Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2023

November 19, 2023

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November 19, 2023

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rosemary

Rosemary

Johnston

Johnston

On this, the second to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Jesus continues with His message of preparedness for the end of time and the importance of sharing our gifts. Like the two angels told the apostles after the Ascension as described in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: “Why do you stand around looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven { ‘Acts 1:9-11] In another words, get busy.

Today’s gospel is the third in a series of parables that emphasize the need for faithful activity on the part of the disciples while the second coming is delayed. All three utilize the image of the master of the household who returns after an absence. This one tells the story of a man’s servants each given talents or gifts. Two of the three servants increased the value of their gifts but the third buried his in the ground. The master condemns the one who buried his gift rather than expand it.

We are all Magi who come bearing God given gifts, and we are expected to be generous with them. They are not just for us. They are meant to be shared. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized the importance of generosity and magnanimity. He has pointed out that generosity enlarges not diminishes us. In a homily at the Casa Santa Marta last month, he condemned consumerism, excessive spending to buy more than we need, as the enemy of generosity. Material generosity, sharing our material abundance, ‘enlarges the heart and helps us be magnanimous.’ In a talk shortly after his election to the papacy in 2013, he urged students enrolled in Jesuit schools to develop the virtue of magnanimity “It means having a great heart, having greatness of mind, having great ideals, the desire to do great things in response to what God asks of us. It means also to do well the routine…daily actions, tasks meetings with people—doing the little everyday things with a great heart open to God and to others.”

St. Paul reminds us in chapter 12 of his letter to the Corinthians that we all have gifts of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, which are to be used for the general good of the community and that together they contribute to the body of Christ which consists of many members not just one. And ironically the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest are the indispensable ones. Each of our gifts contributes to the whole and is unified with the giftedness of others. “If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy." A hymn by Marty Haugen with which many of you may be familiar captures this sentiment perfectly. “We are many parts, we are all one body, and the gifts we have we are given to share. May the Spirt of Love make us one indeed; one the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one the cross that we bear.”

We can look to the example of the woman described in our first reading today from the book of Proverbs as someone who shared her gifts generously with her family and the wider  community. Now on my initial reading of this epilogue to the book of Proverbs, I found the description quaint and hard to relate to from the perspective of a 21st century married woman living in a first world country. I must confess I had to ‘google’ spindle and distaff as I only knew they had something to do with spinning wool and linen. And if you read this whole section and not just the excerpts cited in today’s readings, you might find yourself wondering when she ever slept. Today with so many people managing careers as well as family commitments, our idea of a good day is when nobody’s hair is on fire. Yet the virtues she exhibited, the gifts that she shared, transcend time, regardless of our individual vocation today—compassion, generosity, hospitality,  devotion, commitment, fear (respect and awe) of the Lord. She did the little everyday things that Pope Francis described ‘with a great heart open to God and to others.’

Today I would cite a contemporary woman who utilized her God given gifts to transform the notorious La Mesa State Penitentiary in Tijuana. Mother Antonia, as she was known, was born to wealth and grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion. Married and divorced twice, she began helping prisoners and families at the penitentiary in the early 70s after her seven children were raised. She sewed her own habit and was allowed to live inside the walls of the prison where she was known as La Mama or the prison angel for 34 years until her death ten years ago. She could come and go as she pleased and made frequent forays into border communities in the United States to visit with her children or seek additional volunteers.

The prison operated like a small village with drug lords living in relative comfort in their own apartments with family members and security guards, while many inmates slept on the floor.  She called them all sons and intervened when conflicts broke out in the vastly overcrowded and poorly maintained facility. She shamelessly sought donations from her numerous friends and contacts in the US, including Father Joe Carroll, founder of Father Joe’s Villages, the country’s largest homeless shelter program.  One time he questioned the number of donations she was acquiring from his thrift stores 'without paying for them' from his thrift stores and she craftily asked him for his blessing on her work. The donations doubled. She also supported the families of police officers in Tijuana who had died in the line of duty.  

As she drew more older women into her prison ministry, Mother Antonia decided to seek the blessing of church leadership to form a religious order, the Eudist Servants of the 11th hour, for older women interested in working with the poor and entering religious life. She named her order after St. John Eudes, a 17th century French priest known for his devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Today there are 12 active nuns and 12 retired. They are each economically self -sufficient and provide for their own healthcare when they enter this order. Most of them are between 40 and 65 when they enter. Some of them serve in related ministries in the United States.  

Mother Antonia once said, “there is no one so ugly he does not have beauty within him; no one so weak he does not have great strength and no one so poor he is not endowed with richness. Each person is of invaluable worth.” She was not only talking about those whom she served but about each of us. We are all people of invaluable worth. Share your gifts. It is a timeless blessing for those who give and for those who receive.

First Reading

Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

PSALM

Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Second Reading

1 Thes 5:1-6

GOSPEL

Mt 25:14-30
Read texts at usccb.org

Rosemary Johnston

Rosemary Johnston

I grew up in Pasadena, CA and graduated from St. Andrews’ High School for girls in 1966. I graduated from the University of San Diego in 1970 with a double major in English and history and pursued a career in journalism, having served as the first woman editor of the campus newspaper, the Vista. I met and married my husband in my senior year of college. We have been active in leadership of the alumni association there for more than 50 years.

I became active in lay ministry in our parish after attending a Marriage Encounter weekend in 1977. We served as Eucharistic ministers and later I ran the parish RCIA program. When we moved to another parish in 1985, I became involved in prison ministry at the local women’s jail and began to pursue a master’s degree in practical theology at USD, graduating in 1990. After working as director of the Office of Human Life and Development at the diocesan pastoral center for 18 months, I became a freelance writer for the National Catholic Reporter.  I was hired to run the volunteer services program at Father Joe’s Villages, the country’s largest homeless shelter, in 1993 after helping to launch a regional volunteer- based shelter program, the Interfaith Shelter Network, at local congregations. In 1997, I was hired as executive director of the Interfaith Shelter Network, which had also opened a transitional housing program for homeless battered women with children.  I supervised staff, wrote grants and a quarterly newsletter, and became active in a number of advocacy organizations for homeless people locally and statewide. In the summers of 2003, 2004 and 2005, I attended the Summer Preaching Institute at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. Since retirement in 2013, I have served as a member of several non-profit boards and continue to organize the annual Good Friday Walk with the Suffering in downtown San Diego and the La Posada Sin Fronteras at the border fence. I enjoy spending time with our four grown children and nine grandchildren, all of whom live in San Diego.  

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