THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A

Mt 25:14-30
1 Th 5:1-6
Ps 127:1-5
Pr 31:10-13.19-20.30-31

November 13, 2005

The liturgy is almost cinematic today: the final judgment; the Day of the Lord; the trumpet blast that will wake the dead in their tombs; the coming of Christ as a bridegroom in the night (Mt 25:6) as “travail upon the woman with child” (1 Th 5:3) and as a thief under cover of darkness (1 Th 5:4).

The parable heard in today’s gospel reveals the life of the Church in the stretch of time extending from the Ascension of the Lord to his coming in glory. Who is the man who, before going abroad, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them until the day of his return? Is he not the mysterious Bridegroom of last Sunday’s gospel (Mt 25:6)? Is he not the One who will come like a thief in the night (1 Th 5:2)? In speaking of Christ’s glorious ascension, Saint Paul says: “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said: “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself captive; he gave gifts to his people” (Eph 4:8-9).

Before his holy Ascension, Christ drew the Church to himself; he “summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them, giving one five talents, another two, to a third one” (Mt 25:14). The Church is the community of servants to whom Christ has entrusted his wealth. Among the servants of Christ are the three being beatified in Rome today: a man and two men who made fruitful the talents given them: Brother Charles of Jesus, Mother Maria Pia Mastena, and Mother Maria Crocifissa Curcio.

Blessed Charles of Jesus is the Universal Little Brother, a passionate adorer of the Most Holy Eucharist, a servant of the hospitality of God open to the poorest of the poor, a witness to the Gospel in the Sahara. He died in 1916. Blessed Maria Pia, after spending time in a Cistercian abbey, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Face to restore the image of the Face of Christ in souls. She died in Rome in 1951. Blessed Maria Crocifissa founded a Carmelite Congregation dedicated to the education of women; her one desire was to have “holy daughters, eucharistic daughters, and daughters that know how to pray.” She died near Rome in 1957. The Church looks to these three new Blesseds today and in them recognizes the image of the “valiant woman, the perfect wife,” the icon of her own mystery.

Who is “the perfect wife far beyond the price of pearls” (Pr 31:10)? Is she not the Church, the one who yearns for the return of the Bridegroom with desire beyond all telling? The servant community of the Church is the valiant woman described in the first reading. “Who shall find a valiant woman?” (Pr 31:10). Saint Bernard says: “She is the Church, whose fullness is a never-ceasing fount of intoxicating joy, perpetually fragrant. What she lacks in one member she possesses in another according to the measure of Christ’s gift and the plan of the Spirit who distributes to each one just as he chooses (Sermons on the Canticle 12:11)

“A perfect wife — who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels” (Pr 31:10). The valiant woman, the perfect wife, is the Church whom Christ loved and for whom he gave himself up (cf. Eph 5:25). The Church lays claim to the title of bride with bold assurance. Who is the Church? Look around. We are the Church; we are the bride — we who have come together to hear the Word of the Lord, to be nourished with his Body and Blood, to be united to Christ and to each other by the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist — we are the Church. And because we are the Church, we are all of us, men and women alike, the bride “far more precious than jewels” (Pr 31:10). Saint Bernard says, “None of us will dare to arrogate for his own soul the title of bride of the Lord, nevertheless we are members of the Church which rightly boasts of this title, and so we may justifiably assume a share in this honour” (Sermons on the Canticle 12:11).

If together we are the Bride, know for certain that Christ is the husband whose heart trusts in her, in us (Pr 31:11). The text from Proverbs says, “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize” (Pr 31:11). The responsibility is awesome: Christ has entrusted his Heart to his bride, the Church, and we are that Church. The text says: “from her he will derive no little profit” (Pr 31:11).

“She does her work with eager hands . . . she holds out her hands to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy” (Pr 31:19-20). This work of the Church cannot be done with hands other than our own. The hands of the Church held out to the poor are my hands and yours. The arms of the Church opened to the needy are my arms and yours.

We are the Church to whom the Bridegroom-Christ has entrusted the unsearchable riches of his Heart. Christ, before ascending to the Father, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them, “teaching them to observe all that he had commanded” (Mt 28:20). We are those servants. When he comes like a thief in the night (1 Th 5:2) what will he find?

Will he find a Church continually in the temple blessing God (Lk 24:53), giving echo on earth to the praise of the Father in heaven? Will he find a Church working with the eager hands of compassionate love? Will he find a Church faithful in small things, and so worthy of greater (Mt 25:21)? Will he be able to say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and join in your Master’s happiness” (Mt 25:23), and again: “Come, bride of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord has prepared for you from all eternity” (Magnificat Antiphon, Common of Virgins)?

In the Eucharist, the Church is born anew from the pierced side of the Bridegroom Christ. In the Eucharist, the Church is that “fruitful wife within her house, rejoicing in her children like olive shoots around her table” (Ps 128:3-4). In the Eucharist, the Church discovers herself as the servant of the Father’s hospitality; in the Eucharist, she “opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out to the needy” (Pr 31:15). In the Eucharist, the Church is most fully that spouse “far more precious than jewels to whom her husband has entrusted his heart” (Pr 31:10-11). In the Eucharist, the Church drinks deeply of the sobriety of the Spirit, by whose power she stands ready and waiting in the darkness of this world’s night for the return of the Master.

The three Blesseds presented to the Church today have this in common: a mystical passion for the Most Holy Eucharist. They remind us that the Year of the Eucharist was not a point of arrival, but a point of departure. The practices begun during the Eucharist — especially increased times of adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament — are not to be discontinued. To do so would be to defeat entirely the aim of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in giving the Church the Year of the Eucharist. The Year of the Eucharist was a beginning, a reorientation of our hearts and of our lives to the Holy Table of the Divine Hospitality, to the altar of Christ’s Sacrifice, to the mystery of his Face concealed beneath the sacramental veils.

The Word of God and the witness of today’s three Blesseds compel us to go to the altar. There, already here and now, we will eat and drink of the banquet prepared for us in the Kingdom. There the Day of the Lord dawns, not “in wrath and terror looming, heaven and earth to ash consuming” (Dies Irae), not in the shaking of earth and heaven, not in the fire of a terrible judgment, but mysteriously and wondrously in the breaking of the Bread and in the holy Chalice.

Those who have been faithful in approaching the holy table, “discerning the Body of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:28) need not fear the final appearance before the throne. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).