Homilies for November 2023

For All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, November 5, November 12, November 19, and November 26 (Solemnity of Christ the King)

Solemnity of All Saints – November 1, 2023

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/110123.cfm

Non Plus Ultra. These words said to have been inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar, for much of human history, marked the ends of the known world: no further beyond. With the discover of the “New World” and the breaking of that ancient barrier, Plus Ultra — further beyond — became not only the motto of the Spanish Empire, but of a world no longer bound by the impossible. As remarkable as such a breaking of barriers might have been, we have seen in the years that followed an unquenchable thirst for the desire to completely control our destiny, without the chains of our limitations to hold us back. It is worth asking, however, what our experience tells us about a life lived as the masters of our own destiny.

We have only to look at the challenges facing our world in order to understand that perhaps we lack the control we so desperately seek. How does the ideal of the person who controls their own destiny stand up against the various tragedies that lie outside of our control: violence that seems to rapidly accelerate from a whisper to a roar, natural disasters that catch us by surprise, and sicknesses that, despite our best efforts, still force us to confront the fragility of human life.

All of this cries out for a conception of the human person that does not shield itself from these uncomfortable and inconvenient facts, but takes into account all of the factors of reality. In the face of such a question, the Church proposes a response, an alternative to this conception of the human person that has left so many wanting. This response is at the heart of today’s celebration. On this Solemnity of All Saints, we recognize the great history of countless men and women who have recognized that the meaning of their lives lies not in the tireless elimination of barriers and the forging of their own destiny, but in the awareness of the unity of their lives with the One who is alpha and omega, beginning and end, their creator and the true destiny for which the human heart longs.

The saints who have gone before us point us to a different conception of our humanity, one which recognizes our inherent limits but views them as opportunities for a relationship with our destiny rather than something that stands in the way. Our greatness, then, lies not in our own labors but in Christ who labors to show us his love in every instant of our lives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst (Matthew 5:3–6). This is a true conception of blessedness — of sanctity. It is in coming up against our limits, against the challenges we inevitably face, that we discover the true source of our fulfillment: the enduring presence of Jesus Christ, the conqueror of sin and death: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With this victory, we no longer have to shield ourselves against the crushing waves of circumstance, but instead can embrace Christ who is present in all that comes our way and truly be free.

This is what made it possible for St. Teresa of Calcutta to see the face of Christ in the poor and destitute. This is what prompted St. Damien of Molokai to live and minister among the lepers. This is what gave the martyrs the courage to shed their blood for Christ. And this is what compelled countless other saints, both known and unknown to history, to spend their lives in quiet service to build not their own kingdom, but the Kingdom of God. These are the people who have longed to see the face of God and have found it in the concrete circumstances and challenges of their lives.

On this great Solemnity, we turn to that cloud of witnesses who have forged the path we dare to follow and beg them to urge us on as we struggle to see the face of God in the midst of our own limitations and weakness. We pray through their intercession that we may truly move further beyond, not by our own strength or effort, but by the grace of God which He bestows to us in the struggle of daily life.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – November 2, 2023

Readings: Wis 3:1–9 • Ps 23:1–3a, 3b–4, 5, 6 • Rom 6:3–9 • Jn 6:37–40  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110223.cfm

This Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a celebration imbued with hope: hope in eternal life, hope in the Resurrection, hope in the fact that sin and death do not have the final word. We can identify this hope clearly in the words of Christ who tells the crowds, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (John 6:40).

Our hope is not rooted in a vague idea or our own ability to achieve salvation, but in a person — Jesus Christ — who came into the word to restore us to life. In conquering sin and death on the cross, He opened up the way for us to experience the beatitude for which we were created. In fact, in stretching out His arms on the cross He showed Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). In striving to follow Him, we travel a sure path, and we know that He does not abandon us along the way.

As we celebrate this hope in eternal life, we ask for eyes to see His presence, and hearts and minds open to believe. This, after all, is the condition that Christ Himself gives us. For this hope to be nourished and sustained, we need Christ to be close to us, we need Him to be our present hope. It is this presence that unites us to those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.

As we pray in the preface for the funeral liturgy, “Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended . . .” Those who have gone before us are not without hope, death is not the last frontier of hopelessness because it is not the end but the beginning.

We know that through Christ we remain connected to all those who have gone before us: the saints in Heaven and the holy souls in Purgatory. As the saints pray for us, so we should pray for the souls in Purgatory, who live in expectant hope to see the Lord face to face. Perhaps today we could pray in a particular way for our loved ones who have passed from death into life, that their lives may find fullness in the beatific vision. As we pray for them, let us pray also for ourselves, that our hope may one day lead us to the glory of the resurrection.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 5, 2023

Readings: Mal 1:14b–2:2b, 8–10 • Ps 131:1, 2, 3 • 1 Thes 2:7b–9, 13 • Mt 23:1–12    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110523.cfm

In you, Lord, I have found my peace. In the world in which we live, perhaps the search for peace can seem like a futile effort. There is so much noise, so many distractions, so much chaos. As ineffectual as it may seem, however, we continue the search. How much money is spent on self-help books, meditation apps, and therapy sessions? Perhaps to some end, these tools may be helpful. But what happens when they fail? How many people today seek to numb themselves with alcohol and drugs, or even by throwing themselves into the alternate reality of social media? In other words, our desire for peace cannot be extinguished.

In the readings the Church proposes to us today we see an interesting dichotomy, one that can be summed up in St. John XXIII’s episcopal motto: obedience and peace. This sage expression connects two concepts that perhaps, without the light of faith, would seem disconnected. But what does Scripture say?

If we were to stop at our first reading, we may get the wrong impression. Following the Babylonian Exile — which the Jewish people saw as a punishment for their waywardness — and their return to the Promised Land, we once again see the people beginning to stray. Through the prophet Malachi, the Lord is calling his people to conversion. If we view these words as the rebuke of a distant, angry god, we miss the point entirely. Instead, Malachi helps us to understand the nature of the relationship the people have with their God: “Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10). Our relationship with God, then, is not of servants to their master, but of children to their father.

St. Paul continues with this familial language: “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7b). St. Paul does not seek to impose upon the people, but to draw them into a relation with the Father so that they can be called children of God. Why is this important? Why is it necessary to differentiate the type of relationship we have with God when speaking of obedience?

The fundamental difference between a servant and a son is that the servant’s obedience to the master is for the good of the master, while the son’s obedience to the father is for the good of the son. Obedience and peace. When we understand the nature of our obedience to the Lord, we recognize the peace that can come from submitting ourselves to His will.

This is not an easy practice, though. It requires a great deal of humility. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). In seeking to create our own peace, we run the risk of elevating ourselves beyond that which we are. There is nothing more exalted in life than the birth of a child, simple, innocent, and completely dependent on his parents for life. Think of the peace that child experiences when he stops struggling and allows himself to rest in his mother’s arms, safe and secure.

We pray that the Lord may give us the grace today to humble ourselves like a dependent child who receives all that is good from his loving parents. It is only then that we can experience that peace for which our hearts yearn without ceasing. “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty; I busy not myself with great things, nor with things too sublime for me. Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:1–2). In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 12, 2023

Readings: Wis 6:12–16 • Ps 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8 • 1 Thes 4:13–18 or 4:13–14 • Mt 25:1–13    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111223.cfm

As we approach the end of the Liturgical Year culminating in the Solemnity of Christ the King, our readings take on a more urgent tone and our longing for all things to be subject to Christ intensifies. In these days, the Church is encouraging us to be prepared. But how?

Jesus offers us the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Five went prepared to meet the bridegroom with flasks of oil to keep their lamps burning bright. The other five brought no oil with them, only what was in their lamps. As we have just heard, when the bridegroom comes, the foolish virgins have to go out to purchase oil, and so arrive late to the wedding feast.

We live in a dramatic moment in history. Though it could be said that every generation faces its own unique moments of challenge, this no less softens the blows we feel every time we turn on the news or open our eyes to see the great suffering that surrounds us. Such circumstances could easily lead us to become fearful. But this is not the point of the parable.

Those wise virgins were not afraid of what they could see as they awaited the bridegroom by the light of their lamps. It was the foolish virgins who feared that what they had would not be enough, who ultimately feared that they would not be welcomed into the banquet. So, what is the point?

In these days the Church is inviting us to become like the wise virgins, to be prepared, “for you know neither the day nor the hour,” (Matthew 25:13). But the preparation that we are being invited into is not extraneous to our lives as Christians; it is not an extraordinary response to extraordinary circumstances. Instead, it is a reminder to redouble our awareness of the nature of our Christian sojourn, that our entire lives be lived with the knowledge of our ultimate destination, that eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.

So, what is this preparation that we are called to make as we continue our journey? At first blush the answer seems simple: the Sacraments. In particular, the Eucharist and confession. But it is not enough that we receive these Sacraments and then live our lives off fumes as we go about our week in between “fill-ups.” No, instead we are called to deepen that grace that we receive in the Sacraments each day through a deepening of our relationship with the bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

The Sacraments are not just meant to be fill stations, but chances for a concrete encounter with the love and mercy of the Living God which fills our lives and gives us the strength to persevere. The grace of the Sacraments helps us to live with a greater awareness of Christ’s presence in our lives each and every day, so that we may receive from the source of life itself in our daily prayer, in our encounters with others, and through the circumstances of our lives. Living a Sacramental life means living a life imbued with the presence of Christ, in which all of reality points to Him.

In this way we do not run the risk of finding ourselves in the same difficulties as those foolish virgins. This is how we are to prepare: to grow each day in our awareness of the presence of Christ in our lives, strengthen by the grace of the Sacraments. This, after all, is true wisdom which hastens to make herself known in the anticipation of our desires (Wisdom 6:13). “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (Matthew 25:6).

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 19, 2023

Readings: Prv 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31 • Ps 128:1–2, 3, 4–5 • 1 Thes 5:1–6 • Mt 25:14–30  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111923.cfm

Our lives are not our own. This may be a jarring reality, but our difficulty in accepting it makes it no less real. Everything that we have has been given. In other words, everything we have — including our very lives — is a gift. This is the logic the Lord invites us into in the parable of the talents, the logic of the good things the Lord desires to share with us and our response to His gifts.

The fact of our dependance run contrary to many of the cultural narratives of our day. We are told that we should be independent, that we should live our truth, that we are the masters of our destiny. Without diminishing the importance of free will, the evidence that much of our lives lies outside of out control becomes — if we are willing to face it — at a certain point becomes insurmountable. In the first place, I did not give myself life. I did not choose the family or the circumstances that I was born into. I did not predetermine my various personality traits or natural abilities. What, then, are we to do with what has been given?

In the parable of the talents, we see that the three servants are given different amounts, “to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15). Perhaps we may object to the fairness of the master, but the rest of the parable makes sense of his logic. The two servants who received more didn’t cling to the talents possessively but put them into play in order to offer even more in return. The servant who received less, on the other hand, buried what was given to him as if he had received nothing at all. It could be said that the two servants who received more were generous to receive what had been given to them.

This generous receptivity lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We are called to be open to receive all that the Lord has given us in order that it may bear fruit and multiply. In this way, nothing is lost but everything becomes a gift. Tout est grâce, everything is grace — or a gift — as St. Thérèse would say, so long as we neither bury it nor cling to it possessively. Our life has been given to us so that it may be shared.

When we speak of living our lives for Christ, this is the dynamic that is at play. This is what it means to live one’s life for Christ, for the work of Another who makes me all that I am and gives me all that I have. Does this mean that the Lord desires for us to suffer through difficult circumstances outside of our control? No! Rather, He desires to work through those circumstances to bring about something good so long as we are sharing those challenges with Him, receiving generously all that comes our way. This is what Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Ecclesial Movement Communion and Liberation, calls the positivity of reality. Not that everything that happens in reality is good, but that the Lord came to redeem reality and work for the good of all who love Him through what is given (Romans 8:28).

The fact that our lives are not our own, that there are factors out of our control, is not a threat but a gift. Like the servants who received the talents and put them into play, we are called to put our lives into play, all of the gifts that we have received — yes, even the challenging ones — so that our hearts would be open to receive even more. Only in entering into this logic of gift can we be given more and grow rich (Matthew 25:29) and experience the hundredfold for which we were made (Mark 10:30).

Solemnity of Christ the King – November 26, 2023

Readings: Ez 34:11–12, 15–17 • Ps 23:1–2, 2–3, 5–6 • 1 Cor 15:20–26, 28 • Mt 25:31–46    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112623.cfm

Speaking in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Pope Francis highlighted the image of the Last Judgement depicted in the cathedral dome: “At the center is Jesus, our light. At the apex of the fresco reads the inscription: ‘Ecce Homo.’ Looking at this dome we are drawn upward, as we contemplate the transformation of Christ judged by Pilate, into Christ seated on the judge’s throne. An angel brings him a sword yet Jesus does not take on the symbols of judgment, but instead raises his right hand, showing the marks of the passion . . .”1

What an incredible image to ponder as we celebrate this Solemnity of Christ the King. Jesus Christ — God made man — came into the world to be to be its just judge. But the image that He offers of king and ruler of the universe shatters our conceptions of power and justice.

From the Prophet Ezekiel we are given the image of the Lord as shepherd of the flock who seeks out the lost, brings back the strayed, binds up the injured, and heals the sick (Ezekiel 34:16). There is a great deal of tenderness that He shows to the weakness and brokenness of those sheep in need of His care. Who among us does not experience weakness and brokenness? Who among us does not stray? Who among us is not in need of healing? The image of the shepherd, then, conditions our understanding of the needs of our fallen humanity and the desire for the Lord to meet those needs. We cannot separate these two images. Christ is both King and Good Shepherd. And he exercises His authority by tenderly shepherding His flock.

In doing so, Jesus introduces a new structure of power not rooted in the survival of the fittest, but on the nurturing of the weak. St. Paul expresses this new idea succinctly: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Such a revolution is only possible through the victory that Christ our King wins by mounting the throne of the cross.

We do not have a king who rules from a distant place. Our king rules from the midst of His flock, and in fact, for the sake of His flock, offers Himself as a sacrifice for our salvation. The Shepard himself becomes a sacrificial lamb in order to raise the flock from slavery to their waywardness. This is the extent of His love for His flock, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

It is in His own self-offering on the Cross that we come to understand the true nature of His rule. Jesus Christ gave His life so that we would have life through Him. He offered Himself as an oblation, as a means of expiation for our sin. And so, He judges us accordingly. In one of the final writings of Pope Benedict XVI, he reflects on the nature of Christ’s judgment:

Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my “Paraclete.” In light of the hour of judgement, the grace of being a Christian becomes all the more clear to me. It grants me knowledge, and indeed friendship, with the judge of my life, and thus allows me to pass confidently through the dark door of death.2

Returning to the image of the Last Judgment as depicted in the dome of the Florence Cathedral, we can better understand Christ’s desire to show the marks of His passion rather than take on the symbols of judgment. According to this new understanding of kingship, the wounds of Christ become the new symbols of judgement for those who are willing to subject themselves to Him.

Our celebration of Christ the King serves as a reminder of the different kingdom our Lord has established; not a kingdom of this world according the logic of power and judgment, but the Kingdom of God. In this new kingdom Jesus Christ our King rules with tenderness and mercy, inviting those who follow Him to become not only subjects, but coheirs. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

  1. Pope Francis, “Meeting with the Participants in the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church” (November 10, 2015). https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/november/documents/papa-francesco_20151110_firenze-convegno-chiesa-italiana.html.
  2. Pope Benedict XVI, “Letter of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI regarding the report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising” (August 2, 2022). https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2022/02/08/220208b.html.
Fr. Ralph D'Elia About Fr. Ralph D'Elia

Fr. Ralph D’Elia, S.T.L. is a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. He serves as Priest Secretary and Master of Ceremonies to Most Rev. Gregory Parkes and is the Chaplain at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.