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Bishop's Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

November 5, 2023

[Diocesan Congress of Filipino Catholic Clubs – Ala Moana Hotel, Honolulu]

I once lived in a rectory with three other priests.  We often had dinner together, but we did not have regular places at the table.  It was the custom, however, that whoever arrived last would sit at the head of the table.  This was fine, except when one particular priest arrived last.  In that case, he would insist that someone else should move to the head of the table, because he was too humble to sit there.  He was very proud of his humility!

Jesus has much to say about this in today’s Gospel.  He pointed out that the teachers of the law occupied the place of Moses, and people should listen to them; but that they did not live the law of Moses themselves and were not to be imitated.  There was a disconnect between what they said and what they did, and so their teaching was obviously ineffective and inauthentic.

This is something we always need to examine ourselves on:  Do we live what we say we believe?  Or are our words just cheap talk, because our actions do not correspond to them?

One of the greatest challenges in our culture is the deterioration of marriage and family life.  We know how important these relationships are, not only for the couple and members of the family, but for the stability of society as a whole.  We speak about the importance of family life, but sometimes we do not live it as vigorously as we should.  Our words do not always correspond to our actions.  The Filipino culture is characterized by a strong family life.  This is not to say that all Filipinos have perfect marriages or perfect families, but that both are still a great value you try to nurture as much as you can.  But it is also important that you realize that God wants you to witness this love of family to others.  It is very easy to be influenced by the culture that undervalues and even undermines marriage and family life, and much harder to witness to others though your joy that there is a great value in living out this kind of love, a love that reflects the love of God himself.  We can often say one thing but allow ourselves to be swayed by the prevailing norms of the culture, and thus lose our ability to witness authentically.

Another area in which we need to examine the correspondence between our words and actions is with regard to bringing young people into the faith.  We say that we want young people to be more involved, but sometimes when they become involved, we drive them away.  I remember visiting a parish once in which the elders spoke about what a wonderful parish they had, with many people involved in different ministries, but they said they just could not involve the youth in ministries.  Later I met with the youth, and they said that they had made many attempts to become involved in the parish, but the message from the elders was always, “We don’t do it that way.  We have always done it his way.”  They feel that they are just not needed and so they fade away.  We have to examine ourselves to see if we say we want more young people involved, but we actually do not, because we simply do not allow them in.

We are all called to evangelization, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others who do not yet know him and his love.  Yet I am always amazed that when I speak to people about evangelization, they normally bring the focus back to how they can improve the parish and make things better for those who already come.  We say we need to evangelize, but we often “preach to the choir,” making the rich richer, rather than reaching out to those who do not yet know the love of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, the heart of the message of evangelization.

Even as we are in this Eucharistic Revival, we need to ask if we see the Eucharist as the source and summit of evangelization because it is the unique place in which we physically encounter the risen Lord Jesus.  I recall a grandmother who lamented that she took her granddaughter to Mass every Sunday and made sure she participated in religious education; but now that her granddaughter is a young adult, she does not go to Mass.  The woman asked what could be done about this.  I asked her if she ever told her granddaughter of the joy and love she experiences at Mass because it is an opportunity to be with Jesus physically.  The woman said she was never taught to say such a thing.  If we really believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives, we need to realize that ultimately people will not continue going to Mass if they see it only as a series of rituals, prayers and music.  But if they see by our witness that it is a source of joy because we encounter Jesus himself, they will be more attracted.

There are many ways in which Jesus challenges us to examine ourselves so that what we profess is what we actually live; so that there is no disconnect between our words and our actions; and so that we may be effective and authentic teachers of the faith in our living witness to Jesus.