Homilies for February 2015

Homilies for Sunday Liturgies and Holy Days, February 2015

Healing of A Demoniac in the Synagogue, James Tissot (1886-1894).

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time—February 1, 2015

True Authority

Purpose: In a world which struggles with authority, as people of faith, we know that Christ is the true model of authority. Calling for us to have faith in him, he reveals God’s message of salvation directly and proves it by his great act of love on the cross. We share in that authority as spiritual experts when we grow in our own knowledge of God and share it with that same selfless love.

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Nobody likes to be told what to do. Particularly as children, our first struggles take the form of a battle to do what we want. Whether it’s staying up late, eating more candy, eating less vegetables, our parents look to impose their tyrannical will on us, and we resist. Looking back, most of us recognize that our parents knew what was best, but at the time, we only knew that what they asked of us was not fun. And even now as we’ve grown, the number of those we have to listen to only seems to increase. In addition to our parents, we are ordered by our boss, our doctor, our girlfriend. Of course, it is just as likely that, as adults, we do our best not to listen to these people; we seek to find ways to do what we want in spite of them. As free and intelligent individuals, we don’t obey blindly, we feel as though we can determine if what they ask of us is best.

This attitude, while in many ways universal, is also particular to our own age. We are witnessing today a great breakdown in society’s understanding of authority. The trust we place in those with authority seems to have crumbled. The obvious example of the police force comes to mind, which has filled the newspapers of late, but this seems to represent a much wider problem. There has been a shift in our culture to choosing right and wrong for ourselves, going against convention, tossing out traditional ways of life handed down to us. We no longer trust once respected authority figures, maybe even for good reason. And this has become very much a part of how we think—we look at WebMD to double check our doctor, parents seem to doubt that they should correct their children, and even our trust in the Church has been shaken as we doubt those in authority, top to bottom. This change is certainly liberating, as we can plot our own course in life, but it can also be incredibly burdensome. So, often we can’t untangle life’s difficulties on our own and need someone who knows better than ourselves.

Today’s readings offer us a chance to revisit our understanding of authority. It is revealed that Christ comes speaking with a new authority. Unlike the scribes, he speaks as one having authority, it is at his word that unclean spirits are cast out. We hear from Deuteronomy: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he will tell them all that I command him.” Christ brings to this earth, he is himself, the very Word of God. His authority is different; it is perfectly reliable. And perhaps this difference can help us better understand authority—his and our own.

Christ is trustworthy as an authority mainly for two reasons: he knows the truth, and he shares it selflessly. Christ brings to us God’s message of salvation himself. Unlike prophets or priests, the message is unclouded by human elements. We hear the message directly and clearly. And that message is revealed, above all, on the cross, where we witness his great love for all of us. Fulfilling the Father’s will, emptying himself, he becomes one of us and dies for us, that we may see the way of salvation. In his great love, he bears this message not for himself, but for all of us who can’t take that path without him. Due to his perfect knowledge and perfect love, we know that where he leads us is truly the best path for us. Of course, human authority cannot be perfect in either of these ways, but it is important that it mirror Christ.

We can think of the authority of a parent. While they are not omnipotent, their experience and knowledge gives them the obligation to guide their children who are still naïve. And they do this not for their own gain, but because they love their children and want what is best for them. It is a parent’s responsibility to know better and help their children overcome those desires which will not serve them well. This analogy applies, then, to any form of authority. When someone parades around as a know-it-all, but is incompetent, there will be no trust. Even with knowledge though, it is only of any use if it is offered with love. Our trust in authority weakens when we realize it was abused to advance some personal cause, when our best interest was not in mind. Whether it be police officers, doctors, or parents, it is an openness to finding the truth, and the loving desire to share it, which makes any authority trustworthy. It is then that we are seeking to imitate Christ.

From this reflection comes a two-fold message for all of us—the importance of trusting rightful authority, and the responsibility of all Christians to be authorities of faith. There are times when we should question authority, if we doubt its competence or integrity. Yet in so many areas, we cannot go it alone. In medicine, we need doctors; their broad experience often goes far beyond what the internet can tell us. One bad doctor does not mean medicine is useless, and, often, the challenging diagnosis is the one which we truly need. So, too, we must trust the Church; her 2000-year history of caring for souls has given her wisdom which we will never acquire in our lifetime, and she has further been invested with a divine authority which does not depend on her members. While individuals may violate this authority, it does not take away the Church’s credibility as Christ’s representative on earth. We should trust that what is asked of us is truly what will make us happy, that as children, we are called to be obedient to our mother, the Church.

And this is not just a matter of the Church hierarchy: all of us, as Christians, just as equally share in that authority, though in a different way. We are all called to come to know God, to pray and live out our faith with joy, so that others may look to us as masters of living a good and holy life. With this knowledge, when we also love others as Christ loves us, we will be true witnesses to the faith. By our selfless desire to share all the good our own faith has brought us, those we encounter will be inspired to trust us and follow. It is when we do not fear to trust God that we can grow and share in the authority of the cross which changes the world.



Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time—February 8, 2015

Hope in Suffering

Purpose: It is in suffering that our faith is truly tested. By persevering through the darkest times we realize the importance of hope, and this will inform our lives in good times as well. It is when we abandon ourselves to God’s providence that we find peace.

Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Job can be a very depressing book of the Bible to read. We hear the story of a man who loses everything, all because the devil wants to make a point to God. “Look at this guy, he’s only faithful because he has everything; take it from him, and he’ll lose faith.” It doesn’t seem quite fair, and we question how God could do this to anyone, let alone one who was so faithful to him. Yet his story is so often very much like our own. All of us, at some point in our lives, experience suffering. Whether we lose our job and livelihood, or a beloved family member, there are times when our lives seem to break down. We are faced with something that we are powerless to change, which no amount of tenacity can overcome. We are helpless, and life for a time becomes a burden, which may seem too heavy to carry. Like Job, we find that life becomes a drudgery, we are “assigned months of misery.” Without the comforts and joys we are used to, life loses its luster. For those without faith, despair creeps in. When suffering, why go on? What sort of God would allow this?

It is, thus, in these times, that our faith is truly tested. It is in these times that it is proven whether we really have hope for eternal life. When we can no longer go it alone, where we turn shows where we have placed our hope. So many in this world turn to the wrong things, they look for comfort in the things of this earth, the next fix to get by. It seems impossible to face reality and accept what we cannot change. Yet G.K. Chesterton writes: “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. … Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable, it begins to be useful.” Hope is exactly meant for those times when we have no reason to hope; it is the confidence that, in spite of our powerlessness, there is one with the power to give us peace and joy. Those who have faith in God repeat the words of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the face of suffering, our faith and hope give us confidence that, no matter what happens, God has a plan for us, and we are promised something so much greater in the life to come.

The words of our Lord in the Gospel highlight how his mission was to bring this hope. It is interesting that, while he travels from town to town healing the sick and casting out demons, he rather focuses on the fact that his purpose is to preach. While his miracles certainly point to the life to come, what he promises is not relief in this life, but relief in the next. Christ preaches the kingdom of God where the drudgery of this life finally comes to an end. Our hope cannot lie in the things of this earth, because they are passing and will never truly fulfill us. As much as we may enjoy the good times, fortunes change, and the challenge is persevering through the difficult. The cross is something we will all bear, and it is the reminder that this life is not an end in itself, but a path to heaven. While there will be the joy of Christmas at many times in our life, the sorrow of the cross follows. Hope is the gift which allows us to enjoy the goods of life without depending on them, and endure the challenges in life without being consumed by them.

In good times and bad, then, we persevere with an abandonment to divine providence. Whatever the Lord gives us, we accept patiently and with trust. We live with a sense of detachment, recognizing that all we have is a gift from God, and that we will merely enjoy it as long as we have it. Disappointment ultimately springs from expectation, a presumption that these things are ours and should not be taken from us. We do not know who or what the Lord will bring into our lives, nor do we know for how long. It is in recognizing every moment as a gift and never taking our blessings for granted, that we nurture a spirit of humble gratitude. While we will feel joy and sorrow, they will never overcome our great hope in what the Lord has prepared for us. Let Job today be our model; in all things may we say trustingly, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”



Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time—February 15, 2015

Our Need for Christ

Purpose: We so often pity those who live with great suffering or are cast out of society. With a false sense of independence, we can forget that all of us share that brokenness in our souls and are equally in need Christ’s healing.

Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

We are incredibly blessed to live in this time in the United States of America. We are so used to basic necessities and daily luxuries, that we may forget just how much our ancestors labored simply to survive. While untimely death is a great tragedy for us, in any other time, it was a daily reality. We have the incredible freedom to follow our dreams, thanks to democracy, and obtain all we desire, especially through technology. With such great control and comfort, we easily get the sense that we are truly independent. We think what a terrible pity it is, and in many ways how horrifying, to see someone struck with a great misfortune. Life is not supposed to be that way; it frightens us to think that we may someday experience that utter dependence on others. Why else would euthanasia and the abortion of potentially handicapped infants in the womb gain currency, unless we believed that those lives are not worth living.

Lepers, in ancient times, would certainly have fallen into that same category. Labeled as unclean, and exiled from the community, the thought might certainly have crossed their minds that it would have been better to have never been born. In the Gospel, Christ heals a leper, giving him the inestimable gift of not just health, but new life in the fullest sense. The leper would once again become a member of the community, no longer one of the unclean, but a person of value. And we can imagine all the people going to Christ for this physical healing, searching for comfort from the trials of this life. It is natural for all of us to turn to God in our great struggles, to entrust ourselves to him, and entreat that he heal us, that he restore us to good fortune.

But that understanding of Christ falls terribly short. The healing Christ offers is so much more; it is not just to ease physical suffering. The sickness he comes to heal is not of our bodies, but in the very core of our souls. He comes to heal the brokenness which we all have, yet which so many of us today hide beneath the veil of self-sufficiency. The leper’s illness is merely an external image of the sinfulness we all bear. On our own, as much as we may care for our bodies, we are still weak; we still slip into selfishness due to our fallen nature. We fail to see that we utterly depend on God, just as the man of suffering depends on others. So often we convince ourselves that we are whole, and yet we end up living out our lives inchoately in this lonely isolation. As counterintuitive as it may seem, what a blessing it is to live out that suffering, to know what it means to live in complete dependence on others, and on God. What a blessing to never once court the illusion of self-sufficiency, and naturally grasp that we can only succeed in this life with the help of someone far greater than ourselves. What a blessing to live in hope of a life far better than this one, rather than settle for the meager joys of this earth.

Recognizing our own brokenness, we are able to see that none of us, even the mightiest and most successful, are any more valuable than the lowliest among us. Where it truly matters—according to the standard of the cross, the standard of selfless love—we all fall short. It is only because we are children of God, created in his image and likeness, that we gain our dignity. It is in our utter dependence on Christ, our complete reliance on the cross, that we are healed. Just as Christ lived out that brokenness in his body, and was raised, so, too, united with Christ, our broken existence in the end will be raised to new life.



First Sunday of Lent—February 22, 2015

Going Out into the Desert

Purpose: During Lent, we go out into the desert with Christ. Escaping the culture which surrounds us, we face down the great temptations of our life through a disciplined program of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. It is in this way that we repent and are prepared for the kingdom of God.

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Deserts capture in our imagination a sense of desolation and of rugged endurance. All that a human being needs for survival, namely, water, food, and shelter from the elements, are in short supply, if available at all. Interestingly, in ancient times, the desert was sought out by zealous individuals, such as St. Anthony, as an escape from the lures of civilization. It was a place to go and encounter God in the silence, to find him in the simplicity of a life free from worldly distractions. Such isolation also provided a time to look inward, to fight the demons which challenged them in their lives. We hear in the Gospel, as Christ begins his public ministry after his baptism, that he was first driven into the desert by the Spirit. To begin his work, he escapes into this isolation, he faces the temptations of the devil in his humanity, and overcomes them.

What a beautiful image for us as we begin our Lenten journey, for this is what Lent is all about. We are called to escape into the spiritual desert and take the time to reflect on our lives and put in place practices which allow us to grow. Particularly in our modern world of technology, it is easy to spend days on end without a moment of recollection. Work has become all consuming: from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, we are checking e-mails, and in spite of this, we still find ourselves working longer and longer hours. Even recreation has become a burden: schedules are packed with sports for the kids, exercise classes, activities of all sorts. While technology has made daily chores less time-consuming, it seems that this time has only been converted to more and more busy-ness. We can get so caught up in the daily grind that we fail to stop and ask those important questions that give meaning and direction to our activity. To what end are we doing all this? Do we have a goal beyond gaining more money or power or comfort? Are we putting in the time to build a good marriage, a good family, a good home? We feel satisfied with ourselves because we work hard and go to bed exhausted, but are we spending our energy in the right direction?

Having taken the time to step back, the key to Lent is viewing it as a discipline, as an opportunity to focus on what we are truly striving for, and find what we need to do to get there. And Christ tells us very clearly what we should be thinking about, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel.” All that we do should be aimed at that one goal of eternal life. While we don’t think about it often, it’s important to reevaluate those habits and daily practices, and see if they are helping us achieve that goal. So many temptations in this world will seek to drag us down, pulling at us to spend all our time on things which are passing and unimportant. We fight these temptations by strengthening our relationship with Christ, who himself conquered the devil and gives us the ability to do the same. We do this by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. By prayer, we form that personal tie which guides us and sheds light on that road to holiness. By fasting, we break the hold the things of this earth have over us, and are free to place Christ first. By almsgiving, we act out the self-giving love Christ teaches us, and begin our transformation into a member of his body.

St. Paul describes life as a race to reach the imperishable crown. Just as in running, you need to be disciplined and train, so too in the spiritual life, and Lent is the time to form that spiritual training program. As we find ways to grow in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we integrate them into our daily lives. Ideally, the practices we form in Lent should remain with us throughout the year, though maybe to a lesser degree. We should leave each Lent in a little better condition than we did the year before. We escape into the desert to collect ourselves, but we return to our lives renewed and stronger in that battle to save our own souls, and the souls of those we meet. Following Christ into the desert, like him we pray that we may overcome temptation and grow in holiness each day.

Fr. Joseph Scolaro About Fr. Joseph Scolaro

Fr. Joseph Scolaro is a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. He was ordained in June of 2014 and is associate pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Garden City.


  1. As a homilist, and one who taught homiletic’s many years ago, I must comment on Father Joseph Scolaro’s homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – “Father it is excellent.” May the Holy Spirit continue to bless you in your ministry and guide your preaching all your days.

    Deacon Thomas F. O’Brien, Ph.D., Ed.D.