HOMILY 32nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
WISDOM IN WATCHFULNESS AND READINESS FOR ACTION
Mt 25.1-13 Wis 6.12-16 1Thess 4.13-18
In this month of November, we are particularly conscious in our Catholic Tradition of remembering All Souls, in terms of those to whom we have been close as part of our lives, and who have guided and influenced us on our own life’s journey. This time last year, I returned to Toronto to do a close friend Ted’s funeral, closely following my dear friend Mercy Sister Mary Dennett’s funeral here at Essendon. A year before, neither was aware of serious illness; Ted was only 67 and Mary 81. Both had lived active lives up to the point of diagnosis. Then I was back to Sydney, just before Christmas last year, for another friend Michael’s funeral, suffering a fatal heart attack, just weeks after he had happily celebrated turning 70 with his family.
Without being at all morbid or mournful, it’s all a reminder of the fragility and preciousness of life, and our responsibility to live it as well as we can, without really knowing what tomorrow can bring. Nothing is predetermined, apart from the certainty of our mortality, and the Christian perspective, whatever reassurance it brings about eternal life in light, happiness and peace with God, doesn’t change the reality of grief and a deep sense of loss of a loved one in our lives. We’ve all experienced it in one way or another, haven’t we?
And now, this weekend we acknowledge yet another Remembrance Day, marking the Armistice of 1918, when arms were laid down and “The Great War” (hardly great in anything but a catastrophic sense), or “War to End All Wars”, so called, ended, but only after something like 40 million military and civilian casualties, with estimates of 20 million deaths and a similar number of casualties, a third being civilians, not to mention the devastating and traumatic long term aftereffects, affecting millions for the rest of their lives. Then there was the ensuing 1918 flu pandemic, just to follow up. Next, the Versailles Treaty of 1919 precipitated World War II only 21 years later, with the loss of over another 70 million lives. Australian deaths from World War I were over 70,000, all to what end? A further 34,000 died in World War II, which could at least be called a ‘just war’, given the evils of Nazism, Fascism and Anti-Semitism. The awful statistics and waste of so many young lives cut short are mind-boggling, really.
And so to today, where war is being waged in Ukraine and Gaza, civilians caught up in the middle of it all, and all we can do is hope and pray that this madness and evil will end soon. Pope Francis and the UN call for peace, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears at the present time.
I can only quote historian Douglas Newton, who writes of Remembrance Day through the lens of Gaza and Ukraine: “That war is a black hole that sucks in everything – rationality, proportionality and humanity itself. That war is a black hole that sucks in everybody – the courageous and the cowardly, the virtuous and the vengeful, the innocent and the guilty. All buried. And thus, that whoever wins the war, the war always wins.” There is no glory in war, just suffering and death! When will humanity ever learn and prevail in peace and mutual dialogue and harmony, with acceptance of diversity? Respect for the dead and those who served is one thing, but not respect for war.
Today’s Gospel is a wake up call from Matthew, providing a gender balance with this parable of the 10 wise, presumably, bridesmaids, following that of the conscientious and the lazy servant, the latter caught out when the master comes and finds him negligent, not attending to his duties. Likewise, the foolish bridesmaids will miss out on their opportunity to be at the party, without their lamps lit, so ending up absent at the critical moment.
Scripture scholar Raymond Brown says: “The warning that the servant who is not waiting when the master comes will be put out with the hypocrites shows that unfaithful Christians (and perhaps specifically church leaders) will be judged no less harshly than the Scribes and Pharisees. Watchfulness continues in the uniquely Matthean parable of the ten bridesmaids… The message … is not one of meriting reward, but of dedicated and fruitful response by the Christian to God’s gift in and through Jesus.” They might fall asleep before the bridegroom arrives, but those with the extra supply of oil are prepared when he comes and wakes them up! This is symbolic of the good works that the responsible and reliable Christian knows to live by, and not put them off.
There is nothing about predestination or pre-judgement here; it is a matter of personal choice and responsibility, in deciding to live the call to be Christian, and not procrastinating while having a good time, with no reflection on implications of thoughtless and irresponsible behaviour, or the needs of others.
Even though it comes originally from Ecclesiasticus and Isaiah (and Greek philosopher, Epicurus, but not Shakespeare!), “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is not quite the right motto for Christian life. Rather, to make the most of today, and enjoy the good times and the high points of life, as well as facing up to the lower or darker moments of sadness, suffering and loss, is a far more realistic and balanced approach to living as a Christian. Jesus warns us about the crosses of life, yet certainly doesn’t tell us to go looking for them!
As Brendan Byrne SJ concludes from today’s Gospel: “The parable – and the Gospel as a whole – remind us that the words of dismissal at the Eucharist, (for which we gather now), ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’, are no perfunctory conclusion to the rite, but a programme for living the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbour (Mt 22.37-40).”
So here we are, approaching the end of the Church’s year, with some sombre reminders from Jesus that we need to be alert and to act now, producing the fruits of the Spirit as people of faith and hope, not forgetting the love either!
john hannon 12th November 2023
And as good old Claude Mostowik MSC puts it: “The Gospel does not intend to induce fear in us. It is not about insiders and outsiders or fencing people out. It is encouraging us to respond to the invitations of Jesus every day. Shutting the door on people because they were not prepared does not fit the image of Jesus in the Gospels. It was more usual for him to go out of his way to include those where were not prepared and seen as ‘foolish’ by showing them that they were loved: the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes… If we are to stay awake or remain vigilant, or keep our lamps lit, it happens by loving and serving others and being open to receive others.” He provides a counterbalance to misinterpreting the parable in a negative way.