Homilies for September 2018

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—September 2, 2018
Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35

The Apostle James writes in his epistle: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” Be doers of the word, not just hearers. What does this mean for the Christian life? Well, to start, this sentence has been the impetus for much social activism for many people over the years. “Let’s go out and make the world a better place!” This is right and this is just. This is often the exact activity that helps get young people involved in the Church through youth ministry and in Confirmation preparation programs.

Who among us does not see the value in the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive, and burying the dead? (Recall that His Holiness, Pope Francis added another work of mercy to this list in 2016, namely caring for the environment.) They are essential for the good of the world, and they are to be the work of the Christian in the world today. However, there can often be a major lacuna in many of our charitable actions. Oftentimes, we can revert to just being “doers” of good deeds with the sufficient theological reflection required as to exactly why are doing these things in the first place.

Let’s examine once again that famous sentence from St. James: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” What are we “doers” of, exactly? The Apostle tells us clearly- “the word.” What does this mean, the “word”? Is it just the words, the admonitions to good work, to pastoral charity and service we read about in Sacred Scripture? Or can we take it a bit further? The Word is God’s Word Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to do what we do not just to make the world a better place, but because the love of Christ impels us on to so. Christians should see in every single person created the image and likeness of God; they should see Christ, broken, bruised, suffering, in every single person, and the love we have for God should make us love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Note also the second part of Saint James’ sentence, “not just hearers.” This seems to imply that before we can be “doers,” we must first be “hearers.” It’s not just a frenzy of good deeds done. We have to know who it is we serve, namely the Lord Jesus in the poor and suffering. This requires us to do two things before we become “doers”: to study and to pray.

Studying, learning about the One who loves us more than anyone can ever ask for or imagine, is essential. Time spent learning what the Sacred Scriptures tell us about him and his Body, the Church, what the Sacred Tradition teaches us about him and the People of God, the Church, what the Church teaches us about Him in her Magisterium, is essential. A firm grasp of what the dogma and moral teaching of the Church, especially our Catholic social doctrine, is essential is we want to be good “doers” of the word.

And perhaps most of all, in order for our quest to truly become good and effective Christian “doers of the word,” we need to listen in prayer- to learn at the very feet of the Master, our Lord Jesus, to really be a “hearer of the word.” One of the major drawbacks that can occur in our programs of pastoral charity is quite simple- in our desire to offer practical help to the poor and needy, we do not center ourselves in prayer, going to the source of our hope and charity, Christ Jesus, especially him present in the Eucharist. Genuine prayer leads to genuine pastoral care.

Yes, James is correct- if we are mere listeners of the word and never become “doers,” then we are deluding ourselves. But in order to truly orient ourselves in true Christian charity, we can’t give what we ourselves do not have. In order to be a “doer,” we must first be a true listener, learning about and praying to the One who is all charity, our Lord Jesus Christ.


Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—September 9, 2018
Readings: Is 35:4-7A; PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-34.

One of the best films that I have ever seen is 2010’s “The King’s Speech.” It details the life of Albert, the future King George VI of the United Kingdom. When we first encounter him, he is a man very afraid. In fact, he’s happy to remain in the background, knowing that his brother will succeed his father. Albert’s good at what he does—being a military officer, father and husband. However, he lives in fear of public speaking as he has a terrible stutter. After all conventional methods have failed, his loving wife, the future queen mother, brings her husband’s case to an Australian actor-turned-speech therapist.

This actor diagnoses what truly is the issue—Albert is afraid of failure, of embarrassing his father, the king and letting down his family and his nation. He’s so afraid that he’s crippled in his ability to communicate. The future king is terrified about assuming the role of the monarch when his brother abdicates. Through the love of his good wife and the friendship and guidance of his therapist, Albert—now King George— musters up the confidence to become the sign of unity for the British people during World War II.

This film reminds me of the Gospel we proclaim this Sunday from Saint Mark. Our Lord Jesus, upon entering the district of the Decapolis, encounters a deaf man with a speech impediment. As we read, Our Lord touches this man, who is suffering and heals him, stating “Ephpatha!”- “Be thou opened!”

Imagine being that man, held back for so many years, never being able to communicate as he wished, suffering from not being understood, living in fear, suffering from self-doubt every single time he opened his mouth to speak. Like King George in the film, the deaf man’s self-doubt, his lack of faith in himself, is caused by fear. He is afraid that he can’t be understood, that no one wants to be around him. Can this Jesus heal him? Is this Jesus whom he claims to be, the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah?

At the root of all lack of faith and doubt is fear. It is a dangerous thing to posit belief in a God whom we cannot see. It is a scary thing to live our lives in accordance with the teachings of a man who lived over 2,000 years ago. What if we’re wrong? What if we spend our entire lives trying to live good lives of service and love and ultimately find out that there is nothing else, that we could have done whatever we wanted, even the most immoral of activities?

The question needs to be asked: Do I believe that there really is a God? And that this God has revealed Himself to the world in the Person of Christ? And do I believe that this Christ’s life continues on today in His Body, the Church? Am I willing to risk it, putting aside my fear and uncertainty to follow Christ?

This fear can exist not only in questions of the existence of God, the revelation of Christ and the necessity of the Church in general but can also be extended to our own lives. If God exists, why should He love me with all my faults, with all my sins, with all my problems and anxieties?

This fear and doubt can extend to our life choices. We can doubt ourselves in our relationships with others – being afraid to let others into our lives, being afraid to love, to be loved and to be vulnerable. Every time we open our mouths, we are being judged. What if the person with whom I share my thoughts betrays me, mocks me or misunderstands me? Am I worthy of the friendship that is offered to me by another? Am I lovable?

This fear can extend even into our choice of vocation. The priest, religious, married person, even the single Christian, makes a choice with his or her life. What if they’re wrong? And yet, one must still choose. The philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, said “Not to choose is to choose,” and he is correct.

Overcoming the fear that exists in us is essential for our lives of faith. The only way to do so is to keep on going, gazing intently on Jesus – the way, the truth and the life for us. “Be thou opened!” commands our good and loving Lord Jesus. If we trust in him who cannot deceive or be deceived, if we are open to his healing and trust in the plan that he has for our lives, we will know his healing and his peace.


Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—September 16, 2018
Readings: Is 50:5-9A; Ps 114:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35

In the Gospel, we proclaim today from the Evangelist Mark, the Lord Jesus asks us the question of questions- “Who do people say that I am?” The answer to this question changes everything for us. If we say that this man, Jesus, is just a historical figure, someone in the past, then we can ignore him if we so choose. If we say that this man, Jesus, is just a wise and gentle teacher, then we can likewise ignore him, if we so choose. However, if we say that this man is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as Saint Peter confesses today, then we must respond to him, either negatively by rejecting him and his teachings or, if we are honest, by totally, completely, utterly configuring our lives to him.

Who is Jesus? We have to look at the question both objectively and subjectively. Objectively, what does the Church teach about Jesus? Subjectively, what do I believe about Jesus and, if I believe what the Church teaches, then I have to respond accordingly.

So, then, who is Jesus? Well, no one in his or her right mind can ever doubt that there was a man named Jesus from Nazareth who lived and who died. Biblical scholars and historians can date the epistles of Saint Paul within 25 years of Jesus’s death and the earliest Gospel accounts within 40 years of Jesus’ death. Now, the objection can come in that these scriptural accounts are documents of faith; yes, that is true, but they are also documents of history.

If we were to go simply to non-Christian sources, there are plenty of them, too. A Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, writing in 93AD, mentioned the existence of Jesus, and later, the Roman politicians Pliny the Younger and Tacitus, are explicit about the existence of a man named Jesus. In fact, Tacitus’ report on Jesus pretty much matches what the Gospels relate to us concerning the facts of Jesus’s life. Even the Roman writers Lucian and Celsus write about Jesus, albeit negatively. With all these facts at our disposal from the ancient Roman world, which was not pro-Christian to say the least, we can say that it is absurd to doubt whether or not Jesus Christ existed and that he is an invention of the early Christians.

With that being the case then, what do we know about Jesus? The answer can come in three ways: first, from his very name; second, from the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed; and third, from the clear teaching that is the gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. First, Jesus’ name- it means “God Saves” in Hebrew. What does this tell us about Jesus? It means that it is he who was sent to save us from our sins. The title “Christ” is Greek for “anointed one” or “Messiah.” So, if we were to put the name of the Lord Jesus together with the title or adjective most properly and most commonly given to him, we could see that he is JESUS CHRIST, or “the Messiah who saves!” In theological terms, we call the study of who Jesus is “Christology” and we call the study of what he does as “Soteriology,” namely the study of how Jesus who is God saves us. When we say the name, Jesus Christ, we are making a statement of faith!

The Creeds we confess on Sundays and Solemnities at Mass as well as every time we pray the Rosary tell us the basics of what we need to know about Jesus. They tell us, in all simplicity, of his divine origins, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, that he suffered, died, and was buried, and that has risen from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. The Creeds really are the symbol of our faith. They encapsulate all that we believe about the Lord Jesus. They boil down the faith of the early Church.

Finally, the Catechism, Part One, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 2, # 430-455, can serve as a good primer for us as to who exactly Jesus is. So, with all these being said, who is Jesus? He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity; One Divine Person with two natures, divine and human, fully God and fully man. He is a man like us in all things, but sin. Simply put, he is God and his word is true.

Now, let’s take it a bit further- what are we to do with this information, once we know by faith that Jesus is God? We have to live our lives in accordance with his teachings! We have to be like him, striving in this life to be with him, please God, in the next! We have to see all human life, from conception to natural death, all people, in his image and likeness, and love, as he taught us, our neighbor as we love ourselves! This is the basic message today of the Epistle we proclaim this day from the Apostle James- our faith leads to our good works, all done in the Holy Name of Christ Jesus. Easier said than done, right? Yes, if we think, as we hear in the Gospel, not as God does, but as man does! If we accept Jesus as our Lord and God, then we have to take up our own unique cross in this life. But it is not impossible, with the Lord, carrying us along when we are too weak to even crawl. As the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, he is our help. Trust in him; cling to him. Have faith in him. Let the words of the Psalmist from our readings today be our prayer:

“I love the LORD because he has heard
my voice in supplication,
Because he has inclined his ear to me
the day I called.”


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—September 23, 2018
Readings: Wis 2:12, 17-20; Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37.

When I was leaving my very first priestly assignment as a young parochial vicar, I was, naturally enough, very sad. I was speaking to a brother priest who worked with me in the parish as the other parochial vicar, and, with the arrogance that can only come from inexperience said, “At least I know that, as I leave this parish, all the people really loved me.” My friend, older, with a few more years of priesthood under his belt, laughed hard and said, “No, no they didn’t! What, are you crazy? Not everyone loved you!” I was horrified! I was dismayed! In truth, I was angry! I demanded to know what he meant! My brother priest simply stated: “You’re human; you have flaws, and you’re not everyone’s cup of tea! Some people don’t like the super-catechetical homilies that you gave! Some felt you paid no attention to the senior citizens and was always at the school! Don’t worry about it! 10% of the parish loves you and will remember you fondly. 10% of the parish will be happy you’re in a new assignment. 80% will really have no opinion whatsoever! They just love the sacraments and support their priests.”

Like I mentioned, I was sad. Was I a failure? Did I not make a difference in the lives of my parishioners, even after five years of service as their parish priest? And, most of all, why didn’t everyone like me? After all, I’m a really great guy, aren’t I?

It has taken me many years, but I have come to the realization that, no matter what I do, no matter what I don’t do, not every single person whom I encounter, will absolutely love and adore me! Even if I try to do every single thing right; even if I try to be a really super-nice guy to all, some people will not like me! Maybe I remind them of someone else! Perhaps I bring to mind a bully or a pest from elementary school. And, maybe, just maybe, it’s actually me; perhaps I can be annoying, obnoxious, unthinking, and hurtful, both unintentionally, and, in my sinful nature, intentionally. There can a million compliments given after a homily or a class for me, but the one critique given, that’s what I will remember! It’s all part of fallen human nature. It’s a simple fact- not everyone will always like me. And, sadly, if I’m honest with myself, there’s some people whom I encounter about whom I’m not too crazy, either!

The readings we proclaim this Sunday are all about how we do not like sometimes the just man. Read again the words of the Book of Wisdom: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us.” The Lord Jesus, who is truly the only perfectly just man, and who is the only one worthy of adoration, predicts his rejection and ultimately His blessed Passion in the scripture passage we read from today in the Gospel of Mark. If the Lord Jesus, He who alone is perfect, can be not be accepted and loved by all, why should we, humble creatures, created in God’s image and likeness, but still, due to the Original Sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, fallen, expect anything different?

For those of us who are ordained to service to God’s people, for those engaged in lay and religious apostolates of pastoral work, we want to be liked. Let’s face it, being liked helps bring people to Church and to the Lord Jesus. But it’s also nice to be liked; we also, even the most introverted among us, kind of liked being liked!

We should remember that, in humility, like the little child about whom He who truly is the greatest refers in today’s Gospel, our job is not about being liked and admired. It’s all about being good and just, being Christ to all whom we meet. It’s all about being, even when we are going to be considered obnoxious and going to be rejected, Christ. Saint James the Apostle, in the second reading we proclaim this day, powerfully states:

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Our job, in spite of our flaws and failings, is to cultivate the peace of Christ to the world. Pray for that grace, in spite of our insecurities.


26th Sunday in Ordinary Time,Year B—September 30, 2018
Readings: Nm 11:25-29; Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14; Jas 5:1-6;
 Mk 9:38-42, 45, 47-48.

Again, as we reflect on the mirror that Sacred Scripture is, we can see the remarkable parallel between the experience that Moses has that is recounted in the Old Testament Book of Numbers and the experience that the Lord Jesus has in the Gospel of Mark. Moses, as we know, foreshadows the Lord Jesus. It is to him that God gives the Law. Moses is the most important figure in the history of Israel. Indeed, he is the Lawgiver. However, since the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament, we can clearly see that the Lord Jesus is greater! Jesus is not just the Lawgiver; He Himself is the Law. Unlike Moses, who represents God when he speaks to the people of Israel, Jesus is Himself God as he speaks the words of God to the Israel of his day. Both Moses’ experience and our Lord’s experience speak the word of God to us today and we, especially those of us who are priests or who involved in an apostolate in pastoral ministry, need to pay attention!

In the Book of Numbers, Moses is approached by a young man who is outraged that two men who were not present when some of Moses’ spirit was shared with the seventy elders were prophesying. Eldad and Medad are doing good works, speaking in truth the word of the Lord to the people and even Joshua, son of Nun, the future Judge, the one who will succeed Moses in guiding and guarding Israel, is shocked and dismayed. Moses, filled with the spirit of wisdom that can only come from the Lord and that can only come the experience of a long, holy life, calms the fear of those who are jealous of Eldad and Medad for Moses’ sake.

Likewise, in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus, who is Wisdom Himself, encounters another young man, the Beloved Disciple, John the Apostle and future Evangelist. John, filled with the zeal and intensity that can only come from youth and vigor, like Joshua and the young man from the Book of Numbers, is scandalized that there are others who are healing and driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus, ever the kind and gentle Master and Lord, is able to take the awkward situation of correcting his youthful Apostle and use it as a supreme moment about catechesis about the responsibility we who are involved in priestly ministry and those aiding in pastoral apostolates in the Church to set the good example.

Do we, in our priestly ministries, and for laity, your apostolates, get possessive? Do we not want to share what we do with others? I know that I can fall into the trap of this, of saying, “That’s what I do! What’s this new guy doing horning in on my territory?” If this attitude creeps into our lives of ministry, then we need to recall that it’s really not at all about us; it’s about the Lord Jesus!

My mother used to tell my father, who was always working, that the job was there before he got it and that it will be there long after he will leave it. I used (and sometimes still do!) get so upset when I would leave an assignment and realize that no one would remember what I did, what leadership I brought to it, what specific changes I made to my parish or my school. When that happens, I remember the words of my mother and I remember that it’s not about me- it’s about me; it’s about Jesus.

Jealous and rivalry in ministry can be a scandal to the people whom we wish to serve and can be a millstone that, if we succumb to the temptation, will lead us into Gehenna. Pray that the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, can make our hearts like unto his, and pray that more will come to prophesy and drive out the demons of sin and despair in his name.


Rev. John P. Cush, STD About Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Fr. John P. Cush, the Editor-in-Chief of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in the Archdiocese of New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He is the author of The How-to-Book of Catholic Theology (OSV, 2020), Theology as Prayer (IPF, 2022) and is a contributor to Intellect, Affect, and God (Marquette University Press, 2021).