plane of reality. The people with whom we are blessed are far too precious to neglect. And second, we should not neglect those who have gone before us; we need to pray for them, the poor souls in purgatory, for where they are, we will be, hoping for the eternal light to be shown to us.

All of this is passing. But what really matters in the end, the three things, faith, hope, and the greatest of these, love, well, that’s what lasts.

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 6, 2022

Readings: 2 Mc 7:1–2, 9–14Ps 17:1, 5–6, 8, 152 Thes 2:16–3:5Lk 20:27–38    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110622.cfm

We hear St. Paul pray that God will encourage and strengthen our hearts in every good deed and word. This is so that we will be delivered from perverse and wicked people.

Looking at the trials of Israel under King Antiochus Epiphanes, and especially today the story of the seven brothers and their mother, we see that there have been times of terrible persecution for those who want to be faithful to the ways of God. Antiochus wanted all people in his kingdom to live according to Greek religion and customs. Faithful Jews resisted. In the face of the torturous punishment inflicted on them, what gave them strength and hope was their holding on to the Resurrection of the Dead.

In the days when St. Paul was writing, the Early Church suffered persecution from, at first, Jewish authorities and then, the Roman Empire. This was the time when the Church suffered many martyrs. One took one’s life in one’s hands in becoming Christian. One such martyr was St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was bishop of Antioch. We know a lot about him and the early Church from seven letters he wrote which we still have. He saw his time in the Colosseum as an opportunity to show the pagan crowds that Christ was worth dying for. His faith in the Resurrection gave him courage to die for Christ. His witness became the proclamation that opened many to find Christ.

We do not expect to have to face arrest and death for Christ in this country. We do face opposition to our beliefs. We are being pushed to the cultural fringes. We are ridiculed, often portrayed as out of touch, extreme, stupid, and deluded. We are thought to be anti-science, anti-women, authoritarian, oppressive, and anti-American. There is a real attempt by our larger society to convince us that we’d be better if we would leave the Catholic Church or better give up religious faith altogether. In the face of this, we need to hold fast to Christ. He will strengthen, encourage, and guard our faith against all of this perversity and wickedness until the Day of Christ’s Coming and our Resurrection.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 13, 2022

Readings: Mal 3:19–20a Ps 98:5–6, 7–8, 92 Thes 3:7–12Lk 21:5–19    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111322.cfm

Many of you will remember that as the year 2000 approached there were all kinds of fears about the date. In technology the fear was our computers wouldn’t be able to process the date change because any date past 1999 just wasn’t built into the computers. So all kinds of worry was expended on the idea that the economy, infrastructure, record keeping, and all else dependent on computers would come crashing to a halt, be erased, sent back to default, and on and on.  It was a technological apocalypse in the offing.

Then there were the people who saw the date as the year of Christ’s Second Coming. There were all kinds of invoking of signs and portents from the Bible that supposedly pointed to the time when the prophesied 2000 years would be fulfilled. First, 2000 years since Christ’s birth as we count the calendar would be 2001 because when the monk Dionysius Exiguus counted the years, the number zero didn’t exist so there was no year zero. He started with One which makes 2001 the 2000th year. When you have nothing better to do, count it out. It’s true. Second, he made a mistake in counting by about 4 to 6 years so the 2000th year was actually somewhere around 1994 to 1996.  I’ve always wondered why these people put all the emphasis on the year of Christ’s birth and not on the year of Christ’s victory on the Cross and the Resurrection . . . it’s a thought.

Anyway, all of this is based on an errant Protestant Fundamentalist Theology called Millennialism. In the mid-1800s, Rev. William Miller picked around the Bible for verses to fit his ideas of the Coming of Christ. For instance, there is a verse in 1 Thessalonians that says, “then we, the living, the survivors, will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Rev. Miller took this and created the famous “Rapture.”

What he doesn’t pay attention to is the previous verse that tells when it will take place, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel’s voice and God’s trumpet; and those who have died in Christ will rise first. Then we the living . . . will be caught up.” The event Paul describes happens after Christ’s Second Coming, not before. Picking and choosing verses to suit preconceived ideas leads directly to misinterpretation. So no “Rapture”; we all will have to endure what comes before Christ’s Second Coming.

Most mainline Protestant theologians and pastors, in Rev. Miller’s day and up to today, saw his theology as a wrong way of interpreting the Bible. Certainly, the Catholic Church condemns it.The Catholic Church doesn’t hold to any of the popular ideas about the End Times, all of which come from Rev. Miller’s mistaken theology. The Church holds that in every age all the signs that the Sacred Scriptures point to, are fulfilled to a greater and greater degree. Finally, they will be fulfilled in a way that manifests the Father’s will completely and Christ will come then. So the signs we see in the Gospel do point to Christ’s Coming. The signs we may see today do point to his eventual Coming . . . just not now. When confronted with some person who wants to convince you that the signs of the time point to Christ’s Coming, you can agree. We just can’t agree on when that will be.

Solemnity of Christ the King – November 20, 2022

Readings: 2 Sm 5:1–3Ps 122:1–2, 3–4, 4–5Col 1:12–20Lk 23:35–43      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112022.cfm

The Kingship of Jesus Christ has two roots. The one is in the House of David. We all know the story about how the Prophet Samuel was sent to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, to find the next king after Saul who had lost God’s favor. Under the guise of preparing to offer a sacrifice, Samuel examined each of Jesse’s sons and finally anointed the youngest son, David. A whole history had to unfold before the scene in today’s reading from 2 Samuel, where we hear about how David was anointed king in Hebron. Samuel had died many years before, but the prophetic action of the anointing of David as a youth has now come to its fulfillment in the anointing at Hebron. Later in David’s reign the prophet Nathan declares that the kingship of David’s line will never fail. This is the promise that raises the hope of the Messiah, the Anointed One, after Israel had been conquered and the royal family taken into exile.

Joseph is identified as Son of David and Jesus is adopted by Joseph and so made of the house and lineage of David. During Jesus’ ministry he is called “Son of David” any number of times, like when the blind man by the side of the road calls out to him, “Son of David have pity on me.” as he seeks to have his blindness cured. Most importantly, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds exclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” As Son of David he is recognized as the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy, the Messiah.

The other root of Christ’s kingship is in the will of the Father to invest in Jesus a kingdom. We have been delivered from the darkness of sin and death into the Kingdom of the Father’s Beloved Son. This is manifest in the creative will of the Father through the Son who is the image of the invisible God. The Son is the firstborn of all creation. “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible . . . all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:16–18) It is in this root then that the human impossibility of a kingship that lasts forever can be fulfilled in the Divine Son of God, Son of David who lives forever in the eternal Kingdom established by the Father.

The placard that Pilate had placed above Jesus on the Cross proclaiming him “King of the Jews” may have been a mocking of Jesus and those who brought him to crucifixion, yet it really identified who was enthroned on the Cross: Jesus the King, of the House of David, by the will of the Father.

It is for us to acknowledge Jesus Christ as King of our lives, allow him to rule our lives and not to hold back. He did not hold back to save us and exercise the ultimate power of his kingship, the redemption of the world.

First Sunday of Advent – November 27, 2022

Readings: Is 2:1–5Ps 122: 1–2, 3–4, 4–5, 6–7, 8–9Rom 13:11–14Mt 24:37–44  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112722.cfm

Be ready! This is what Jesus tells us. Be ready! He will return at an unexpected time, so it is important that we stay alert and don’t allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency. Ordinary life has a way of grabbing our attention. We have jobs to do, chores to take care of, people to meet. All these things need to be done, but not at the expense of our attention to what we need to do to be ready for Christ’s coming.

What do we need to do? St. Paul tells us. Generally, throw off the works of darkness, the ways of sin. They cloud our vision of the way of Christ. They provide rationalizations for sin, excuses for why we need to do what is contrary to Christ. St. Paul tells us to make no provision for the desires of the Flesh.

In Paul’s writings, the “Flesh” is what we call Original Sin, which opens us to all that takes us away from Christ. While that will include the sins Paul speaks of today, it encompasses all sins. Our Baptism washed away Original Sin, but its damage remains. The temptations that seem to follow us through our lives are signs of that damage. Baptism and the other sacraments give us the grace to heal that damage and help us resist and grow out of temptation. Put on the Armor of Light, the ways of Christ. Conduct ourselves properly.

First and foremost: pray. We can’t do it alone. We need to open ourselves to the grace Christ will give us to follow him. Prayer is the foundation of all our growth. In prayer, we receive insight into ourselves that helps us identify how to and the means of growth. The excuse “I don’t have time for prayer” is the works of darkness at work. Make a daily appointment with God. We keep other appointments, we can keep this appointment, the most important appointment we can have.

Be aware that in making this appointment, all of a sudden there will be many things that come up to take us away from the prayer. This is the work of the Evil One trying to take you away from your prayer. Face it down. Live a disciplined life, a time for everything. One of the most damaging things Original Sin did to us is throw our priorities out of order. Part of how we put on the Armor of Light is by putting into right order what Original Sin disordered. The path to the right ordering of our lives is following the teaching of Christ. The 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes are a good outline of how we mold ourselves into reflections of Christ, and so put on Christ.

The Sacraments not only give us the means of nourishment we need to grow but also are a way of teaching us how to grow. Each Sacrament tells us necessary elements of what it is to put on Christ. Penance shows us the need for Forgiveness; the Holy Eucharist the need for Sacrifice; Confirmation the need to spread the Gospel, and so on. Each gives a road map to preparedness for Christ’s Coming.

Be ready! We can be by putting on the Armor of light, by conforming ourselves to Christ, living in the constant expectation that he may return at any moment.

Fr. James Orr About Fr. James Orr

Fr. James R. Orr is a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He is currently pastor of St. Aloysius, Reserve Township, and Most Holy Name of Jesus, Pittsburgh, and Director of St. Anthony Chapel which enshrines 5000 relics of the saints. He teaches in the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Catechist Certification Program and the Post-ordination Program for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor's in Religious Studies from Penn State University, a Master of Divinity from Mt. St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD, and a Master of Arts in Formative Spirituality from the Institute of Formative Spirituality, Duquesne University.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD About Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Fr. John P. Cush, the Editor-in-Chief of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in the Archdiocese of New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He is the author of The How-to-Book of Catholic Theology (OSV, 2020), Theology as Prayer (IPF, 2022) and is a contributor to Intellect, Affect, and God (Marquette University Press, 2021).