31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass for those in Consecrated Life – November 5, 2023  

In today’s gospel passage from Saint Matthew, we encounter Jesus offering words that we’re quite accustomed to hearing.  Yet again, Jesus confronts the religious leaders of his day.  This time, he challenges the detached, legalistic observance of the scribes and Pharisees, particularly the emptiness of their strict adherence to rules and rituals.  Having “taken their seat on the chair of Moses,” Jesus reminds his listeners – and that includes us – to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”

 It’s important to remember that the scribes were the religious intellectuals of their day and age, skilled in interpreting the Law and applying it to everyday life.  The Pharisees belonged to a religious fraternity who prided themselves on the exact, meticulous observance of the Law.  They weren’t bad people.  They were simply misguided individuals who were denounced by Jesus not for what they knew but for what they had become.  In their eagerness to be revered in their society, they chose to dominate rather than serve and failed to live what they taught in an authentic way. 

As such, Jesus goes to significant lengths to remind his followers that the greatest leaders and teachers to emerge in his Kingdom will be those who share their vision of faith not in words alone but by the power and authority of their example – in the integrity of their lives – in their commitment to service – and in their respect for those entrusted to their care.

In warning his disciples not to use the titles of “Rabbi,” “Teacher” and “Father” that the scribes and Pharisees so appreciated, Jesus doesn’t so much condemn the titles themselves, but the spirit of pride and superiority that such titles connote.  For the person of genuine faith, joy is found not in the recognition or honor that one receives in doing good but in the act of doing good itself, in realizing that we imitate Christ in such service and in the assurance that we are bringing the love of God into the lives of others.   

If we’re honest, the challenge of living this call of Jesus to authentic discipleship ought not be lost on any of us.  Listen to these words of an Indian mystic that speak powerfully to this reality, “It’s easy to die for Christ. It’s hard to live for him. Dying takes an hour or two but to live for Christ means that we have to die daily. Only during our few years of life are we given the privilege of serving each other and Christ. We shall have heaven forever – but only a short time for service here. Therefore, we must not waste the opportunity.”

As Christians – as disciples of Jesus – we have but one responsibility. We are called through baptism to embrace Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In so doing, we are challenged to make his example of selfless love and service our own. Recall other words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel proclaimed just a few moments ago. “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself with be exalted.”

Today, we gather in prayer to celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the Church.  We give thanks for those women and men who have understood the heart of today’s gospel and have embraced Jesus’ call to authentic discipleship rooted in his example of selfless service and sacrificial love. 

We join today with woman and men celebrating jubilees of 50, 60, 70, 75 and 80 years in religious life.  Quite honestly, as I look at all of you who gather today in our cathedral – many of whom I’ve known for years – I can only conclude that most of you must have entered religious life when you were five!  You are amazing!  …  Collectively, our jubilarians represent over 1,865 years of service to the Church in Consecrated Life.  What a blessing we’ve been given in all of you!  

My sisters and brothers, we celebrate your lives and we give thanks this day for your unique and singular contribution to the Church.  More than you likely realize or appreciate, you continually challenge us to trust in the mercy, love and forgiveness of God – something that many of us in the Church forget, all too often. 

Like the vision of Pope Francis that has emerged through the Synod on Synodality, your openness to listening to the needs of God’s people, to dialoguing with them and discerning how we can walk together as sisters and brothers is a sign of your deep appreciation of how the Church best responds to the needs of a suffering world since its earliest days. 

Your willingness to engage and serve the people of God – especially the marginalized:  immigrants, the poor, and all those oppressed by far too many who, like the scribes and Pharisees, deem themselves righteous – is a unique and powerful witness to the presence of God at work in our world – especially today. 

Finally, what is so inspiring about your lives is that all that you do in service of God’s people, you do far more often than not in quiet, simple, loving yet powerful ways – feeding, healing, teaching, praying and building God’s Kingdom.   It is this commitment to mission that gives life to the risen Jesus in our midst. 

While Pope Francis regularly commemorates the World Day of Consecrated Life, the words that he shared on that day in 2017, some six years ago, speak powerfully to the challenge of today’s gospel from Saint Matthew.  He reflected upon the example of those in consecrated life who place themselves with Jesus in the midst of his people – not as religious “activists”, but as servants – as women and men who have been anointed in baptism and sent to share that anointing and the consolation of God with everyone.  Listen to his words.

 “In putting ourselves with Jesus in the midst of his people, ‘we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a mystique of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into the flood tide which, while chaotic, can [with the Lord] become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage.  …  If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled! To go out of ourselves and to join others.”  …  The Holy Father continued, “Let us accompany Jesus as he goes forth to meet his people, to be in the midst of his people. Let us go forth, not with the complaining or anxiety of those who have forgotten how to prophesy because they failed to take up the dreams of their elders, but with serenity and songs of praise. Not with apprehension but with the patience of those who trust in the Spirit, the Lord of dreams and prophecy. In this way, let us share what is truly our own: the hymn that is born of hope.”

Sisters and brothers, thank you for reminding us of the hope that is ours when we live not so much for ourselves, but for Christ, in service of one another.