Homilies For Sunday Liturgies and Holy Days, August 2014
Miracle of the loaves and fishes
Our Homilies for August 2014 are being presented by two authors this month. Fr. Donald J. Planty, Jr., has provided the first two Sundays and the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Planty was asked to assist in overseeing a parish on short notice. So for the remaining Sundays in August, we are filling in with homilies from August 2008 which were written for the print version of HPR that year by a regular contributor, Fr. Thomas G. Morrow. The August 2008 readings are in the same cycle as the readings for Sundays in August 2014. See Fr. Morrow’s bio and photo midway down this Homilies page.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time–August 3, 2014
The Lord satisfies our deepest hunger
Purpose: The theme of the readings our Mother the Church offers for our meditation this Sunday, which is always found in the First Reading, in the Psalm, and in the Gospel, is that the Lord is lavishly generous in giving us what we need–most importantly, spiritually. Thus, the homilist may focus on the many hungers of the human person but, particularly, on those of the human heart, and how the Lord satisfies them, especially with the miraculous multiplication of the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.
Readings: Is 55:1-3 • Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18 • Rom 8:35, 27-39 • Mt 14:13-21
The Lord speaks to the children of Israel through the Prophet Isaiah–and he speaks to us–of his great generosity. He uses earthy, sumptuous images–water, grain, wine and milk; eating well, delighting in rich fare–to assure those who have nothing that he will provide for them. Yet, the Lord makes it clear that he speaks of a sustenance superior to worldly food, greater than earthly bread, that ultimately does not satisfy: he is speaking of the nourishment–the life–that his everlasting covenant provides. We who know that the Sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant foretells the New and Eternal Covenant instituted by Jesus–the Covenant we celebrate here today in Jesus’ Body and Blood–knowing that the nourishing life that God promises through his Covenant is his own life, his love, which he lavishly pours into our hearts by grace.
The Psalmist sings the same truth, proclaiming that the Lord graciously answers all our needs, describing our Lord as merciful, kind, good, compassionate, just, and holy. But note: the Psalmist explains that the Lord satisfies the desires of those who look to him hopefully, and call upon him in truth; that is, that the Lord is generous, but that the human person must do his part to accept the Lord’s gifts by opening his heart to ask and to receive what God wants to give him. In fact, the flip-side of God’s lavish generosity is the human need for the virtue of hope: the confident trust that God is our provident Father who gives us, every day, our daily bread–on every level. Yes, God gratuitously gives all that we need, but we can accept or reject it–which is why we must dispose ourselves to receive it. Through prayer and petition, we trustingly call on the Lord for what we need and, so, by exercising our holy desire, and recognizing our status as creatures, needy before our Creator, we dispose ourselves to receive every good gift.
The needy crowds who follow Jesus are desperate for healing, for food, for so many things. What about us? We also have so many needs–material and, more profoundly, spiritual: we struggle with temptation and sin, we suffer many wounds, we are at war with our passions, and with demons, as we make our pilgrim way through this deserted place, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears, to the promised land. As the Psalmist asks elsewhere (Psalm 78:19): “Can the Lord prepare a table in the desert?” Can he? Can he satisfy our needs? Can he truly free us from our temptations and sins, heal our wounds, help us fight off passions and demons? Can he give us the joy and peace, the salvation and love we so deeply desire? Haven’t we learned the hard way, so many times, that worldly things–food, alcohol and other drugs, impurity, movies, vacations, sports–offer us temporary pleasures but not profound, lasting joy? As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “Deus solus satiat” (“Only God satisfies”). St Teresa of Jesus, of Ávila, simply says, “Sólo Dios basta”(God alone suffices). Indeed, just as Jesus healed and fed the needy crowds, by the thousands, superabundantly–and all were satisfied–so he does for us by every gift of grace. And he does so especially by miraculously multiplying for us the Bread of Life: his greatest, most nourishing gift; the Most Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood, which unites us perfectly to him by sharing in his life of love, healing us and raising us up–satisfying us, feeding us in this desert, as we make our pilgrim way to the promised land of Heaven, where we hope to feast forever at the Supper of the Lamb, eternally satisfied.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time–August 10, 2014
Take courage, do not be afraid
Purpose: The readings (the First Reading, the Psalm and the Gospel) contrast the force of storms and difficulties with the power of God’s mercy for his people, so the homilist should emphasize the theological virtues of faith and hope: that the way to weather the storms of life is by believing and trusting in Jesus’ care.
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9A, 11-13A • Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14 • Rom 9:1-5 • Mt 14:22-33
The world’s attention is unfortunately, but understandably, regularly focused on the destructive force of natural events like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, as well as on the violent human forces contending in conflicts in Central Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Latin America. In addition, we cannot help but be disturbed by so many forces intimately at odds with us: the aggression of temptation and sin, the debilitation of illness, the pain of emotional wounds, the intensity of the passions, and the assaults of demons. Indeed, the three enemies of our human nature–the world, the flesh, and the devil–are forces at war with us, striving to turn us away from Jesus and his saving Gospel. Yet, these negative forces are no match for the positive power–the Good News of Jesus. Yes, his grace, his presence with us, his provident love for us, is the greatest power in the universe–and no evil force can overcome him. That is the consoling message of the readings our Mother the Church offers for our meditation this Sunday: “Take courage, do not be afraid!” The power of God’s gentle mercy is greater than any opposing force.
We see this in the experience of the prophet Elijah: God’s presence is not revealed to him in the forceful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the power of his gently whispered word. In contrast to natural, worldly, damaging forces, God’s power is supernatural, otherworldly, life-giving, and so is manifested in tenderness, in calm, in peace.
We see this in the experience of the Psalmist. He proclaims the peace, salvation, glory, kindness, truth, justice, and benefits of God, to those who fear God. That is, those who believe God has the power to give every good gift, and who hope in God’s generous providence towards men, will enjoy the fruits of his Kingdom.
We see this especially in the experience of the Apostle Peter. Peter is fearful of the storm, but with the sight of Jesus walking on the water–so proving his divine power–Peter is emboldened to do the impossible. As long as he faithfully keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus–on God’s power to help him do the impossible–he walks on water; when he looks away from Jesus–at the storms raging around him–he sinks.
We see this in our own experience. When we have faith in the power of God’s grace, and hope in his provident presence with us, while keeping the eyes of our hearts focused on Jesus (especially through a rich sacramental life and by prayerfully meditating his word)–then we can accomplish anything through his grace. We have the courage to weather any storm, to avoid any temptation and sin, to endure any illness, to be healed of any wound, to govern any passion, to conquer any demon, to love our enemies, to lay down our lives as martyrs–to overcome any evil–that is, to do what seems impossible. On the other hand, those of little faith, those who do not acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God with power over the forces of evil, those who have not experienced his forgiveness, healing, salvation–they are fearful, they doubt, they despair of ever overcoming the evils that assail them because they seem impossible to face–and they are sinking.
St. John of the Cross states that: “It is not the will of God that the soul should be troubled by any thing.” May we never be disturbed by the force of the storms around us, but always courageously believe and hope in Jesus’ saving power, with the eyes of our hearts fixed confidently on him.
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary–August 15, 2014
May we merit to be sharers of her glory
Purpose: The mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady parallels the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord and, where they have gone, we hope to follow. The homilist, then, should draw attention to Mary as a model of the theological virtue of hope: we hope to follow her to heaven, and we hope in her heavenly intercession. Rather than a strict exegesis of the readings, today’s homily may be more thematic.
Readings: Rv 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16 • 1 Cor 15:20-27 • Lk 1:29-56
These are the lazy, hazy days of summer. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe and in America, people are on vacation, relaxed, checked out. The heat reinforces the desire just to “chill.” Everyone is all about beach, basking, barbeque, beer, and bed. So why does the Church impose the inconvenience, the chore, of a Holy Day of Obligation on us at this time? What is so important that we should have to trade our comfy pool lounge chairs for hard church pews, and our flip-flops for dress shoes?
What is so important–what we can never forget, even when we are at leisure–is our eternal destiny: we are made for Heaven, we hope to dwell there forever with Our Lord–and Our Lady has shown us the way.
Yes, Our Lady, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed, body and soul, into heaven–the consequence not only of her being preserved from Original Sin, from the first moment of her conception, but also of her perseverance in total fidelity to God throughout her life. In this, she is the greatest disciple of her son, for just as Jesus, incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always did the will of his Father and, thus, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, even so his Mother, perfectly faithful to God’s will, was assumed to share in the eternal blessed life.
By her example, Our Lady always leads us to Our Lord. Mary points the way to Jesus. After him, she is our greatest model for life. In fact, our hope is that, if we live as she did, consistently faithful to the Lord, always doing his will by living his commandments of love, we will follow her to our heavenly reward. It is nice to consider her beauty–but it is more important to do as she did. In one of her last conversations, St. Therese taught that “Our Lady desires to be emulated more than admired.” If we follow Mary’s example, as the Roman Missal says in today’s Collect or Opening Prayer, “we may merit to be sharers of her glory.”
That is our greatest–our only–hope: that at the end of our earthly lives we will enter into the company of Our Lord Jesus, of Our Lady, and of all the angels, and saints in Heaven. But Heaven is not automatic. Between death and Heaven, there is a thing called “judgment.” Indeed, we must persevere in doing the Lord’s will, following Mary’s example, if we hope to share in her glory.
Yet, our hope lies not only in Mary’s example, but also in her words, which teach us how to live, which tell us how to get to heaven: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)
Finally, our hope lies in Mary’s motherly help, in her intercession. I say motherly because, although she was assumed, and now reigns as Queen of Heaven, as St. Therese tenderly taught, “She is more mother than queen.” Again, it may be inspiring to contemplate images of Our Lady being portrayed as an exalted queen, seated on a golden throne with bejeweled robes–but it is better to meditate on her down-to-earth motherhood, and how she cares for Jesus, and for us, with a mom’s practical solicitude.
So I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s worth it to leave the beach and bumming around behind us on this day to come to church today in order to focus prayerfully for an hour on our greatest hope: Heaven and the company of our Heavenly Mother, who was assumed there, and waits for us, and helps us with the love that only a mother can have for us.
The following homilies were prepared for the July 2008 print version of HPR. They were written by Rev. Thomas G. Morrow, who has given us permission to reprint them here. He is a regular contributor to HPR.
Rev. Thomas G. Morrow has a doctorate in sacred theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. Fr. Morrow is a priest of the Washington (DC) Archdiocese. He is the author of several books, including “Be Holy: A Catholic’s Guide to the Spiritual Life.” His web site is:http://www.cfalive.org
The August 2008 readings are the identical readings for August 2014.
20th Sunday of the Year—August 17, 2014
History of the Church
Purpose: To explain some major heresies and problems faced by the Church–(1) in the past, and (2) as they recur in our times.
Readings: Isa. 56:1, 6-7 • Rom. 11:13-15, 29-32 • Matt. 15:21-28
A priest once met with a young woman, and it came out in the conversation that she was having premarital relations with her boyfriend. The priest asked her what she was planning to do to end that, but she said she had no plans to end it. She said, “I have an agreement with God and it’s going fine.” The priest responded, “You may have an agreement, but it’s not with God. It’s with Satan. God doesn’t make agreements like that.”
Every age has its controversies, and its heresies. In this age, it’s about sexuality: premarital sex, contraception, in vitro fertilization, even abortion. The Church has made its teaching clear, but there are some who would like to change that teaching or ignore it.
When Pope Paul VI published his prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, many theologians, and others, tried to undermine his teaching, but all his predictions have come true. He warned of more “infidelity and the lowering of morality”; that the man “may lose respect for the woman” and see her as “an instrument of selfish enjoyment,” not “his respected and beloved companion”; and that governments might impose contraception on their peoples, interfering with “the most personal … sector of conjugal morality” (HV, n. 17). All of these things have happened.
Meanwhile, those who have practiced Natural Family Planning have experienced increased communication and a divorce rate of one in twenty-five or less, compared to the national average of one in two. And, as a method, it is 98 percent effective or better.
In vitro fertilization has been surpassed by natural procreation technology (known as NaPro technology) both in success rate and in economy. Couples who are having difficulty in conceiving have been delighted with this highly scientific, moral, and effective way of helping them conceive naturally.
Regarding premarital sex, secular studies have shown that the divorce rate among those who live together before marriage is, surprisingly, 74 percent, compared to the national average of 50 percent. And, according to a 1992 study published by the University of Chicago, men who have had premarital sex are 63 percent more likely to get divorced than if they had not. Women are 76 percent more likely to divorce if they have had premarital sex (The Family Portrait, Washington, DC: The Family Research Council, 2002, p. 63).
And today, we see many women coming forth to proclaim that their abortions hurt them deeply. There is an association of such women called “Silent No More.”
Every age has its controversies. In the early Church, the controversies were about who Christ was. Arianism claimed he was more than man, but less than God. This error was so widespread that St. Jerome wrote, “The whole world groaned and marveled to find itself Arian.” Yet, the truth of Christ’s divinity won out in the end. There were controversies over the number of wills in Christ, the number of natures, and the number of persons (there are two wills, two natures, but just one divine person).
In the first three or four centuries, there was the Gnostic heresy, which claimed that the body was not important, only the spirit. This error, known as dualism, prompted some Gnostics to treat sexual promiscuity lightly. This same error reappeared in the 1970s, and beyond when dissenters from Humanae Vitae claimed it was “physicalism” to describe certain acts as immoral. One of the key points of Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” was to deny such claims, and proclaim that “the body expresses the person” and, thus, is of great significance.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, as well as the 16th century, the issue was corruption in the Church. Did the fact that a number of priests were living with women, or that bishops were grabbing for all the money they could get, mean that people could, in essence, form their own Christian churches? The Albigensians and Waldensians, although they began as dedicated, poverty-living Catholics, decided to start preaching without the permission of the bishops and, in time, fell into all sorts of errors, including dualism, and denying many of the sacraments, and the existence of purgatory. The same sort of thing happened with the reformers of the 16th century who broke from Rome.
Thus, we can see that every age has had its controversies in the Church, but despite the weaknesses and faults of her leaders, the Church has survived and remained the “pillar and bulwark of truth,” as she is described in 1 Tim. 3:14. Those who have tried to reform the Church by breaking with the pope have fallen into all sorts of errors. In our time, it will be no different, with those who try to change the teachings on sexuality.
Jesus loves his Church, and will continue to guide it until the end. This was his promise: “I will be with you always until the end of time” (Matt. 28:20).
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285, 495, 817-821, 2089, 2127-2128.
21st Sunday of the Year—August 24, 2014
The Church and Peter
Purpose: (1) To explain the importance of Peter in the Gospels and (2) to explain the importance of the Petrine office of the bishop of Rome.
Readings: Isa. 22:19-23 • Rom. 11:33-36 • Matt. 16:13-20
One priest smiled when his first pastor proclaimed, whimsically, that when he was an associate, he had to bow and scrape to his pastor, and now that he was a pastor, he had to bow and scrape to the associates. He was joking, but there was some truth to what he said.
The priest saw a similarity to when his father had died. Associates might have felt more independence, but they also lost the benefit of a father figure, one who could guide them in their mission as new priests. The better the pastor, the more they lost.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus gave a “father” to his Church in Peter, a “papa.” And he gave Peter and the Church an astounding promise. To the Church: “On this rock (Petrus) I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And to Peter: “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus gave Peter this power to lead his Church only after Peter spoke up among all the apostles to proclaim that Jesus was “the Christ (Greek for “Messiah”), the son of the living God.” Jesus commended Peter for saying that, and indicated that it was a grace of the Father that inspired him to do so. It was based on that profession of faith that Peter was made head of the Church.
It was thus that our Lord promised to make him first among the apostles, and the guarantor of the unity of his Church. By giving the keys to Peter, Christ was symbolically giving Peter dominion over the Kingdom of God on earth. By saying Peter could bind and loose, our Lord used rabbinical terms to say Peter would be interpreter of the Law, and could pronounce something to be forbidden—that is, bound, or permitted—that is, loosed. This is a wide power that goes beyond his teaching power to the whole area of jurisdiction.
Jesus promised the power at this point, but it was after the resurrection that he actually conferred it. We read at the end of the Gospel of John:
When they had eaten their meal, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” At which Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time he put his question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes Lord,” Peter said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “Tend my sheep.”
A third time, Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Peter was hurt because he had asked a third time, “Do you love me?” So he said to him: “Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Here Christ singled Peter out to be the chief shepherd of his Church, and nowhere else does he ask any of his apostles to “feed his sheep.”
Are there other indications for the primacy of Peter over all the other apostles? Yes. The Lord, shortly before his passion, said to Peter:
“Simon, Simon! Remember that Satan has asked for you, to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you (singular, meaning Simon) that your faith may never fail. You, in turn, must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
So, as Bishop Sheen used to say, if we want to share in the prayer of Christ, we must stay with Peter. Also, Peter conducted the election of Mathias, who took the place of Judas (Acts 1:15-26). And Peter is the first to speak on Pentecost, and at the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-36; 15:7-11).
Was all this limited to Peter, or did Christ intend it to continue to his successors? It’s hard to believe that Christ would provide a leader, a source of unity for his Church, only until the death of Peter. Surely, it was in his office as leader of the Church that Peter was given this power. So, this power is passed on to his successors, the popes. That was well understood from the beginning.
What a blessing it is to have a spiritual “father” in the pope, with whom Christ promised to remain. He is there to support and guide us, to provide real unity to Christ’s followers. Yes, following him diminishes our independence, but when striving to love, it is not independence that we seek, but being bound to the beloved. The pope guides us to that love.
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 442, 552-553, 881-883, 1444.
22nd Sunday of the Year—August 31, 2014
The importance of being Catholic
Purpose: (1) To show the uniqueness of the Catholic Church and (2) the importance of being a Catholic.
Readings: Jer. 20:7-9 • Rom. 12:1-2 • Matt. 16:21-27
Jesus tells us today that, if we would come after him, we must die to self and carry a cross. But what if he left this world without giving us a Church to support and guide us on that journey? How much more difficult it would be. And how do we know we are in the church he wants us to be in? How can we be sure we are in the “right” church, and what makes our church unique?
First, we have the Eucharist. Christ said: “Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you … for my flesh is real food, and my blood real drink” (John 6:55). Now, drinking blood was unthinkable to a Jew. To even touch blood required ritual purification. All Jesus had to say here when they started to grumble at this was, “No, no, no. This is merely a symbol!” But he didn’t. He said, “Does it shake your faith? … What then if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before …?” (John 6:61, 62). No, he knew that what he was going to institute, namely the Eucharist, was going to require a radically new way of thinking for his followers. And many left him that day.
This is why we believe, as it says in the Catechism:
In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ, is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Council of Trent). “This presence is called ‘real’ … because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei)(CCC 1374).
So the Catholic Church is being faithful to the Scriptures in believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
When parents lament that their children have gone off and joined other religions, I encourage them not to worry. If they really find Christ, they’ll be back for the Eucharist.
Consider next the Mass. In Matthew 26:26-28, Jesus said of the bread at the Last Supper, “Take this and eat … This is my body,” and of the cup, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Giving one’s body, and shedding one’s blood, for the forgiveness of sins are biblical expressions that speak of a true sacrifice. It is this divine, timeless sacrifice of Jesus’ death that we “re-present” in the Mass: “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood” (CCC 1382). Without the real presence, you can’t have the real sacrifice.
Jesus said to his disciples whom he sent forth (John 20:23): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” The Catholic Church fulfills this by both forgiving and retaining sins (depending on the case) in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. It would be impossible to “retain” sins if the penitent’s disposition were not known to the priest in confession. What a great gift we have in this sacrament of mercy.
Christ said in Matthew 7:17, 20: “Every sound tree bears good fruit …. Therefore, from their fruits you shall know them.” The “fruits” of the Catholic faith are the saints. Has any other religion, besides our own, been able to produce the likes of Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John Vianney, Catherine of Siena, or Thérèse of Lisieux? What awesome examples they are! And how helpful to read about their lives.
If Jeremiah and Onias were able to pray for their people after having died (2 Mac. 15:11-16), and the saints offered “the prayers of God’s holy people” before God (Rev. 5:8), does it not make sense for us to seek the saints’ intercession?
There can be no doubt that Jesus lived perfectly the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother. If Christ lives in us, as he did in Paul (Gal. 2:20), shouldn’t we venerate Christ’s mother as he did, especially since veneration was offered to angels in Joshua 5:14 and Daniel 8:17? How much greater than the angels is Mary! The Catholic Church honors Mary in imitation of her Son. What a marvelous intercessor we have in Mary, who so beautifully manifests the mercy and tenderness of God! What saint failed to honor her?
Our Catholic Church is wonderfully unique, because of the Eucharist, confession, Mary, and all the saints. We are blessed to be part of it!
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 156, 737-738, 770, 813, 830, 837, 846-848.