A reflection for the thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Kate Oxsen reflects on the readings for November 5, 2023.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year A):

Malachi 1:14b – 2:2b, 8 – 10
Psalms 131:1, 2, 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7b – 9, 13
Matthew 23:1 – 12

Reflection: What is at the center of your life?

I lived in Dublin, Ireland for five years while I was working on my Ph.D. During my time there, I had the opportunity to take aerial dance classes. Once or twice a week I would dangle from a fifteen-foot ceiling while climbing, twisting, and using my body to create shapes with a colorful silk curtain. However, the silks and I had a rocky start.

I am not what one might call athletically inclined. So, I was very nervous when I showed up for my first day of class. Much to my dismay, I had registered for the same course that a group of Russian ballerinas had also chosen. They were travelling while on a break and thought aerial dance would be a fun cross-training experience. I was so embarrassed as I gasped and wheezed my way through the warm-up, and they did not even break a sweat. That was nothing compared to the humiliation I would feel when we finally moved on to the silks.

The only thing we were supposed to practice was climbing the silk. I could not even get myself off the ground. Meanwhile, the ballerinas were effortlessly zipping up and down their silks like little squirrels. The teacher showed them how to do things that I would not learn for another two years! Every week was an exercise in public humiliation for me. The ballerinas would do things like flip upside down on the silk and then watch me while I still could not climb.


I finally climbed on the last day of class. I was so excited, and I wanted to share it with someone. I turned to the room to see if anyone saw it. Not a single person was watching me. That was when I realized what I had done. I had spent the five weeks of class being obsessed with myself. I was so sure everyone was watching me in disgust. But they were not paying attention to me because they were learning, too. They were working on things that challenged them. They helped each other, supported each other, and worked together to succeed. If I had not been so self-centered, I could have been a part of that.

Today’s gospel challenges us to re-evaluate what we have at the center of our lives. Jesus specifically warns us against having a self-centered focus on status and reputation. As I learned, focusing only on oneself and the opinion of others makes for a painful and lonely existence. So, Jesus directs us to make God the center of our lives. Centering God in our lives turns us outward. It connects us to the world and reminds us that we all need each other. Centering God in our lives means we not only love God, but we also love our neighbor, and that is the greatest commandment of the law.

About the author

Kate Oxsen

Kate Oxsen is an assistant professor of Old Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Add comment