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Homily for 31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A, 2023

Our readings today reprise a very familiar theme. The person who wants to be centre of attention will soon be forgotten, while the person who forgets himself or herself out of love of God and love of neighbour will be remembered. Perhaps our readings might be summed up by that amazing couplet in our Lady’s prayer of the Magnificat: I am the handmaid of the Lord. All generations will call me blessed. They are great readings for a week in which we celebrated All Saints. This paradox – that our lasting personality is only revealed when we focus on others – this paradox is made in several ways.


First, we have the comparison between the priests in the first reading and the service of St Paul in our second reading. The priests in our first reading have got in the way of God’s relationship to his people. We hear that they have broken the covenant. Instead of acting fairly and so manifesting God’s love and mercy, they have judged according to their own desire, and therefore substituted their own will for that of God. St Paul, on the other hand, has acted like a mother, putting the needs of the church first, and in so doing made present God’s loving care.


We might then compare these two types to the function of a window. The basic function of a window is to reveal what lies behind it. The more it draws attention to itself, the more it fails this basic function. A saint then is one who is transparent for God’s love. Someone I can look through to see the kingdom of God. A sinner on the other hand only reveals the kingdom of God negatively, by failing in this task, by distracting one’s vision from the view to the window itself. Our gaze stops at the person rather than seeing beyond sacramentally.


We hear Jesus making this criticism of the religious leaders in the gospel. They seek other people’s attention. They are therefore more concerned with their own glory than with the glory of God. And this is a double mistake. First, they get their role wrong. Their only purpose is to point people to God. If people look to them and stop, they have failed. Second, the religious authorities make the mistake in thinking that there is any lasting glory to gain besides that which comes from communion with God. They are mistaking worldly glory for divine glory. They are destined to be disappointed. Building their houses on sand, not on rock.


All this is summed up in that last line: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” The more we reflect on this, the more we realise that it is one of the most fundamental truths of existence. The more I think I am the greatest, the more I think I have nothing more to learn, the less I will learn, the stupider I will become, the more likely I am to be humiliated. Whereas the humbler I am, the more I think I have to learn, the more likely I am to be open to any type of lesson that comes my way, no matter how humiliating it might be.


More than that, we all know that the best teachers are the ones who are simultaneously passionate about the subject matter and passionate about the students. This is a lower level version of love of God and love of neighbour. The forgetting of myself, the becoming transparent for the subject matter to my students. These are the teachers we remember. These are the lessons that stick. Before God exalts the humble, we exalt them as the only teachers worthy of the name.


Again, this is the weird paradox that the more we forget ourselves, the more others remember us. This is because in some mysterious way we are participating in eternity. We are participating in eternity because we are touching the life of the Trinity. Christ who humbled himself to death, death on a cross, ascended to the right hand of the Father. This reveals the life of God to us. Likewise, our Lady in her perfect humility is perfectly assumed into Heaven.


And so it is in living like this, a life of total love, that we make of ourselves an eternal gift to God and therefore to our neighbour. The memory we have of people who do this, namely, the communion of saints we remembered earlier this week, this is a glimpse into this reality. Their memory lasts because they are in communion with God, God who is eternal.


Perhaps then in our Mass today, as we reflect on this heavenly dynamic, let’s call to mind not only our patron saints but those other saints – the ones known to us, the ones who have been there for us and revealed to us the life of Christ. Let’s think on their transparency for the glory of God. Let’s pray that we too can reveal God’s glory by getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit through simple obedience to the Word of God.

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