31 Sunday A - Preaching without Practising

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

One of the great gaps in each of our lives is between intentions and actions; we often have only the best intentions but what we actually do is a lot less wholesome. We have noble words and ig­noble deeds. We make professions of faith with our lips, but not with our deeds or our wallets; we say we are willing to be disci­ples of the master, but we often find easier paths and other guides. We claim the enlightenment of the gospel and to be the people of love and peace, yet our behaviour often brings the very name of Christ into disrepute. It is this gap that is the focus of our thoughts and prayers in this assembly. Let us reflect now on this chasm that opens up between our public religious identity and our ways of living. 

Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments

      Today’s gospel passage contains several different teachings, each of them very deep and relevant to us today, and each expressed in its own imaginative language. Since they are all so special it might be better to focus on each one individually  although we may come to see a common thread running through them all.
Another point to note is that the teachings are addressed to two different groups:
- the “scribes and Pharisees” on the one hand,
- the “people and his disciples” on the other.
In fact the focus shifts so that it is now one group that is being addressed and now the other. In our meditation we need to be conscious of the group being addressed and of how we identify  with each.
• The Pharisees are those in authority who adopt false values. A good meditation on them will avoid two errors – self-righteousness on the one hand, playing down the evil of what they do, on the other. We avoid self-righteousness by recognising something of ourselves in them (even if in a reduced way); we feel the evil of their ways by entering into Jesus’ indignation.
• The “people”  are us when we let ourselves be oppressed by others and some Jesus helps us to discover our freedom and dignity.
In either case we celebrate Jesus, the great teacher and leader:
- he is fearless in confronting the scribes and Pharisees, reminding us of times when we have been challenged by people, events or institutions – perhaps a Biblical word;
- he believes in the common people and is deeply respectful of them – a wonderful model for community leaders, catechists and spiritual guides. A model too for the Church community in our time.
Verses 1 to 3 are addressed to the common people. Jesus reassures them – they must not let themselves be awed by those in authority who do not practice the noble things they proclaim.
We remember times when we allowed ourselves to be overawed by others because:
- they were better educated,
- they belonged to a higher social class, to an ethnic group, culture or religion with a higher status,
- they were more “respectable” in the eyes of our Church community, neighbourhood, society.
Then some Jesus came into our lives (as individuals, Church community or culture) and freed us from this dependency. We saw that those we had placed on a pedestal were flawed like all human beings and we felt liberated. 

Textual Comments

Verses 4 to 7 are addressed to those in authority.
Verse 4 speaks of their tendency to hand down laws without compassion. We think of
- church leaders unwilling to spend time counselling pregnant girls but condemning them when they have an abortion,
- education (including religious education) as handing down information rather than consciousness raising.
Verses 5 to 7 speak of the Pharisees’ desire for external signs of honour. “External signs” for us will include the different ways (including subconscious ones) in which we look for approval from our peers or from the wider community. This is a defect we can observe in the Church as well.
We read these verses from two points of view:
- remembering moments of grace when we or our community became conscious of these faults in ourselves,
- celebrating Jesus people who brought us to this consciousness. We think of the  great men and women, in
our time and in history, who have challenged the structures of our organisation – including the church.
Verses 8 to 10 return to the common folk, reminding them of their right to be guided by conscience. This passage has been crucially important for the development of our church’s wonderful teaching on the primacy of the individual conscience.
We celebrate the great theologians who have courageously upheld this teaching in the face of authoritarian tendencies in the Church, e.g. Cardinal Newman, Bernard Haering, Hans Kung. They have been Jesus for our time.

Verses 11 and 12 (returning to those in authority) can stand on their own but we can also read them in the light of the previous teachings;

- vs. 11 is a commandment, but we must avoid all moralising and read it as a story of grace – Jesus bringing good news. In Jesus we celebrate “great people” – teachers, leaders, spiritual guides – who taught us by word and example to reject the arrogance of authority figures (the “Scribes and Pharisees” of our community) and who put themselves at the service of all;
- vs. 12 is a factual observation which we are invited to recognise from our experience. It raises two possibilities:
* very gifted people “exalted themselves” and ended up “humbled” – looked down on by those who formerly admired them. Here again we must be careful to avoid self-righteousness. A sign that we have done so is that we feel very great sadness at the memory. What a pity!
* truly great people “humbled themselves” and were “exalted”, they gave themselves in humble service and are now widely admired. Some have made the passage on the world stage, e.g. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day;  others in the context of our daily lives, e.g. parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbours.

We must not move too quickly to the second stage but spend time remembering (celebrating) the years of frustration. Our overall response must be from the heart – what a privilege to have known people like that!

The saying is a powerful reminder of how life brings surprises; it invites us to celebrate the Jesus who prepared us for this. It is also a call to the Church to speak its prophetic word, warning our culture of how false its values are. 

Prayer Reflection

“A seemingly powerless person who dares to cry out the word of truth and to stand behind it with all his person and his life has surprisingly greater power, though formally disenfranchised, than do thousands of anonymous voters.” President Havel of Czechoslovakia, speaking when he was living under the communist regime.

Lord, we thank you for those who live under tyrannical regimes
and keep up the spirits of fellow citizens, telling them, like Jesus,
that they have to obey those who occupy the chair of authority,
and do what they say,
but they must be guided by their own values,
and not the values of those who preach lofty principles and do not practice them.

Lord, we who hold positions of authority in the Church
wear garments that attract attention;
we are always given places of honour at banquets
and front seats in places of worship;
people often greet us obsequiously in market places
and give us titles of honour.
Preserve us, Lord, from setting store on all these things;
remind us that the greatest thing in our lives
is to be at the service of your people.

I shall not fear anyone on earth. I shall fear only God.
       I shall bear ill will towards no one.
       I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.”  Gandhi
Lord, there are times when people in authority hold us in bondage.
We are terrified of displeasing them, whatever they say is Bible truth to us.
Then you send a Jesus person into our lives who teaches us about our own dignity
- that we have only one Master and all men and women are brothers and sisters to us;
- that we have only one Father, and he is in Heaven; only one teacher, the Christ.
Thank you, Lord.

“The important thing for a woman soldier to remember is not to show weakness.
       We wouldn’t give men that satisfaction.” A woman officer in the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force
Lord, in our culture no one wants to appear weak.
We pray that in our Church communities there may be no great honour
for those who pretend to be strong when they are not,
and that those who admit to being vulnerable may be respected.

Lord, we thank you for the various Centres that have been set up in our Church
to care for unwed mothers.
They are a sign that we do not merely call for obedience to your laws
but help people to bear their burdens.

Power comes from the people, but no sooner is that power acquired
       than those who got the power begin to isolate themselves from people.”  Cesar Chavez
Lord, have mercy on us who are in authority in the Church, in the State, in families.
How easy it is for us to hand down commandments,
tying up heavy burdens and laying them on the shoulders of those in our charge,
but never lifting a finger to move those burdens.

“It is when I am weak that I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10
Lord, we can always recognize a moment of grace.
It is one when we realise how we had been exalting ourselves
and now feel ennobled in our lowliness.

“Our fear is that a reinforced Europe may choose for its conscience the law of the strongest,
       the law of militarism, the old law of colonialism and of discrimination because of class, race
       and sex.”    Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, July 1990
Lord, we pray for the followers of Jesus who are building the new Europe,
that they may consider it the highest honour in life to be servants of the oppressed;
that among them self exaltation  will be held in low esteem
while those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Homily Notes
If one asks Christians, and especially clergy, whether or not the world benefits from their presence as religious people, one gets a clear affirmative: we point out that our religion is peace-making and loving, that it promotes humility and the care for the underdog, we point out our work for society in areas such as education, and for the world at large giving examples of help offered to poor countries or in the wake of disasters. Clearly, religion is a good thing!

If, on the other hand, one asks people who have no formal connection with religion whether they think that religions, or organised groups of religious people, are a good thing or not, the overwhelming answer is not one of neutrality (e.g. ‘each to their own so long as the horses are not frightened’) but one of positive fear. Religion, they say, promotes discord, its organisations promote fragmentation within society, it only gets involved in social structures so as to enforce its own practices or ideas within society, it is pompous and arrogant, and can lead to backwardness, coercion, and hatred. Religion as a private sentiment may be fine in a consumerist society (‘you want it, you can have it’); but when religion is organised, it is subversive and divisive.

2.This attack upon religion may be the major threat that faces us as Christians during the next century. Its power comes partially from the fact that one can express most conflicts across the globe in terms of religious divides; and having done so, can imagine that this distinction between conflicting groups is the cause of the conflict between the groups. However, its power as a critique of religion (and the reason I do not believe it will go away any time soon) also comes from the fact that it tunes in with a dominant theme in our culture: individualist consumerism – there should be no limits on my personal desires and any external authority regarding my choices is inherently a threat to my freedom. However, rather than tilt at such giant ideas – a policy of questionable value in the context of short homily at a Eucharist – one can note that some of the criticisms offered are strikingly similar to the criticisms of the religious establishment in today’s gospel.

But even if there were no external criticisms of religion (and the presence of such criticism should call us to self-reflection as a first reaction), we need to take stock of ourselves and see whether or not we are ‘fit for purpose’. This is even more pressing for any religious group, such as the local community assembling for the Eucharist, than for other groups which may gather for some good purpose, because of the nature of the claims we make as a group. We call ourselves ‘the people of God: we say that we are disciples of Jesus, we claim pub­licly to be followers of the ‘The Way: and we propose a message that we will announce to all. Making such claims means that we acknowledge that other people can have higher expectations of us and so can castigate us even more trenchantly when we fail to meet our own proclaimed standards. Sometimes church leaders claim that such an added standard is unfair, arguing that church people should not be expected to be more responsible than any other group; but such apolo­gies are perceived as deceitful for they fly in the face of the wisdom contained in the proverb: people in glass houses should not throw stones.

4. The fact is that while we say that we are following Jesus, we continually ‘lose the plot’. It is this losing of the, plot, failing ‘to see the big picture: ‘failing to see the wood for the trees’ that is the criticism of Jesus of the religious structures of his day. ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice:

So, since we are the people of God, how to we assess ourselves that we are living up to the claims? We need some pointed questions that can provoke our thinking.

5. Such questions really belonging to each actual group: each parish, community, group within the community, each Eucharistic assembly. One way to form those questions is to note that there are three endemic fallacies that lull Christians into indolence and self-satisfaction:

First, the fact that the organization is running smoothly indicates that it is helping people to grow as disciples. For example, the Eucharist has been celebrated at 10.30am for years and everyone who comes is happy with this, no one is complaining, and the music group always has the sheets ready and loves what they sing. Maybe the larger community’s profile has changed and no one inside this parish circle has noticed? Maybe those times or that music is very much at variance with what others can cope with or expect?

Second, the fact that we have many achievements of which we can be proud indicates that we are attentive to the voice of the Spirit. The parish may run a very successful school and put great efforts into raising money for this school, but is it putting forth a vision of Christian education or just a good consumer product? Would those who work for it be willing for it to relinquish its ability to produce students who’ can get on in the world’ if that were the price of it having a more person-centred education?

Third, the fact that there was a genuine listening and response to the call of God at one time means that we can keep repeating that activity with confidence that that is what is called for from us. Built into religions is the need for repetition: we repeat stories, we repeat rituals, and we have structures for this such as the lectionary and the liturgical year. But repetition can easily become a love of the past; how willing is the community to change in order to proclaim the Word in each new situation? As Picasso is reported to have said: ‘Tradition is about having a baby, not wearing your grandfather’s hat.’

These are, of course, big questions; and so we usually hear them asked at the big structural level: we hear them at ‘national pastoral conferences’, at ‘diocesan renewal events’, and the like. But the call of Jesus was not originally heard in such large structures: the gospel was preached in small gatherings for the Eucharistic meal that probably never had more that fifty people present. So Matthew imagined that this piece of gospel would be provocative at the small level at a Sunday assembly, indeed at a much smaller gathering than most of the assemblies we now have! It is the actual Eucharistic group that this gospel expects will have to come to grips with this challenge, not some greater and more remote structure.

Jack Mc Ardle
Central Theme

Today’s gospel is a head-on attack on the religious leaders, who preach one thing, and practise something else. Jesus shows them up as phoneys who try to impress others by external show, while, within, they are far from being what they pretend to be.

With the growth in global communication has come the spot­light that penetrates into every corner, so that it is getting in­creasingly difficult to conceal, or to suppress scandals. We see that in our Tribunals of Enquiry, where pillars of society, who were telling us to tighten our belts, have been exposed as lining their pockets with millions. All of the recent dictators, who have been ousted, have been exposed as having bled the country’s economy dry, as they stashed billions in other countries. Something similar has been exposed in the church, when some of those who thumped the pulpit and told us how to live our lives, have been exposed as people who themselves were living double lives.

One day the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing him just how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what could be considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son, ‘How was the trip?’ ‘It was great, dad.’ ‘Did you see how poor people can be?’ ‘Oh yeah!’, said the son. ‘So what did you learn from the trip?’

The son answered, ‘I saw that we have one dog, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have friends to protect them.’ With this, the boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, ‘Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we are.’

There is a vast difference between being wealthy and being rich. When I have genuine gratitude for what I have, I may begin discovering the richness of others.

1.     From Father James Gilhooley

 The boss was in his new office. An employee walked in. The boss picked up the phone and started an imaginary conversation flattering himself. He signaled the worker he'd be with him shortly. The employee said, "Take your time, boss. I'm here to hook up your phone." "A proud heart," wrote Ben Franklin, "is like a crooked fence.  

 All the paint in the world won't straighten it." The problem of pride was as bothersome to the early Church as it is to ours. Mark and Luke touch upon pride as well as today's Matthew. No century corners the market on pride. Can anyone even remotely imagine a proud Christ? Yet, He had much to be proud about. What disciple does Jesus seek?  

 A monk was sent to an abbey as abbot. He arrived at the abbey. From his dress, the monks judged him inferior. They sent him to their kitchen. Their new abbot spent weeks scouring pots and shelling beans. The bishop arrived. When he could not find the abbot, he went on a search. He found him in the kitchen preparing supper. He presented him to the monks in chapel. They had received a lifetime lesson in humility. The abbot is the man whom the Teacher wants. (William Barclay)  

 The proud, we are told, pray on Sunday and PREY on those about them on Monday. Rather, pray with God on Sunday and walk with Him on Monday. The abbot reminds us when we think we are humble, we are not. Many of us even have a nasty habit of being proud of our humility. We become legends in our minds. We go to church to find out what our neighbors should do to lead better lives. He that is proud, said Shakespeare, eats himself up. Pride, says the Bible, goeth before the fall. In Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," Alice found a mushroom. When she ate one side of the mushroom, she found herself getting smaller. When she ate the other side, she got taller. Of the two situations, Alice decided smaller was better. For, as she was reduced in size, all things and people about her looked more wonderful. Less, she discovered, can be more. Small can be beautiful.  

 Walt Whitman ate the correct side of the mushroom, for he wrote, "As for me, I know nothing else but miracles." We are forever circling that same mushroom. If we allow ourselves the portion that makes us larger, everything else about us will lack wonder. We will become puffed up with our worth. Critics will put us down as studies in pomposity. We will develop in ourselves the very faults which we detest in others. The proud, says the savant, detest pride in others.  

 A man was awarded a medal for his humility. Shortly he was stripped of it. He had begun to wear it proudly. Many of us have much in common with him. Two ambassadors walked on Paris' Champs Elysees. They were grieved. Though the Parisians had greeted them warmly, none had addressed them with their title, "Your Excellency." If proud, one becomes the character whom Peter Ustinov addresses in his play as "Your Altitude." We become like those who ask, "What will the world do without me when I'm gone?" Only those who permit themselves to grow smaller and smaller will be able to see "the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower." Not only will they bring themselves joy but also they will share that joy with others. They will be God's ambassadors. They will give pleasure to the Christ.  

 They will become the children which the Nazarene asked us to be. They will rush into the Kingdom laughing and singing "When the Saints Come Marching In." A US senator attends a weekly prayer group. At its end, while other participants rush to their jobs, the senator stays to stack chairs and clean up. And he is the highest ranking person there. Looking for a role model? But do not put off this thousand mile journey! Lewis Carroll must have had each of us in mind when he wrote in his other classic "Through the Looking-Glass": "It takes all the running you can do to stay in one place. If you want to get anywhere, you have to run twice as fast." A US president was working an old age home for votes while running for a second term. He said to an old man, "Do you know me?" The fellow said, "No, but if you ask the nurse, she'll tell you." No one, history tells us, has ever choked to death from swallowing his own pride. Can those, who really know themselves, afford to be proud? 
2.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah begins with a feeling of deep depression almost forgetting what happiness could mean. This is man’s reaction in the face of death, or the prospect of isolation, want or chronic ill-health. Is this the end of it all? Then the prophet remembers what God has revealed of his mercy and he speaks words of hope as he describes final salvation and the joy of the chosen ones of God, who replied to the Lord’s invitation, in terms of a banquet. With the reawakening of faith comes the feeling of peace. The souls in purgatory have this peace as they wait in patience for the Lord’s coming and the fulfilment of his promise. What is certain is that He will come and bring his peace and consolation to all who await his coming. 

I Am God’s Man!

 During the Second World War I had something to do with a canteen which was run for the troops in the town in which I was working. Early in the way, we had billeted with us in the town a number of polish troops who had escaped from Poland. Among them there was a Polish airman. When he could be persuaded to talk, he would tell the story of a series of hair-raising escapes. He would tell of how somehow he had escaped from Poland, how somehow he tramped his way across Europe, how somehow he had crossed the Channel, how he had been shot down in his aero plane once and crashed on another occasion. He always concluded the story of his encounter with the same awe-stricken sentence: “I am God’s man!”

William Barclay

 In today’s gospel we see Jesus with his friends Martha and Mary as he goes to meet them on the occasion of receiving the news of the death of Lazarus. The narrative tells us that he did not immediately rush to Bethany on hearing this news, but went almost four days after Lazarus was dead and buried in the tomb. Why did he hesitate and delay? Did he not care for his friends? Could he not do anything for those who were in pain and loss? These are questions that come up in our mind not only about the family of Lazarus, but also each time we are confronted with the death of near and dear ones. When Martha and Mary hear that Jesus had finally arrived, their reactions were different. While Martha went out to meet him, Mary remained sitting inside the house. Martha immediately voices her hope in a plaintive voice: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” At the same time she expresses her faith in Jesus: “But I know even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.” Jesus responds to her faith by reassuring her, “Your brother will rise up again!” “I am the resurrection and the life!” –this statement of Jesus is the centre piece of this gospel on the raising of Lazarus. To believe in Jesus, Messiah and Son of God, is to have in oneself eternal life, which no physical death can overthrow. When we believe in the power of the Lord Jesus the impossible becomes possible, where there is death life is restored. This happened for Jesus after he died on the Cross submissive to the Father’s will, and the same happens to all who accept death as the will of the Father, who let his son die on the cross, and who allows us to suffer pain and even death. We cannot understand why this has to happen but we know that only through death do we reach the fullness of life. 

Be Not Afraid!

 I should like to read to you some passages of a letter from a man, Captain Scott of the Antarctic, written in the tent, where it was found long afterwards with his body and those of some other very gallant gentlemen, his comrades. The writing is in pencil, still quite clear, though towards the end some of the words trail away as into the great silence that was waiting for them. It began: “We are pegging out in a very comfortless spot, hoping that this letter may be found and sent to you. I write you a letter of farewell. I want you to think well of me and my end. Goodbye – I am not at all afraid of the end, but sad to miss many a simple pleasure which I had planned for the future in our long marches. We are in a desperate state –frozen feet etc., no fuel, and a long way from food, but it would do your heart good to be in our tent, to hear our songs and our cheery conversations…. We are very near the end…We did intend to finish ourselves when things proved like this, but we have decided to die naturally without.” - I think it might uplift you to stand for a moment by the tent and listen, as he says, to their songs and cheery conversation.

J.M. Barrie in ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’

Looking in the Mirror

 There is a story about a Jewish man who survived the concentration camps. The night after his liberation, he went to stay in a nearby house. There he found about thirty other survivors gathered in the room. Seeing a mirror on the wall, he went over to it. He was anxious to see what he looked like. But in the same mirror he saw the reflection of some other people as well. There were many faces in the mirror. And he could not tell which one belonged to him. He had to make faces and gestures, in order to be able to distinguish himself from the group. And when he did distinguish his own face, he got a terrible shock. Because the person he saw in the mirror was one he had never seen before. He was so changed that the person in the mirror didn’t bear any resemblance to the person he had seen before the war. A strange story but true.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

 The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away!

 There is a sacred story from the Jewish tradition which tells of a certain rabbi and his wife who had two sons to whom they were extremely devoted. One Sabbath morning while the rabbi was teaching the Law in the synagogue, both boys were struck by a sudden illness and died. The mother laid them out on a bed and covered them with a white sheet. When the rabbi came home for his meal and asked where the children were, the wife made some excuse and waited till the rabbi had eaten. She did not answer her husband’s question but instead asked one of him. “I am placed in a difficulty,” she said,” because some time ago a person entrusted to my care some possession of great value which he now asks me to give back. I am unsure of what to do. Am I obliged to return these great valuables to him?” “That you should need to put this question surprises me” the rabbi replied. “There can be no doubt about what you must do. How can you hesitate to restore to anyone what is his own?” The wife then rose from the table and asked the rabbi to follow her. She led him to the room where the two bodies lay and pulled back the sheet. “My sons, my sons,” groaned the father in pain. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” said his wife through her tears. “Blessed be the name of the Lord. You have always taught me to restore without reluctance what has been lent to us for our happiness. We have to return our two sons to the God of all mercies.” –Like the Jewish women in the story, we are consoled by our faith in difficult times. Of course, faith does not banish our sense of loss, but it affirms the great truth that all life is a gift from God. Who we are is what we have been given. Death is not a door in the dark, but a dark door into the light.

Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Heart’

One day a priest was preparing a group of children for the sacrament of Confirmation. He wanted to know how much the kids understood the Church’s teaching on Final Judgment. He asked one of the little boys, “What will God say on Judgment day to those who have led a very good life on earth?” Without any hesitation the boy replied, “Come and enter heaven and live with me.” The priest asked a second boy, “What will the Lord say to those who have lived a very bad life?” The boy said, “You cannot come to heaven. You will have to go to hell.” Then the priest went on: “Now what will God say to those who are not good enough to enter neither heaven at once nor bad enough to go to hell?” After a pause a little girl put up her hand and said, “God will say, I will be seeing you soon!”

Elias Dias in ‘Divine Stories for Families’

On Dad’s Shoulders

 In Kohima, Nagaland there is a War cemetery, where the allied soldiers who died during the War are buried. On the door of the Cemetery, it is written, “Tell them that we gave our today for your tomorrow.” Like the soldiers of World War II, the memory of our near and dear ones is a reminder that we need to be grateful to them because what we are today is mainly due to their efforts and sacrifices. A Scottish poet has written, “If I have done anything in life, it is because I was able to stand on the shoulders of my dad.”

Elias Dias in ‘Divine Stories for Families’

May we pray for those who have gone ahead of us on the way home!

3.     From the Connections:

November 2 – Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day)

  “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life . . . ”

John 6: 37-40


Since the middle of the sixth century, monastic communities observed a day of prayer on the day after Pentecost for the deceased monks of their monasteries.  The monasteries of Cluny established the practice of praying the Mass and Office of the Dead on November 2, the day after All Saints’ Day.  Many local churches and dioceses in Europe had similar commemorations for the dead every year.  All Souls’ Day was adapted by the universal church in the 14th century. 

While there are many superstitious customs surrounding All Souls’ Day (“the Day of the Dead”), the theological underpinnings of today’s feast is the acknowledgment of God’s mercy despite our human frailty and Christ as the hope of the living and the dead.  While yesterday’s solemnity celebrates the victory of the saints, today’s somber and more austere commemoration focuses on the reality of death as the transition from this life to the life of God.   

Today’s readings may be taken from any of the lectionary periscopes for Masses for the Dead.  In John 6: 37-40 (the Gospel reading found in many worship aids for today’s liturgy), Jesus concludes the “bread of life” discourse reiterating that God seeks salvation and eternal life for every member of the human family and has raised Jesus as his Christ as the means to resurrection. 


All Souls’ Day confronts us with the sobering inevitability of death and the pain of taking leave of this life and those we love; but our faith in the loving providence of the Father tempers our fear with trust and hope: that we live every day in the promise of Easter’s empty tomb, that our every step is guided by the light of the Risen One. 

Faith enables us to see death not as an ending but as a beginning: our conviction in the dawning of Easter should warm our winter hearts as we await new life in the eternal spring to come.   

In Christ, God takes the initiative in our salvation; God makes the first and last move in our redemption.  God calls us to himself despite ourselves, welcomes us, grasps us by the hand despite our doubts, our fears, our sadness.   

In the waters of baptism, we enter into the life of God; in death, our baptismal journey is completed, our passing over with Christ perfected.  Just as we have lived this life with Christ, we take our leave of this world with Christ; the baptism that made us part of his death now makes us part of his resurrection. 

 “Do and observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen . . .

“The greatest among you must be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 23: 1-12


Today’s Gospel is another powerful indictment of the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes were the religious intellectuals of the time, skilled in interpreting the Law and applying it to everyday life; the Pharisees belonged to a religious fraternity (“the separated brethren”) who prided themselves on the exact, meticulous observance of the Law.  Jesus condemns them for their failure to live up to their teachings:  In their eagerness to be revered, they seek to dominate rather than to serve.  Religious ostentation and pretension are rejected in favor of the Christian ideal of leadership contained in loving service to the community.

In warning his disciples not to use of the titles “Rabbi,” “teacher” and “Father,” Jesus condemns the spirit of pride and superiority such titles connote.  Those who minister as teachers and leaders should be humbled by the fact that they are not teachers or leaders in their own right but by the inspiration and grace of God.  In the reign of God, those who exercise authority have a particular responsibility to lead by serving. 


In the Gospel perspective, the greatest leaders and teachers are those who share their vision of faith not in words alone but by the power and authority of their example, in the integrity of their lives, in their commitment of service toward and respect for those in their charge. 

Jesus exalts those whose leadership and influence over others are centered in humble service, in selfless integrity, in respect for the hopes and dreams of others, in the ability to empathize with and reach out to the suffering and struggling, the poor and forgotten.   

For the person of faith, joy is found not in the recognition or honor that one receives in doing good but in the act of doing good itself, in realizing that we imitate Christ in such service, in the assurance that we are bringing the love of God into the lives of others.