31 Sunday A - Service vis-a-vis Positions and Titles

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.

StoryOne 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.