Father Hanly’s homily for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, is on compassion.
Readings for Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Malachi 1:14–2:2, 8-10
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 131:1, 2, 3
- Second Reading: First Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
- Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
You tend to wonder why Matthew was so hard and he picks the times when Jesus confronted the Pharisees, the Pharisees who were known for their strict observance, and the Scribes, who were the lawmakers and the elite of all the people.
And why does he single them out at this time, because, basically, these men had a great history. On them the law and the prophets were carried out very carefully. The law and the prophets were argued over until people could understand how important it was for you to have the law and the prophets.
But Jesus speaks to them and he speaks harshly because, as he says, “You do all the right things. You follow the law.”
And even in our own society — and this is the reason why Matthew writes these things, is because he wants you to know, and you might get a little uncomfortable, but — we too tend towards being Pharisees, judging others, and we also tend to be Scribes, interpreting what God says to others, and sometimes we commit the very same fault that the original Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time committed.
And what is that fault?
No love. Only words, only rules, only regulations.
And everybody must keep to the rules and keep to the regulations.
And, of course, the great danger becomes that the rules and the dangers become the reality of our religion and not guidelines, guidelines that help us to understand that our religion is not no heart, no feeling, no love, no compassion, just words on a page.
Because it’s so easy to slip into an idea that what is asked of us is to just keep rules and regulations and we will succeed and we are doing what God wills.
But the heart of God is not in rules and not in regulations.
Well, what is it in then?
Well, I’m going to read something from a Jesuit priest, Donal Neary, that kind of sums it up:
“Compassion: compassion is or is not at the centre of our belief. If we are people of compassion, we are close to God. The less compassion we have, the further we stray from each other and from God Himself.
“Compassion means compassio: to suffer with, to be one with the people that we walk among. Not higher than them, not lower than them, but one with them.
“Because this is what God does. God has compassion on us first, and He wants us to share His compassion and our compassion with each other.”
So if you want to define a Christian, you do not define him as he keeps the Ten Commandments and all the other things that we do — and we should do and we have to do because this is the framework on which compassion is based — but we always must come back to the fact that God loves and God’s love is called compassion.
It doesn’t mean an abstract love or some kind of other love or human love. God’s love is to feel with the people He has created, to be with them and never leave them, to be one with them from now through all eternity — and that is in our sufferings and pain.
And that is why Jesus comes.
Because God up in His heavens — if you want to use the word, although He is with us and around us and in us all the time — how could He feel, how could He weep, how could He cry, how could He really understand the pain that we go through?
He couldn’t. But Jesus could and Jesus did.
And that is why he gave himself totally and completely to the humanity that we must become, the humanity that feels the pain and understands the difficulties and reaches out, not just feeling sorry for ourselves, but reaching out to each other, and know that, in overcoming these things, we enter into the life of God Himself.
Donal Neary writes, “The Christian heart is recognised by compassion, by a fellow feeling for people, by being drawn to others as God reaches out to us.
“It is not just helping for the sake of helping, but helping because – and this is the only reason why we reach out to others – because we are children of God, brothers and sisters, one with God, and to be with God is to reach out.
“You cannot find Him hiding. Where there is pain, where there is need, where His people suffer — but also sing and rejoice and are happy — that is where you are going to find Him.
“Even the religious titles we give are rooted in only one title, and that title is not God, but God our Father.
“It is also a way of life. Jesus does not ask to be worshipped. We do not worship Jesus. He asks, ‘Come now and follow me, and I will show you the world that is here before you but you never recognise it until you begin to see with my eyes and your heart beats with my heart, and then you will understand, because you will have entered the great mystery of God Himself and His love for all of us.
“He asks us to follow Him. The Christian lifestyle reaches into all we do. It is not separate. It is not in churches alone. It is not in certain retreat houses. Basically, the Christian life reaches into family life, occupation, decisions and plans. The way of following Him is the way of joy and of love and, most of all, of integrity. Integrated, all of humanity is welcome, all of our experiences are part of it.”
And then he says very nicely, he says, “God’s round table, it is also the way of true humility. This means knowing our place in the world, knowing where we fit in the world and where we fit in the plan of God, that we are first and foremost His children.
“The table of God is a circle. It’s a circular table with no one place of honour. We sit at the circular table, one with each other, one with God, all equally loved and all equally valued at this banquet.”
And now I’m going to sum it up, but I will mention that you all know Tuesday, I think, is All Hallows, yes? Someone asked me today a question. This was a very personal question.
They went to Ocean Park yesterday to celebrate, a little bit early, the All Hallows, the all holy day, which is, of course, the little kids all dressing up in witches’ costumes and hobgoblins and eating these funny things.
I’m sure you’re all very familiar with this, which probably is celebrated in the United States more than any other place in the world except Mexico. Mexico really celebrates this time. And it’s a time of witches dancing and all of this stuff.
So she asked me if she had to go to confess, because, and this is true, because our brothers the Protestants of the strict observance are very sure that their children do not enter into this kind of celebration or whatever.
And I remember in Hicksville, a couple of years the Lutherans would have this celebration: they would dress the kids up as ragamuffins and we would go from door to door, not trick or treating, but asking for food and candy and things like that. And it was always done not on the days that we celebrate but on Thanksgiving Day, because Thanksgiving in the United States is the day everybody gives thanks to God.
Anyhow, I said no, the Catholic Church always looked upon this kind of thing that hangs out, the celebration of the eve of All Saints’, it looks upon it as kind of children’s stuff for kids.
But if you look closely now, in Hong Kong and in other places, adults are taking over the kids’ role. I used to play with my little boat when I was in the bathtub, but I outgrew my boat. But people are going to yachts, so the main boat experience belongs to people who can afford to buy huge yachts and all the rest of it.
But the other thing about it is we could celebrate in this kind of feast for All Saints’ or All Hallows’ Day, we could have when we were mature — mature meant we were about twelve years old or thirteen years old — but now it’s an ongoing process.
And yet it’s still lots of fun. When you see a little girl dressed as a witch, you know that she’ll never become a witch. Because kids like to scare each other, you know, they go boo, and it’s never done any, any harm to anyone, this sort of thing.
So if any of you are intending to have that kind of a party, you might feel a little old doing it, but don’t feel bad, because it’s part of the general joy and happiness and fooling around that people should do when they come together and they laugh and they have an enjoyable time. There’s nothing wrong with it.
However, the next day is very important: that’s All Saints’ Day.
And as you know All Saints’ Day started about the year 300, that long ago, because the Church was persecuted. But they always, just as we do today, honour those who have died.
But those who had died in Rome and in these big cities for 300 years were mostly Christians and they were asked to give up their faith.
So there were so many bodies underground and so many places where this happened, they decided, instead of keeping the names of all the people who died in this way, martyrs, they would have it once a year and it was called All Saints’ Day.
Now the word “saint” is used by St Paul as meaning everybody that is a Christian — Protestants, Catholics, it doesn’t matter. If you are a Christian, a baptised person, you are a saint.
So the idea of sainthood became kind of, in All Saints’ Day, just the ones who are recognised as heroic saints, not just the ordinary saints all of whom are heroic if they’re leading lives that they believe in truly. And so it is that on All Saints’ Day we celebrate all the saints.
In recent times that All Saints’ Day you don’t have to be made a saint by the Church officially, which is a Johnny-come-lately sort of thing, but you just pray for everybody that you love and care for and know that they’ve gone to heaven. I pray with and for my parents and people that I have known on All Saints’ Day.
But the best day to pray is All Souls’ Day.
Because the Church believes that, when a child is born, there is a journey that begins when you’re a child and lasts all through till your death and you pass through death and into your way to heaven.
And if that way takes a little time — because of purgation or some other reason or what have you — you still are connected with the people here who pray for you in your journey all the way into the beatific vision of God Himself.
So this has been a wonderful custom, and everyone at this time when you go to cemeteries and they put flowers on graves (all over the world and some do more than other places), but the idea’s that we are aware of those who have passed on as not gone, they’re still alive and moving towards eternity, or they’re already in eternity and moving back to us in that way.
This is a teaching of the Church that they will always cherish. Because, with God, nothing is lost, nothing. God does not make garbage, He only makes lovely little creatures that will last forever.
And so enjoy the next couple of days if you can. Try to go to Mass on All Saints’ Day, especially if you’re named after a saint.
My saint is St Denis. St Denis is the first bishop of Paris and he had his head cut off. And the story is he carried his head down Montmartre hill and dropped it at the feet of the people who cut his head off.
There’s a little joke that goes with that, because Denis not only had his head cut off, but I was also born on the day of another saint who also had his head cut off. So they used to say, “Fr Hanly, be sure you don’t lose your head too much.”
Finally, bringing this to a close, the custom of remembering family and just the people that you know — as you get older, you get lots of people that have passed on and you wonder what you might do with them — this is a great day to think about them.
Spend some time and think of all the friends who have gone home to God, where they are — purgatory, heaven, whatever you want — they are there and they are waiting for us. And they pray for us as well.
So keep that in mind that when God creates a child, the child is sacred for all eternity.