04 November 201831 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
31 Ordinary Time
31 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 12:28-34

Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov tells the story of a selfish person who was almost spared hell because of an onion. She had been dispatched to Hades. An angel pleaded to God on her behalf. "But, Lord, she once gave an onion to a beggar." God ordered that she be lifted out of hell by the onion. The woman was desperately clutching the small onion as she was being lifted out. People, as anxious to get out of hell as she was, tried to hold her legs. She kicked them off. "Just me," she shouted. As she spoke these words, her hands slipped off the onion. She fell back into hell. Do you get the feeling that the nineteenth century novelist took today's Gospel quite literally? According to this Russian genius, the Christ was not pulling our legs when He told us to love our neighbors even though they be enemy. This love must not merely take the form of feeling sorry for people in need. Rather it must be expressed in actions we perform for him or her. "Spare me your sympathy," shouts the person in need, "and your prayers; lift me up." George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Beware of the man whose God is in the skies." A nun took food to a starving family. The mother disappeared with the food and then returned with but half of it. She said, "Our neighbors are hungry too." Nor must our attention be directed merely to the "deserving poor."

The Teacher in the Gospels never made a distinction among the deserving and the undeserving. He never submitted any of them to a litmus test. Dostoyevsky was very much aware of this point. He was convinced that even the most horrible of us is capable of salvation. His compassion had no boundaries. Nor must ours. Kurt Vonnegut writes in his novel, "Damnit, there's only one commandment. You've got to be kind." Christ spent His years answering the question "Who is my neighbor?" by His own deeds. We may claim ignorance of His answer, but it is self-imposed one. Mother Teresa was correct. She said you can speak the Gospels in five words: "You do it for me." (Mt 25:40) The rabbi Hillel, the Nazarene's contemporary, put the same case negatively. A disciple asked him to sum up the whole law while standing on one leg. Immediately he took his right leg off the floor. He said simply, "What thou hatest for thyself, do not do to thy neighbor. This is the entire law.

Everything else is but a commentary on it. Go and learn." Hillel placed his right foot back on the floor and smiled at his astonished disciple. The marvel of Jesus' Gospel is that while it is admittedly difficult to put into action, its simplicity allows it to be understood even by a young child. Exegesis is not required. His Gospels remind us we can have a hundred pounds of dogma while not having an ounce of salvation. Psychiatrists testify that one reason we find it difficult to love others is that we do not love our own selves. So, how can I love the person next to me if I do not appreciate myself? This theory may explain why violence, sexism and racism are so endemic in our culture. In the 20th century, there were more than 165 wars - almost two wars for each year; 160 million were killed.

We must learn to be our own best fan. More importantly perhaps, if we work with young people, we must teach them to feel happy with themselves. If we are successful, the next generation of adults will be able to live out their lives in a more peaceable kingdom than we. They will be able to see the wisdom of the cry that teaches, "Don't be Christian. Be Christ." Or, as Leo Tolstoy put it, "Each one of us should be a Christ in miniature." Jesus will indeed be very pleased if that should occur in our own case. Scott Seethaler said, "Christianity is not a religion of me but we. We are invited to hand over our five loaves and two fish and trust that God will multiply our gifts." He makes the point that we must make our own the spirit of the Latino families among whom he has worked. Often, in their homes they would say, "Estas in tu casa" or "You are in your own home." The little which these people had they were quite delighted to share with him. Karl Barth after writing volumes about God defined Him in five words - the One who loves me. Would that all could embrace that definition of our self worth and that of our neighbor.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
31 Ordinary Time
Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time: It's Not That Difficult

What was with this scribe? Was he serious when he asked Jesus what was the first of all the commandments? Did he want to know the answer, or was he trying to make Jesus look bad in front everybody? There were 613 laws that Moses gave in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. They were treated with such importance that there were a whole series of laws written to protect these 613. For example, the law, Keep Holy the Sabbath, was protected by detailed laws on what was and wasn't viewed as work during the Sabbath. These laws were called the Halaka. But then the Jewish scholars thought that there should be a greater weight given to the Halaka. More laws were created on how to keep the Halaka. These laws were the Mishna and Tosepta. The Halaka would say that a person could not carry water from a well if that well was not next to the house. That would be work. The Mishna and Tosepta would define how many steps a person could or couldn't take with a bucket of water.

This might seem peculiar to us, but really the heart of all this was how sacred those 613 laws were and how seriously the Hebrews followed them. But then the Jewish scholars asked another question, "Which of these 613 was the most important?" For centuries the learned scholars debated this question. And now, standing before one of these scholars, one of the scribes, there is this Jesus, a nobody from Galilee with no formal education, thinking that he could teach the people. The educated scribe could certainly make Jesus look bad, or so he thought. He was prodded by his companions to go for the rhetorical kill. He probably had an attack ready to meet whatever Jesus said. He would use his intelligence and sarcasm to make Jesus look silly. We have all been in classes and in meetings with people like him, proud of their own intellectual skills and just looking for an opportunity to make someone else look bad. But then Jesus ruined the scribe's game. Instead of arguing over the fine points of this or that law, he merely quoted two verses from the Torah, one from the Book of Deuteronomy and one from the Book of Leviticus.

From Deuteronomy the Lord took, "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, whole mind and whole strength, and your whole soul." And from Leviticus he quoted, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." How could the scribe mock that? We get the sense that this intellectual adversary stopped and struggled between his loyalty to those who put him up to challenging Jesus and this insight into righteousness. The scribe reached the moment of truth, turned from his party bosses, turned from the establishment, and said, "You are right in saying that the love of God and love of neighbor are more important than all the burnt offering and sacrifices one could make." The scribe then heard what his heart was yearning to hear. Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven." There are many times that people confront me, and perhaps you, regarding this or that aspect of our faith. "So, what do you think about this, Father? Or what do you think about that?" You probably have had people challenging you about your Catholicism. They ask, "How come you worship Mary? Why don't you ever read the Bible?" Well, we don't worship Mary, and we do read the Bible, but many times these people are not looking for a serious answer, just an opportunity to discredit us. If instead of getting into a debate, we give them the answer that Jesus gave, well, that becomes a game changer. So we say, "We don't worship Mary, and we do read the Bible, but, you know what, all that matters is the law of Love.

Love God and love others. Everything else flows from that." And then, perhaps and with the grace of God, the intellectually arrogant, legends in their own minds, will be led to appreciate the simple wisdom of Catholicism. St. Augustine said "Love God and do as you will for the soul trained in loving God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." We are often overwhelmed by the number of laws we are told to follow. There are federal laws, and state laws and county laws. There are rules in families and in schools and in places of work. Even neighborhood associations have a host of laws and plenty of people who drive around looking for violators. Added to all these are the Church laws. In the Church the main body of law is the Code of Canon Law. Every aspect of church administration, sacrament administration, rules for daily life is carried in 1,752 canons or laws. There are divine laws, natural laws, and civil laws. Certainly we can join the scribe and asking, "Bottom line it for us, Lord. What is it that God really wants us to do to please him?" And Jesus says, "It's not so difficult, "Love God; Love Others." People often have questions.

You have questions. Is this right? Is that right? Everyone is taking this or that stuff, everyone is doing this or that. Why is it wrong? Just apply the law of Love. Is the love of God and the love of others seen in our actions? Or is our own selfishness, our desire to take care of number one, even if that means using others, the real reason we want to do this or that? For example, sometimes a person says, "I really love you," but means, "I'm not going to give you my life, I just want to have sex with you." We certainly live in confusing times. There often appear to be more questions than answers. We are confronted with questions which weren't even considered fifty years ago: What is marriage? What is human life? Does the separation of Church and State give the government the right to limit religious freedom? How can we discern what is right and what is wrong? How do we discern on which side of each argument we Catholics belong? Just apply the law of Love. Love God and Love neighbor. When we do this, life become far lest complicated. Anything that does not reflect the love of God and neighbor is just a leap into a void. The mystic Julien of Norwich sensed this back in her time, the late Middle Ages. She said that we simply need to conform to Christ and all will be well. Today's Gospel concludes by saying that after the people heard what Jesus said to the scribe, no one dared ask him any more questions. All answers to the complications of life are found here: We are to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and love all those he created in his image and likeness as we love that image within ourselves.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
31 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
31 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
31 Ordinary Time
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

The scribe in today's Gospel gets an unusually good press. Jesus compliments him, something quite rare in the Gospels. The scribe asks which is the first of all the commandments and Jesus recites the famous opening words of the Shema, the prayer recited by pious Jews each day. In the accounts by Matthew and Luke the scribe, or lawyer as we would probably call him today, is portrayed as out to trick Jesus. Although Mark's version of the story is placed in the middle of several other incidents in which various scribes and the Sadducees dispute with Jesus and try to trick him, this particular scribe is in complete contrast to the others. Perhaps this is so because Mark is trying to highlight the importance of the Great Commandment to love God and one's neighbour. The compliment paid by Jesus to the scribe, ‘you are very close to the Kingdom of God,' is also highly exceptional and again highlights the importance of this incident to Mark's readers. On reading this text I found it quite striking that it is actually the scribe who said: ‘To love God and your neighbour is more important than any holocaust and sacrifice.' At first, I thought it was Jesus who said those words but then looking at it carefully I saw that I was wrong and that it was indeed the scribe. If you imagine the scene in the Temple where they were standing; all around them there would have been the preparations for the sacrifices going on there. They would have heard and smelled the animals and seen the smoke from the sacrificial fire wafting around.

So, for a scribe to point out that these holocausts are unimportant is a bit unusual to say the least. To most of his hearers the scribe's remarks must have sounded like the worst sort of heresy. I looked it up in the commentaries but none of the authors I read seemed to find it quite so striking as I did. They point out that several prophets said pretty much the same thing. Whether I'm the only one who finds this strange I don't know and it certainly doesn't matter. But the point needs to be made and with the benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus' own sacrifice, which was not very far off, is the definitive sacrifice which would bring salvation to the whole world. And as such Christ's sacrifice automatically renders the Temple sacrifices utterly redundant. This is underlined quite strongly in the extract from the Letter to the Hebrews, our second reading today. The final words of Jesus to the scribe ‘you are very close to the Kingdom of God' are obviously spoken with authority and in a believable way because, as it says, ‘after that no one dared to question him anymore.' There is a lot to think about in this particular Gospel passage but perhaps the thing we should hang on to is the Great Commandment which tells us that our first duty is: ‘to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.' What an order!

There is nothing left out, no part of us is exempt from loving God. It seems a practically impossible or, at the very least, an extremely daunting task. This is an obligation that cannot be filled by merely coming to mass on a Sunday or muttering a few prayers now and again. This is an obligation that will occupy all our time, every moment of the day and all our attention and all our energy. But if you think about it what we owe to God demands nothing less. However, don't think of this as something burdensome that we must do for God. Instead, think of what he has done for us. He gave us all our faculties; he gave us the gift of life itself; he forgives our sins; if he withdraws his attention from us for a moment we wouldn't even continue to exist. And he gives us the greatest gift of all; he freely gives us the life of his only Son for our salvation. The scribe was close to the Kingdom of God because he understood these things. He understood what was due to God; he understood that in the face of such love our whole lives belong to God. He understood that it is only in using our whole energy to live the way God wants us to live will bring us the greatest joy and fulfilment.

On a slightly different note, we have just celebrated the feast of All Souls and in this month of November we think particularly about our loved ones who have died. Throughout the world Catholics pray for the dead and visit the cemeteries and graves of their families and friends. We pray for the dead to aid them on their journey to full union with God in heaven. This is not because we don't think that they will get there without our prayers or because we doubt the love and mercy of God. We pray for them as an expression of our love and because we know that prayer is the most powerful force in the world. In prayer earth and heaven are united; in prayer the Kingdom of God is brought nearer to its culmination; in prayer we, ourselves, are transformed and become ever holier. It is our firm belief that there is a very thin veil between earth and heaven; that our loved ones are very near to us. And heaven and earth are closest of all in the celebration of the Eucharist. For in the Eucharist we are united with Christ and receive his body and blood. Even though to outward eyes what we do at this altar might seem rather mundane, the belief at the very core of our faith is that on this altar heaven and earth actually meet. And at this privileged meeting place with God we earnestly intercede for all the dead. We do so full of joy and in hope and eager anticipation that the promises of God will in due time be fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is indeed very close, closer than we can ever know. It was close for that scribe; it is close for us; and our prayer is that it is already a reality for our loved ones who have died. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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