For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for July 2013
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 7, 2013
True Peace I Leave You!
Purpose: The peace Jesus Christ is not the mere cessation of conflict but an inner peace and joy, a quietude that the world could never know. It is a deep realization that the Father loves us and labors on our behalf. When we are finally reconciled to his loving care, we can finally bring that peace to others. This is precisely what “the sign of peace” is: just as Christ continued his peace through his apostles, he continues to bring his care for others through us, his Mystical Body.
Readings: Is 66: 10-14c ● Gal 6:14-18 ● Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
“Peace to this house!” (Lk 10:5). Christ instructs the first missionaries that they are to use this standard, Near Eastern greeting (shalom or salaam) to all the houses they enter. What peace is Christ speaking of here? Is this the ordinary earthly peace which people seek by writing treaties and signing truces? This peace is absence of conflict. It betokens nothing really except an absence of war.
If one goes into a graveyard, one can find this peace. There is peace and silence there because everyone is dead. There is no life. This is not the peace Jesus is referring to here. The peace to which Christ refers has its source in the joy and consolation which Isaiah promises will follow the restoration of Israel from captivity in Babylon. “As a mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice” (Is 66: 13-14). It is a peace of heart. It is the peace of an ordered soul and a tranquil conscience. This peace is born of being nourished by God as a mother nourishes her children, and is lived in joy of heart.
This is a peace born from grace and won for us on the cross. It is the peace of the new creation. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). In the old creation, begun in Adam and Eve, man had this peace, but lost it with the original sin. This is because this new peace is the peace of an upright conscience. In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, this is an interior “tranquility of order” (tranquillitas ordinis) in which the intellect, the will, and the passions are all joined in a freedom wrought by grace which allows one to return to the new Jerusalem, which is heaven itself. Man lost this peace in the Original Sin, and war entered the world because there was a war in the heart. This was caused by the tension between the soul ordered to God, and man who, without grace, was ordered towards himself. Sanctifying grace brought by redemption brings back the possibility of this peace because by it, we become a “partaker of divine nature” (2 Pt 1: 4). God introduces into our souls the new life of the Holy Trinity so that he might be our friend again, and we might have a loving conversation with him while we are on earth in prayer.
This new life is not just lived in isolation from others, a sort of God and me spirituality. The peace of the upright conscience is lived in community, the community of the Church. One who has experienced this peace does not keep it to oneself, but spreads it. The 72 disciples, sent out by Our Lord as witnesses to this peace, are to be single-minded in preaching and living it. One shows this by denying the desire to exalt ourselves, surrendering the direction of our lives to God. One who does this is a true disciple, and Christ tells the 72 what the requirements are for this. When Christ speaks of what they are to pack, he is not playing a travel agent. Instead, the fact that they are to carry no purse or haversack or sandals, and are not to greet anyone, but rather live off alms, is not to be taken literally. Christ is saying that the truth of the arrival of the Kingdom of grace is enough to concentrate all one’s forces. This great truth should lead its recipient to “have as though not having.”
The admonition to the disciples to shake the dust from their feet in the recalcitrant town shows the universality of the kingdom. Jews were accustomed to do this when they physically returned to Israel from pagan territory. Christ is saying that now, all that do not accept him are to be considered “pagan territory.” The peace of Christ is now experienced anywhere that there is faith in Christ, which is united to the practice of the Church. Everywhere is not Israel, because “Israel” is now to be found in the believer’s heart. These are those who experience a true circumcision of hearts, a true peace of conscience, because they boast now in Christ’s cross. When this order puts out disorder, one becomes a martyr to his own conscience. From this experience, however, comes healing and peace of soul. “Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 14, 2013
Love Is Never Something Foreign
Purpose: The enemy tempts us to imagine love as an other-worldly experience, something that is always “out there,” foreign to our everyday lives. But this is precisely why God became man, to show us that love is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Love is a person, and in assuming our humanity, God has made all humans the way in which to love him. Yet, sadly and ironically, we often relegate love to those furthest from us, taking out our frustrations and stresses on those closest to us. By loving God more, however, we are inevitably called to love all those God puts into our days.
Readings: Dt 30:10-14 ● Col 1:15-20 ● Lk 10: 25-37
In the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas asks: “Which is more difficult to live, the Old Law or the Old Testament, or the New Law or the New Testament?” He answers that if the number of works commanded or forbidden is the standard for difficulty, then the Old Testament was certainly more difficult to live. By the standards of the doctors of the law in the time of Christ, there were more than 600 precepts of the law. But if the interior intention is considered, the New Law is certainly more difficult. The New Testament presumes that the moral teachings and commands are lived with the interior intention of divine love wrought in the soul by grace. Such a love permeates the readings of today’s Mass.
Christ is asked by a doctor of the law what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus counters with a question about what the lawyer finds written in the law of God. He responds with the most sacred words of the covenant God made with Israel: the Schema. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Lk 10:27) In this answer he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5. In this law, God did not demand impossible, unnatural, or spectacular things of the Jews. He only asked obedience and love of his commandments. “For this Law I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. … No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for observance” (Dt 30: 10 and 14).
But the lawyer adds to this another of the commandments of the Old Testament: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). Lawyers would have been accustomed to cite the first commandment; however, although the law emphasized charity and mercy, very few would have joined the other to it. Jesus approves this answer.
The lawyer however goes on as though the love commanded in both these commandments was mysterious, and seeks a legal answer as to who qualifies to be one’s neighbor? What are the boundaries of love? Christ answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. He teaches that there are no distinctions when it comes to the mercy of God. Presumably, people in the ancient world had set distinctions as to nationality or enemy. Yet, with the man who fell in with the robbers, his own people pass him by. The priest and the Levite, who lived off the alms of the faithful and so had more of an obligation to help him, showed him no mercy. The hated Samaritan, in hostile territory, had an excuse. Of the three, he especially should have passed by. He, however, observed the Torah more than the Jews. In fact, he goes beyond the Torah. He is not content merely to dress the wounds of the Jew, but he pays for his stay at an inn.
Paul tells us in Colossians that Christ is the creator of everything, all perfection is found in him, and “he holds all things in unity” (Col 1:17). This sovereignty of Christ over the whole world demands that when we are redeemed by his grace, we take on his attitude of mercy towards the whole human race. Who is my neighbor? Everyone created by God in Christ. Everyone in need, whether it is spiritual or physical.
It is sometime strange that people today profess their love for the human race, but they pass by those in their own homes, families, or workplaces. These people are in need also. Sometimes the need is not a material one, but a spiritual one. It is a need of presence. It is a need for love. May we not pass them by.
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 21, 2013
Purpose: It is a very sad fact today that etiquette seems no longer in vogue. People do not dress for others, show respect to others or, in many cases, even have table manners. There seem to be no more laws of hospitality. Knowing how to welcome guests, showing them respect, which is very important in ordinary life with human beings. It is even more important in religion with God, for in that case, God is dwelling with men in their souls. What hospitality will they offer him?
Readings: Gn 18:1-10a ● Col. 1:24-28 ● Lk 10:38-42
Abraham stands as the original genial host in the first reading from Genesis. He welcomes the three strangers to his home as guests with great respect. The fact that he prepares such a sumptuous banquet for them demonstrates that he understands that they come from God. Indeed, in their promise of the child to him, they are identified with God. Ancient Christian tradition saw in these three strangers a symbol of the Trinity. The Trinity greeted him, spoke with him, and sat down to eat with him. He received them with an open heart and great esteem.
The tradition of a fitting welcome for God is demonstrated in a more graphic way in the reception Martha and Mary have for Jesus. In Jesus, God has condescended to come and live among men. He did not live as a recluse in the desert, but visited ordinary people. He brought grace and redemption to their ordinary human situations. Preparations to receive a guest like this are vital. Martha, like Abraham, wishes to put on a special banquet, and is caught up with physical preparations. These are important. But she lets herself get so carried away with this aspect of hospitality that she is resentful that her sister, Mary, does not help her. Mary is also preparing a reception for the guest, Christ. Her preparation is a spiritual one in her soul.
We are to welcome Christ in our souls. Since the Original Sin, we have become troubled and worried about many things by giving in to our desire to dominate and control others. This causes great noise in our souls, and we cannot listen like Mary. Addressing our egotistical desire to dominate and control situations and others is a part of our own crucifixion. What are we putting to death? Our disordered desire to run the world springs from an exaltation of our egos. Paul shows us that we must address this beginning with ourselves. “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). Martha was right to show concern for material hospitality. But this means little without spiritual courtesy. Once this occurs, then physical and spiritual courtesy towards God coincide, and Martha, in the midst of her kitchen, can welcome Christ, too. When this occurs, can we truly listen to the Lord in our souls, welcome him with a heart adorned with generosity, and with Mary, choose the better part?
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 28, 2013
Persistence in Prayer
Purpose: When we are called to pray, we must ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to be transformed (cf. Romans 8). Jesus teaches us to pray a prayer that demands our fraternal charity, “Our,” and that, at the same time, recognizes that we have been made the children of God, “Father.” Our call as Christians is never one simply of doing good on earth to those we call brothers and sisters, nor is it simply calling upon God without recognizing those around us. The prayer of Jesus is, of course, perfect, because it is in his words that we see our worth as God’s children, and our vocation to serve all of God’s people.
Readings: Gn 18:20-32 ● Col. 2:12-14 ● Lk 11:1-13
“Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). The disciples of Jesus asked him to instruct them in prayer. Jesus does so, and explains, first of all, that one should persevere in prayer despite the seeming lack of response on the part of God. The response to the seeming lack of response must be perseverance.
There was holy old Jesuit who was dying. He had spent most of his declining years hearing confessions all day in a church in a principal city in the United States. As the younger Jesuits gathered around his bed, the superior asked him what the greatest gift was he had received in his life. He looked around at the younger priests, and knowing how people today are not steadfast often, replied: “The greatest gift I have received in my life is perseverance.” Thomas Aquinas asks in the Summa Theologiae if one can merit the gift of perseverance. He replies that a Christian is given the ability to persevere the day of his baptism. Since this is a gift of God, one cannot persevere by his own acts. One can, however, pray for it.
Perseverance in prayer, despite seeming rejection, is shown in the first reading from Genesis in which Abraham bargains in prayer with God for Sodom and Gomorrah. Though Abraham did not succeed in saving Sodom and Gomorrah, his perseverance in testing the mercy of God, and God’s acquiescence, witness to the mercy of God, and the will of God, that man ask for all favors from him because he is the origin of all good.
Christ approves the necessity of constant perseverance in prayer. First, he himself goes apart and prays. This is not because he has a need for a separate time for prayer, since he is continually enjoying infused contemplation in his own human soul. He did this as an example to us. No matter how much one succeeds in one’s apostolic activity, this can only be fed and nourished by prayer. Half-heartedness in prayer will not do.
When the Lord teaches us to pray, he gives us the Lord’s prayer. He does not limit himself to the specific words of the Lord’s prayer, but says: “This is the sort of thing.” It does not involve a multiplication of words or devotions. Instead, the heart speaks directly to God. The person who experiences exchange of hearts with Christ, knows that he depends on Christ for all things. Some people do not persevere in prayer because they say their prayers are not answered. This is, perhaps, because they did not receive the answer they wanted. God wills that our prayer and dependence on him must be a constant part of our daily life. The Catechism teaches: “Transformation of the praying heart is the first response to our petition” (CCC §2739).
The primary source of our perseverance in prayer should be the fact that we are uniting our prayer with the prayer of Christ. Christ tells us in the Gospel that, although without God we cannot do anything meritorious, without our cooperation in grace by continuous prayer, God will not give good things to the human race. This is not because God needs us. It is because he never acts in anything against the nature he has created—our nature is to be free. Christ prays for us, and in us, and we must pray to him, and with him. As Paul says in Colossians, “You have been buried with Christ, when you were baptized; and by baptism, too, you were raised up with him” (Col 2:12). Since we have been raised up, our hearts must be raised too, and be so identified with the heart of Jesus that this should guide our outlook in all we ask and do.
We should then ask, seek, and knock. This is our part. God never does anything against nature. Our nature is our freedom; meditation and spiritual reading are our part. When we do our part, God does his. He gives and we receive; we find, and the door of his grace and generosity is open to us. When Thomas Aquinas asks about perseverance in grace, he states we cannot persevere in grace and prayer by our own power. But, he ends his treatise by saying, “What cannot be merited, can always be prayed for.”