33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 November 2021

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
World Day of the Poor

Homily

[Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32]

Throughout these many months of pandemic, a persistent feature of every newscast has been the reporting of case counts and hospitalization rates. We’ve grown accustomed to paying close attention to those numbers, because they are given as indicators of how well we are doing as a society in the fight against COVID.

To prepare our minds for what the Lord is saying to us in his Word this morning, I invite us to ponder this practice of looking at signs that point to what is happening around us. We do this with regard to more than the coronavirus. For example, stock market fluctuations, shifts in levels of unemployment and movement of inflation rates signal change in the economy; and leaves falling from trees accompanied by drops in temperature herald the coming of winter. While we understand how to interpret these particular signs, the Lord is summoning us to consider carefully indicators that point to something of far greater consequence than economic or seasonal changes. Specifically, he calls upon us to look for those signs that will point to him, to his very presence among us.

The text we have from St. Mark is concerned primarily with the return of the Lord at the end of time. Jesus himself speaks of the signs that will accompany and point to his advent. We know, too, that the Lord, who promised to return at history’s termination, also pledged to be with us now as we make our pilgrim journey through this earthly life. Implicit in the text, then, is a call to look for those signs that will point to the presence of Jesus with us in the present moment.

Today, the Church invites us to reflect upon one particular sign that does point to the presence of the Lord Jesus with us, namely, the poor. This is the World Day of the Poor, first established by Pope Francis in 2016. As we know, Jesus identified himself with the poor and needy when he said, “as often as you do this to one of the least of these you do it to me” (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). From the Lord’s own lips, then, we recognize in anyone who is in want a sign that points clearly to the presence of Jesus in our midst.

Now, our reading of signs is normally followed by a change in behaviour. Trends in COVID case counts give rise to the imposition or lifting of restrictions; economic forecasts will lead investment managers to move money around, governments to assess fiscal policy and families to review their budgets; signs pointing to the onset of winter cause us to bring out the warm clothing, put snow tires on the vehicle, and worry about heating costs. When we encounter the poor and needy, and recognize in them the presence of Christ himself, we know, too, that there is expected of us who are Christian a change in behaviour, namely, the setting aside of indifference and reaching out in concrete acts of charity.

Merely reading the signs, though, does not automatically lead to the hoped-for change in attitude or activity. We hear very often, for example, the lament of medical specialists that rising case counts of the virus do not always translate into decisions to get vaccinated. Would Jesus have the same complaint about us regarding our response to the poor? As we ponder the many forms of poverty typical of our day – material lack, loneliness, addictions, family breakdown, homelessness and so on – does our heart remain unmoved; does our pattern of living change in any way to make room for charity?

In the Christian tradition, the change of heart to which we are called by the Gospel is a grace, something for which we must pray. On this World Day of the Poor, when we ponder how those who suffer in any way point us to the presence of Christ, the specific call is to pray for the gift of a heart that is softened and disposed toward any person in need. To be clear, the change that the Lord wants to bring about in us is not minor. We hear in St. Mark that the coming of Jesus at history’s end will be accompanied by events that are cataclysmic. We can likewise expect that the Lord’s gift of grace to us now aims at a seismic shift in our hearts, that is to say, a completely new outlook on life centred not on ourselves but on Christ, open and receptive to the many ways he makes himself known to us, especially in the persons of the poor.

These are changes of heart we should seek earnestly and welcome readily. In them, the Lord prepares us even now for his final return. The Book of Daniel gives us the important reminder that the Lord’s coming at the end of time will bring us his judgment. And we know from Jesus himself that his determination of our eternal destiny will rest upon how we have loved and cared for one another, especially the poor with whom he himself identifies. Since we do not and cannot know when that final hour will occur, the time to be changed by the Lord’s gift of love and mercy is now.

As we celebrate this Eucharist, then, let us offer to the Lord any hardness that may be in our hearts and ask him to transform them by his love. May Jesus, who, as Hebrews tells us, now reigns in heaven until all of his enemies are made his footstool, vanquish within us anything inimical to charity and free us to love and serve the poor in whom he makes his presence known.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
November 14th, 2021