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A reflection for the thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

John Christman, S.S.S. reflects on the readings for November 14, 2021.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B):

Daniel 12:1–3
Psalm 16:5, 8–11
Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Mark 13:24–32

Reflection: Things permanent and passing

What is permanent and what is passing? Many of us want, or even feel we need, something “lasting.” We seek things that make us feel secure. We want to be assured that this is permanent, or feel that we can “count on this.” We feel good when all the bills are paid, the car is paid off, there’s money in our savings account, or our retirement is funded. These things make us feel secure. But then we’re diagnosed with a serious illness or the company we work for is downsizing and our position is being eliminated. What seemed permanent and secure quickly becomes passing.

So we look for something deeper. We look to our relationships: family, friends, and loved ones. We think surely these are secure. These are lasting. But sometimes, sadly, people grow apart, relationships are broken, or death robs us of the people we care for most. We find ourselves asking again, “Is anything permanent? Is everything passing?”

The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a powerful poem about this sense of impermanence using the image of falling leaves. He entitled it “Autumn.”

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Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. . . . It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

It doesn’t take much for us to feel this sense of impermanence, to feel that we are falling like autumn leaves. We may even feel at times like we’re discarded or trampled underfoot. But, in the midst of these tribulations and insecurities we can be assured, as Rilke said so eloquently, “There is Someone, whose hands infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.”

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This is the “Good News” we find in our psalm today. We sense the anxiety and fear of the psalmist desperately seeking for a path and for God’s support. The psalm is written in a spirit of trust, in the midst of life’s tribulations and insecurities. The psalmist truly believes, as reiterated throughout the psalms, that “God is our refuge and strength (Psa. 46).” We hear the words proclaimed, “You are my inheritance, O Lord! You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”

If we are honest with ourselves, it doesn’t take much to be overwhelmed with “distress,” anxieties, “tribulations,” and insecurities as named in our readings today. These things come all too frequently and they can easily overwhelm us. But in the midst of these we are offered words of hope. The God whom we love will not abandon us. Amidst “all this falling,” God will gently hold us up.

About the author

John Christman, S.S.S.

John Christman, S.S.S. is an artist and often writes on the subjects of art, theology, and spirituality.

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