Homilies for July 2015

The Miracle of the Bread and Fish, by Giovanni Lanfranco (1620-23)

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 5, 2015
The Prophetic Witness

Purpose: The prophetic witness was needed in order to call God’s people back to the covenant. We are summoned to receive the prophetic witness and to give this witness to our world today.

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070515.cfm

It’s always a beautiful site to celebrate and see a wedding. Two people become one in their love for each other, and two families become one in the exchange of vows by a member of one family to a member of the other family, and vice versa. Two realities are becoming one. It’s family. It’s a covenant: a solemn exchange of vows which form a wider system of commitments, rights, responsibilities, and relationships. It’s a family!

In the amazing love that God has for humanity, he enters into a covenant with each of us. The plan of salvation is the story of fulfilled covenants and regular invitations to be a part of God’s family.

But oftentimes, humanity—that means each one of us—think we know better. We see the invitation to be a part of God’s family, but we choose instead to live as orphans, and to follow paths of darkness. We rebel.

God could respond to our rebellion with severe punishment, devastating neglect, or divine indifference. In moments of rebellion, however, God sent, and sends us, prophets. Prophets are not merely men and women who know, or who can foretell, the future. Some were given that ability, but more fundamentally, prophets are teachers and heralds. More basically, we could say that prophets are a sign, a reminder, a witness to us of better things, more noble and holy things. They are a witness to us of God, his covenant, and of our invitation to be a part of his family.

This is the vocation of Ezekiel in our First Reading. The prophet is sent to the “rebellious house” of Israel to be a witness calling them back to the covenant, to God’s family. Whether Israel accepts or rejects Ezekiel, “they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

Ezekiel’s story is an interesting one. During his lifetime, due to human pride, the Kingdom of David was divided. Ezekiel was of a priestly family living in the Southern Kingdom. The Lord called him to be a prophet when he was about thirty years old. He was married, but his wife died young. Being of the priestly class, and in the Southern Kingdom, Ezekiel was told to warn God’s people that there were consequences to their lack of fidelity. God cautioned them that refusal to live by the covenant would bring its own discipline. The people did not listen to the Prophet Ezekiel: he was disliked for his words, and alienated for his message. He told the people that God would allow them to live as orphans if they chose to be orphans—to live outside of God’s covenant. The prophet’s words were not heeded, so Ezekiel witnessed the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of God’s people to Babylonia, and—one of the most sorrowful images in human history—Ezekiel witnessed the destruction of God’s Temple, and the departure of his Spirit from this earth.

Ezekiel was a prophet, and his cry was that of our Psalmist today: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.”

The Apostle Paul is describing this life of the prophet in our Second Reading. Writing to the Corinthians for a second time, and seeking to summon them, and the early Christians, to a greater fidelity to God’s covenant, St. Paul describes not only his life, but the life of the person who picks up the mantle, seeking to give the prophetic witness. It will not be easy. The Apostle writes: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints … for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We bring this understanding, then, to our Gospel scene today. Jesus is the prophet of all prophets, prophecy incarnate. He is the living covenant. In response to the Lord’s prophetic witness par excellence, the people grumble: “Where did he get all this? … Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” The people “took offense” at him. Even the Lord Jesus, in his desire to redeem humanity, and to save all people, is rejected in his prophetic witness. In consequence, “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there” and the Lord “was amazed at their lack of faith.” This disappointment, however, did not stop the Lord. As with Ezekiel, the Lord was faithful to his call, and summoned humanity to conversion, to turn back to the covenant with God.

This sacred narrative should encourage and inspire us. Each of us needs the prophetic witness. None of us desires to be hypocrites. We make mistakes, we sin, we find ourselves in one shade of rebellion or another. We need to be called back to the covenant, back to God’s family. The prophetic witness of the holy ones, and of our fellow believers, is meant to be a help to each of us.

On the other side, we are called to give the prophetic witness. Perhaps, many of us look at our world today—no fault divorce, abortion, gay marriage, war, and on and on—and it seems that the world is lost, and we can do nothing. But this is not the prophetic response! We are called to faithfulness, not to success. We will allow God to convert humanity and save our world. Our task is simply to say “yes” to the prophetic witness in our lives, in our homes, neighborhoods, work places, our parishes, and in our society. We see the cost of this witness—rejection, alienation—but we also see the goodness, the glory, and the grace of God’s covenant, and we desire this goodness, glory, and grace above all things.

And so, as we celebrate this Eucharist, we ask the Lord for his strength so that we can join our voices with the voices of all believers, of all prophets, throughout the ages, who seek what is above, what is noble, true, and right. We ask to play our part, and we give our prophetic witness.

Further Reading: Jeffrey Kirby, Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Charlotte: St. Benedict’s Press, 2014); Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 12, 2015
Chosen and Commissioned

Purpose: God has a plan for each one of us. He has chosen us, and commissions us to help spread his kingdom in our world.

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071215.cfm

In our world today, a sidewalk definition of good people would be something like “they love their family, are attentive to life’s responsibilities, they work hard.” This is a great definition and is a good way to live one’s life.

This summary of a good person leads us to the Prophet Amos from our First Reading. Amos was just such a good person: he was married, worked as a shepherd, and as a dresser of sycamores. He took care of his duties, and minded his own business. Until, the Lord broke through and called this good man to be something else, to be something more.

God chose and commissioned Amos to be a prophet, a messenger, and a witness to the household of God. Amos testifies: “I was no prophet… The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’.”

God had a plan for Amos, and Amos had to decide whether to accept, or walk away from his new commission. In this moment of discernment, the Prophet joins our Psalmist today in singing: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” In essence, “Lord, help me.” Amos has to find in himself the strength to say “yes.” He has to decide to accept God’s plan, and serve as a prophet to Israel.

As with Amos, God also has a plan for each of us. In our Second Reading, St. Paul is insistent about this truth. He teaches us, God “chose us in {Christ}, before the foundation of the world … he destined us for adoption, … he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor.” The Apostle certainly wants us to understand that we are chosen and commissioned. We are called to be something more than our contemporary world’s notion of a “good person.” We have been chosen, selected, appointed, elected, made one in a mission beyond ourselves.

Do we realize this? As we struggle, ourselves, to understand, accept, and live this commission, we can come to realize the struggle, not only of the Prophet Amos, but of the apostles.

Look at our Gospel scene today: the poor apostles. The Lord sends them out in pairs of two, and with nothing: “take nothing for the journey… no food, no sack, no money,” not even “a second tunic.” They were chosen and commissioned.

But what did they do? There were many options. The apostles could have left the way of the Lord Jesus, they could have overly deliberated the commission and dragged their feet, or they could have debated the truth of the Lord’s message. All of these were real options to the apostles. And, yet, what did they do? The apostles accepted the Lord Jesus, his message, and commission. They went off to preach and bear witness, and their fidelity allowed God to do a great work. We’re told, “The apostles drove out many demons” and cured the sick.

Do we realize that God has a plan for us? As members of the baptized, we also are chosen and have a commission? Are we willing to go beyond the mode of the “good person,” beyond the status quo? Are we willing to live as prophets in our world, chosen and commissioned to share and spread the Good News? Will we allow our exercise of mercy and kindness, the use of our bodies and finances to show the truth of the Lord’s message? Will we allow our care of human life, and our environment, the way we treat others, even our enemies, to be a sign of contradiction to our fallen world? Will we allow the fact that we are chosen and commissioned to play a real part in our lives? Will we be a people of peace, goodness, patience, kindness, love, joy, self-control, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, and chastity? In our daily lives, in the midst of our duties and responsibilities, will we be a light pointing to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

In your marriages and families, among our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow parishioners, and citizens, are we willing to accept the plan of God, to accept our commission, and to give our world the Good News of Jesus Christ? Will we follow the example of the Prophet Amos and the apostles, and generously say “yes” to God?

Our moment of decision is no different than that of these holy ones. We see in these saints an example, and an encouragement, to accept God’s plan, and to live out our commission in our world today. They gave everything they could, and we are called to do no less.

Further Reading: Jeffrey Kirby, Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Charlotte: St. Benedict’s Press, 2014); Jesus Urteaga, Saints in the World (New Rochelle: Scepter Press, 1997).

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 19 , 2015
A Shepherd Among Us

Purpose: The Lord Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. He gathers and grants peace to his flock. We are called to allow the Lord to shepherd our own lives, and to serve as shepherds to others.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071915.cfm

“Lord, you duped me, and I let myself be duped.” Can anyone relate to this sentiment? This is one of those amazingly transparent cries of the Prophet Jeremiah. In this moment in his relationship with the Lord, he is asking a lot of questions, complaining, and trying to understand the ways of God. Can any of us relate?

Let’s go a little deeper. We need to understand who Jeremiah is. This will help us to comprehend what is going on in his day, what he is proclaiming and why, and what’s happening that has this prophet so vexed and complaining so sorrowfully.

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet when he was very young. Actually, he tried to avoid the prophetic call by citing his age and lack of eloquence. God did not heed Jeremiah’s protest, however, but called him to the teaching office of the prophet. Due to his age, Jeremiah remained celibate—the only prophet not to marry in the Old Testament. God used Jeremiah’s celibacy as a sign of the barrenness of Israel, citing Israel for its lack of fidelity, rebirth, and rejuvenation. Israel’s sin cannot give birth to the workings of God, and its sin causes it to remain without life, and its joys.

During the lifespan of Jeremiah, the kingdom of David was scandalously divided. God’s people were scattered. There was a southern kingdom and a northern kingdom. Jeremiah was called, and would serve in the southern kingdom. He denounced the pagan worship of the Israelites, and their faithlessness to the true God. Jeremiah was appalled at the worship of Baal, a false god whose adherents would engage in child sacrifice, and readily condemned this practice. As we see in our First Reading, Jeremiah brought particular fire down upon the greed and corruption of the shepherds of God’s people: the priests and prophets. He exhorts these shepherds: “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them.”

Jeremiah was never a well-liked person. His life was marked by rejection, alienation, and abandonment. To his great horror, he witnessed the fall of the southern kingdom, the exile of God’s people to Babylonia, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. All hope seemed lost to the Chosen People. In exile, however, Jeremiah preached a message of restoration and hope. He called the people back to God’s covenant, and to his household. The prophet’s cry was simple: follow the ways of God, and allow him to work, once again, among his people. The Lord promised through Jeremiah: “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer to fear and tremble; and none shall be missing.”

This leads us to our Gospel scene: the Lord Jesus calls the apostles to a moment of quiet and solitude. They had just returned from a round of apostolic work, doing mighty deeds, and teaching in the way Jesus had shown them. They came together and were tired. The Lord called them to rest. The people, however, would not leave Jesus and the apostles alone. When the Lord Jesus saw the people, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” They looked like the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day, and the Lord Jesus was moved with compassion. The Lord is not a removed shepherd who scatters, like those chastised shepherds of old, but a good shepherd who cares for the flock, and seeks to bring together those who have been scattered, especially those who have been marginalized. St. Paul speaks of this in our Second Reading: “For {Christ} is our peace, he who … broke down the dividing wall of enmity.” Jesus seeks to defend, heal, feed, encourage, affirm, and love the members of the flock. He is the good shepherd promised to us by God through Jeremiah.

As we see the Lord’s ministry among us, we can echo the Psalmist’s cry: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

In accepting the gentle yoke of this good shepherd, we must come to more deeply realize that we too are called, as members of the baptized, to go and be a good shepherd to those around us. We are summoned to be a good shepherd to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and to all members of our society, especially those who are vulnerable, forgotten, or who have no one to advocate for them!

Where in our daily lives have we been like the wicked shepherds of Jeremiah’s day? Today, we repent. And, today, we ask: Where can we better reflect the good shepherd in our lives? Where is the Lord calling us? As we celebrate this Eucharist, we ask the Lord to be the good shepherd of our lives. And as we seek his guidance, we also seek to reflect and be like him—the Good Shepherd—in the midst of our world today.

Further Reading: Jeffrey Kirby, Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Charlotte: St. Benedict’s Press, 2014); Jean Baptiste Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate (Charlotte: TAN Books, 1946).

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 26, 2015
A Call to Serve the Hungry and Those in Need

Purpose: Our call as Christians leads us to encounter hunger—physical and spiritual—in ourselves, and in those around us.

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072615.cfm

In approaching the Sacred Scriptures today, we immediately see the Church’s teaching office pointing us in the clear direction of hunger. The Prophet Elisha, and the Lord Jesus, are both feeding those who are hungry. It’s important that we keep this image and reality before us.

Most of us have been greatly blessed in that we have not experienced prolonged hunger, or not had ready nourishment in moments of need. We’re unique in that way. In most of the world, and in the disguised part of our so-called “first world,” there is tremendous hunger. I remember years ago, while serving in the Army National Guard, my unit was activated, and we were sent to Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch devastated the internal structure of that country. When we arrived, children would line the path of our convoys. They were not begging for candy, or some luxury item, these children were along the path begging for water.

It’s important for us to stay focused on the material hunger of so many in our world. If we jump to the spiritual, and only spiritualize today’s biblical wisdom, we miss an essential part of our call as Christians.

Let’s look at Elisha, the Prophet, in our First Reading. He encounters a group of people who are hungry. He offers only what he has, to the objection of his servant, since it is such a small amount compared to the size of the crowd and, yet, there was enough for everyone (and even some left over). All who were hungry were fed. In a similar way, the Lord works just such a miracle. He takes five barley loaves, and two fish, from a boy in the area, probably the kid’s lunch for the day, and he feeds over five thousand. The miracle aspect, we leave to God. The practical lessons for us: we have to notice those who are hungry and in need, and we have to offer what we have.

As members of the baptized, as Christians in our contemporary world, we cannot be blind or indifferent to those around us. We must have eyes that see, even when things are distressing, and we must have hearts that are generous.

If our discipleship is not marked by some interaction with those in need, then our following of the Lord is incomplete. Yes, something essential to being a Christian is missing. As Christians, we should have some involvement with those in need: whether that’s helping an elderly neighbor, assisting at a soup kitchen or social outreach center, visiting the imprisoned, guiding an unwed mother, listening to someone who is grieving, and the list goes on and on. For those with open eyes, there are always people who need help: a gentle smile, a kind greeting, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, an ear ready to listen without judgment, and so on.

Do we look for those in need? Are we willing to let the Lord feed us, to turn to others in our need, so that we have the strength to feed the hunger of others?

This is the worthy life of our call as Christians that St. Paul speaks about in our Second Reading. As the apostle explains: “live … with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.”

As we seek to live this summons to serve others, to seek those in need, it will not be easy or comfortable. We will have to die to some egotism and self-centeredness. To serve others well, and without expectation, we need to turn to the Lord, and have fellowship with him. After feeding the five thousand, the Gospel tells us that the Lord Jesus: “withdrew again to the mountain alone.” We will need to develop and deepen our time alone with the Lord, our life of prayer with him, our fellowship with him, which allows us to receive his strength and consolation. Only in turning to the Lord regularly, will we be able to serve others without frustration and anger. Only in Christ can we approach the poor, and those in need, not as benefactors, but truly as servants.

The world looks to Christian believers. It wants to see something different, something of the heart. People in need turn to believers in Jesus Christ, hoping to find in us what they know they can find in him. We are asked for our five loaves and two fish. As we give these, without reservation, and without counting the cost, this world will see the Lord’s love and compassion. This world will know that it is loved, and that God is among us.

As we celebrate this Eucharist, as the Lord feeds us in this Bread of the Angels, we ask him for his strength, and for a generosity of heart. We look to him, the Bread of Life, and we ask for the grace to be bread to those who are hungry, and a help to those in need.

Further Reading: Jeffrey Kirby, Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Charlotte: St. Benedict’s Press, 2014); Robert Baker and Benedict Groeschel, When Did We See You, Lord (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2005).

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby About Fr. Jeffrey Kirby

Fr. Jeff Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. He recently completed a five year term as the Vicar of Vocations, during which he wrote a multi-tiered strategic plan for vocational promotions that called for an active use webdesign, social media, and videography. During his tenure in vocations, he also founded the Drexel House: Catholic Residence for Men. Fr. Kirby holds a Licentiate in moral theology from the Holy Cross University in Rome, and is the co-author of two children's books on priestly and religious vocations, as well as the author of the book, Lord, Teach Us to Pray. Visit: frkirby.com, and follow Fr. Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby.

Comments

  1. Fr. Kirby,

    Thank you for these homilies – I hope they will be a help and a blessing to many homilists reading HPR. I appreciate very much the way you have brought together all three readings to emphasize an important theme or central message, and brought them to practical and applicable conclusion right at the doorway, explicitly, to the coming celebration of Holy Eucharist. In other words, you manage – and manage well – to bring a unity of both liturgies, that of the Word and of the Eucharist, while giving full and serious attention to the matter at hand of this section of HPR: the homily.

    As a lay man, having some experience as a catechist, I am sensitive to the need among the laity for good homilies. For many – I would say most – of the laity, the homily IS the only catechesis received, perhaps since eighth grade! It is thus so very important that the brief opportunity [and duty] of the homily be rich and substantial. We simply cannot afford, at “the Table of the Word,” to have something offered lacking in spiritual substance. We cannot afford the Table to lack true and lasting spiritual nutrition and empowerment.

    For the Church to be as she was sent to be – light in this dark and darkening world – she needs her oil filled and her lamp lighted and burning. The challenge [and responsibility] for all – specifically the laity – to hear and live the vocation to be a witness, to be a prophet, is increasingly important and needed. The need, in particular, for the prophetic witness of authentic marriage in Christ has now been made urgent, in this very confused culture. Thank you again for these examples of good homilies, which I hope will prove helpful for many.

  2. Fr. Kirby,your homilies are very touching,thanks alot.

  3. Thanks! Your homilies help me to get a new perspective or ideas for my personal reflection and share them with my communities. God bless!