November 17, 2023

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Proverbs provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. This book was composed when God’s chosen people had experienced massive changes as a result of the military conquest of the Holy Land, and indeed much of the Eastern Mediterranean world, by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), the young Greek king from Macedonia.

Alexander did not live long enough to enjoy fully the successes of his victorious armies, but his conquests placed Greeks and Greek philosophy at the summit of cultures all across the Middle East.

This Greek influence most often brought ideas that were contrary to traditional Hebrew theology. Committed Jews had to struggle to keep their faith alive, and they especially struggled to relay their tradition to oncoming generations.

Proverbs was written as a part of this effort. Along with other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs attempted to blend human logic with Hebrew theology to say that ancient Jewish beliefs are not illogical. (In the Greek mind, human logic was supreme.)

The reading from Proverbs proclaimed by the Church on this weekend obliquely makes reference to the fact that marriages under the Greek arrangement usually were contrived.

Quite disturbing for Jews was the fact that wives were not much better than servants, even slaves. The concept of love, freely and gladly exchanged between spouses, was not expected by any means in Greek life.

Proverbs tried to elevate the Jewish notion of human dignity, a dignity including women as well as men.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians supplies the second reading. In the early days of the Church, the general presumption was that momentarily, very soon, Jesus would return to Earth to vanquish the evil and vindicate the good. Paul had to remind the Christians of Thessalonica that following the Gospel might be a long, tiring and difficult process, as Christ might not appear as quickly as they would like.

For its third and last reading, the Church this weekend presents St. Matthew’s Gospel. The story in essence also appears in Mark.

The story builds on the same theme as that given in First Thessalonians. The present order will end one day. Death comes for all people. No one can predict exactly when natural death will come.

Life suddenly and unexpectedly can produce unexpected and unwanted change, as Americans realized on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or more recently when hurricanes devastated so many places.

The reading from Matthew counsels Christians to remember the uncertainty of life, as well as the perceptions and hope given them in their faith.

The ancient Jews, for whom Proverbs was written, and the first Christians, for whom First Thessalonians and Matthew’s Gospel were written, drew great strength and confidence from their faith. It sustained them in many ordeals.


When President John F. Kennedy was murdered, Americans, and especially American Catholics, were paralyzed with grief. Time stood still, but his campaign for the presidency affected American Catholic life more.

Kennedy knew that his major political problem was his Catholic religion.

Anti-Catholicism was alive and well in the United States.

He turned his religion into an advantage, speaking of American Catholic patriots and of ordinary Catholic citizens who loved, served and bettered the nation.

Hearing him, Catholics in the United States felt a pride in their Church. This pride gave them security. Fewer hid their religion anymore. Many openly defended the moral positions of the Church.

For those who thought about it, they realized that their Church spoke the words of Jesus. In Jesus, the faithful learn how to live, what matters in life and why life is worth living, as did the ancients long ago. †

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