Nov. 19, 2023
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
As the liturgical year fades, it is hard not to be very aware of the darkness around us. It is not just the shorter days and the longer nights, but the darkness that plagues the world with violence. So many have come to me of late with a sense of helplessness as we watch wars rage. Yet, in our minds, we know that prayer is a mighty weapon, faith a necessary sword, love a river of life, and hope — well, that is what we most long for.
So, we ask, “what can I do?”
If we turn our back upon the realities of bloodshed and live in the world of early “Black Fridays” and sugar plum fairies, it feels complicit with the suffering and the breakdown of the human community. If we skip the office Christmas party because the world is in a funk, then we run another kind of risk. I think these are times to check on the inner rumblings of our own disquieted souls.
The Gospel tells us we have gifts and that we must not bury them in the earth without investing them. Those gifts sometimes emerge from our deepest fears, our most unbridled angers.
Fear is accompanied by paralysis. Fear prevents us from performing responsibilities and engaging in new opportunities. The man in the Gospel who buried his talent out of fear only drew the ire of his master, which is why he buried the treasure in the first place. Fear needs to be redeemed. But what is the remedy to fear? One might think it is courage, but not necessarily. Courage tends to be thought of as something we can marshal up from our inner resolve or our own self-discipline.
The antidote for fear is hope. Our hope is in God.
Paul, in his letter to the people of Thessalonica, dispels fear by assuring the people they are not living in darkness. No, just the opposite: they are children of the light and children of the day. He warns them, “let us not sleep as others do but let us stay alert and sober.” Waiting for the Lord to return, Paul calls for vigilance. This warning is for us as well. More than ever, the darkness of our times calls forth our gifts.
Recently, the Catholic Herald reported on a special liturgy for peace prayed at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee — the headline read: “Mass for Peace Renews Hope in Midst of War.” The story witnessed the solidarity with the wider praying community, which helped overcome the sense of hopelessness the news and social media imposed. One person commented: “Now I feel a renewed sense of my job as a Catholic to bring peace to our world, my community and my family.”
Could we possibly take the risk of asking our parish communities to have an evening of prayer, a Mass or specially set aside times for people to come and pray in unity for peace? Could we gather our friends in our homes for a night to pray the Rosary, asking the Blessed Mother for her intervention on behalf of peace in the Middle East? Could we find our way to daily Mass and stay afterward with others to pray for an end to violence?
Could we invest in time healing others? There is so much brokenness and loneliness in our neighborhoods and our communities that stays hidden because fear plays a stronger role than hope. Nursing homes are plagued by loneliness. Residents starve for visits and the touch of a human hand. Adopt a person. Bring them love, and fear will be overturned. Just like the men in the Gospel who invested their master’s money, there will be returns because the essence of God is self-gift.
John Shea puts it this way: “God gives his Holy Spirit to human beings because God is, in essence, self-donation. It is God’s nature to give. So, when we receive the Divine Spirit into our spirits, they are encouraged to cooperate with it by giving it away. What has been freely received is freely given, and we become more conscious of more of the Spirit. When the Spirit is given away, it doubles! And when the Holy Spirit grows, the soul becomes aware of the greater responsibility to make things happen and then we become aware of how to ‘enter the joy of the Master.’”
For the people of God, our hope lies in the reality that God is near and no matter how evil a situation might become, there is God who is working to redeem the world. We must trust that “all things come to the good for those who love him and who are called according to his purposes.” (Romans 8:28) There is hope because there is one beyond the limited, sinful realities of this world, and it is that ultimate hope that motivates and sustains us in a troubled, treacherous world.
The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war breaks out against me, even then will I be confident. (Psalm 27:3)