November seasonal notes
The end of the church year
Notes, important dates, and other material for November.
Notes for Cycle A
IN THE END of the church year, the word becomes edgy, full of judgment and apocalypse. The church gets an equal-opportunity licking, as the leadership takes its lumps along with the laity. In particular, we might call the 31st Sunday of Cycle A “Hard Luck Sunday” for the priest-homilist, who sits in a place of honor, wears fine robes, and accepts the title “Father.” Even in a year of hard-luck Sundays for the clergy, it’s healthy for the whole church to offer up one humbling day every three years to discuss honestly the responsibilities of authority. The hour of judgment is at hand for all of us. So, too, is the wonderful hour of the kingdom of God, present and available in the best and the worst of times for all with eyes to see. If the warnings are sober, the stakes are likewise high, magnificent, and worth any price.
WE ARE WINDING DOWN another church year, leaving Matthew’s handbook for church leaders behind and taking up Mark’s story of the identity of Jesus—what the evangelist himself calls simply, “The gospel of Jesus Christ.” But before we say goodbye to Matthew, he has a few last lessons for us about the finality of all things. Matthew Chapter 25 has been called the gospel in miniature: If you get this part right, you get it all right. In this chapter, we hear about the wise and foolish virgins, the responsible and unreliable servants, and the celebrated sheep and goats. Whichever camp you choose to surrender to, choose wisely, for in this division eternity lies in the balance. These apocalyptic scenarios should tip off the assembly that we are approaching the season of the eschaton, more cheerfully known as Advent. We await “the Arrival from ahead of us,” as German theologian Jürgen Moltmann beautifully reminded us. This arrival is too good to miss!
Notes for Cycle B
THE CHURCH YEAR ends with a staccato beat of feasts. First, All Souls Day reminds us of our common mortality and also the hope of life beyond death. The unusual commemoration of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (a feast day for a building!) actually honors the church herself, assailed by the forces of history and yet standing firm on the foundation of Christ. The last dip into Ordinary Time for this cycle is on the 33rd Sunday, when our readings take that ominous turn toward the final time of tribulation and the confidence of those who trust in Jesus. The Solemnity of Christ the King is our annual reality check: Who’s really the world’s remaining superpower? And the month winds up by starting the year over, with the first Sunday of Advent and its reiteration of the eschatological need for vigilance and hope.
WE HAVE ARRIVED at the close of Mark’s year of discipleship. The final lessons are laid bare for would-be followers of Jesus. In case anyone missed it—and evidently, many have—Jesus underscores what the most important obligations of the faithful are: to love God and one another.
For those who are tempted to spiritualize this obligation, a few widows demonstrate the material and visceral sacrifice that goes along with a wholehearted surrender of self to God. Jesus stresses the urgency and immediacy of the kingdom. We cannot waste another day in weighing the pros and cons of our commitment. Either we are in or out: The hour will not be named in advance for the tardy and the undecided to get their ducks in a row.
Finally, Pilate, who is the ultimate outsider as a Gentile and Roman oppressor, seeks hard evidence as to the reality of this kingdom. Jesus offers him one clue: Seek the truth. For those who see, this testimony will be enough. For those who don’t see, no further testimony will help.
Notes for Cycle C
AS EVEN THE JOKES warn us, there is always good news and bad news. The closing of the church year underscores the balancing act of those two realities. The world we live in is a treacherous place, where good people may be tortured and executed in front of their loved ones for refusing to compromise their integrity. Human society has fallen so far that religious leaders play games with holy law to retain the seats of power and ensure the destruction of innocence.
These are but two reasons why it can only be a good thing that this world will one day be heaved into history as into a blazing oven, gone to ash and then to nothingness. But the world, of course, is more than the sum of its evil and the vast arena of suffering. It is also a place where the Word of God has been pleased to dwell, where brave witnesses do not cease to speak the truth, and where the sun of justice will come without delay. Jesus Christ established his kingdom here, though not of this world. The time of its fulfillment is approaching, and for those who seek it, that’s good news.
ANOTHER NOVEMBER, another church year comes to a close. Our readings reflect the finality of Jesus’ mission and of the age itself. God’s mercy endures forever, but this world is only for a time.
What last lessons can Luke teach us in the waning weeks of the liturgical year? We might follow the example of Zacchaeus, who originally put his confidence in material wealth and then switched his allegiance to Jesus. Good move! We might take Jesus at his word when it comes to trusting in the resurrection of the dead. We will be like angels! Because we don’t and can’t know precisely the day of the Lord, we should live every day as if it’s the one we’re waiting for. Today could be the day!
And if we are willing to follow the king who dies on the cross, we will be lifted up with him in glory. Paradise awaits!
Welcome inactive catholics
NOVEMBER IS OFTEN a month of homecomings—for families around turkey dinners and for schools at the big homecoming game and dance. Perhaps it could also be a time for homecoming in your parish. Several national and parish-based programs exist to reach out to alienated Catholics contemplating returning to the church, or to those still in the pews but struggling to stay there. Among them are:
- Landings International is a ministry of reconciliation of the Paulist Fathers that empowers laity to welcome back returning Catholics in a structured process that takes eight to 10 weeks.
- Catholics Can Come Home Again: A Guide for the Journey of Reconciliation with Inactive Catholics, a book by Carrie Kemp based on her ministry to inactive Catholics at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.
- In A Faith Interrupted: An Honest Conversation with Alienated Catholics (Loyola Press), Alice Camille and Joel Schorn serve as compassionate mediators in a conversation with disaffected Catholics.
WE MUST INCREASE our vigilance to prevent those few who might exploit the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purposes from doing so. At the same time, we know that the sexual abuse of young people is not a problem inherent in the priesthood, nor are priests the only ones guilty of it. The vast majority of our priests are faithful in their ministry and happy in their vocation. Their people are enormously appreciative of the ministry provided by their priests. In the midst of trial, this remains a cause for rejoicing.
–Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002
Prayers for Thanksgiving
O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of your unspeakable mercy towards us has provided meat and drink for the nourishment of our weak bodies, grant us peace to use them reverently, as from your hands, with thankful hearts. Let your blessing rest upon these your good creatures, to our comfort and sustenance, and grant, we humbly beseech you, good Lord, that as we do hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our souls may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
—17th-century Protestant meal prayer
We fill our lives with the fear of scarcity, assuming there is not enough money, time, patience or love.
We turn away when a stranger asks for nourishment, claiming there
isn’t enough even for ourselves.
We often sit with arms crossed and fists clenched, crying out that you
have turned away and left us empty-handed.
We easily give thanks for the good things in life, turning away from
those which lead us to deeper community or second-guessing
blessings as too good to be true.
Forgive us when we reject your abundance
and neglect the possibilities in what we have been given.
Open our eyes to the wonders that surround us.
Help us surrender to the loving embrace that enfolds us.
—Seekers Church of the United Church of Canada
NOVEMBER 1 & 2
All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day The celebration of All Saints Day goes back to at least the ninth century, though its date varied, and began as a feast of all Christian martyrs. All Souls Day is equally old, and the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny chose November 2 as the date to commemorate the faithful departed. All Souls provides an opportunity to celebrate Solemn Vespers in your community.
National Vocation Awareness Week For information on discerning a vocation to religious life, visit vocationnetwork.org. For more information on National Vocation Awareness Week, visit the website of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
Veterans Day In 1938 Congress passed an act establishing November 11, the day World War I ended, as Armistice Day. After World War II, Congress amended the act of 1938 to rename the holiday Veterans Day, and in 1954 November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. The federal observance was moved to Mondays in 1968 as part of an effort to make Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day three-day holiday weekends, but many states continued to celebrate the holidays on the 11th. In 1975, a new law returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978.
National Bible Week Many Christian churches observe Bible Sunday and the following week as National Bible Week. It is a time to encourage people to increase their reading and understanding of scripture. The entire New American Bible is available on the U.S. bishops’ website at www.usccb.org/bible.
Death of Dorothy Day Dorothy Day was born on Nov. 8, 1897 and died on Nov. 29, 1980. With Peter Maurin she cofounded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933, with its houses of hospitality, farms, and the Catholic Worker newspaper, still published and still only a penny a copy.
Today more than 185 Catholic Worker communities are committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence in all its forms.
In 2000, the Vatican, at the request of the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, officially opened Day’s cause for canonization. Because her sainthood cause is open, Day has earned the official church title Servant of God.