Homilies for March 2019

For Mar. 3, Mar. 10, Mar. 17, Mar. 24, and Mar. 31.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – March 3, 2019

   Readings: Sir 27:4–7 • Ps 92:2–3, 13–16 • 1 Cor 15:54–58 • Lk 6:39–45
   usccb.org/bible/readings/030319.cfm

The Discipline of the Disciple

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit” (Lk 6:43–44). We all want to see fruit in our lives. We all want to live healthier, to be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. What does it take to produce good fruit? If we want to see this good fruit in our lives, we have to choose to choose; we have to start to live intentionally as disciples of Jesus.

Good fruit requires the cultivation of a good tree. The cultivation of a good tree includes good water, good dirt, proper pruning, appropriate sunlight, and the rest. The good fruit of a good human being is virtue (both acquired and infused). And, like a good tree, a good human must be cultivated. He must be cultivated by the proper disciplines of mortification and of prayer.

In the disciplines of mortification and prayer, the human person is trained in discipleship. “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher” (Lk 6:40). This point is of critical importance. The fruit to be borne by man is not his own fruit, per se. It is the fruit of a disciple who has become like his Teacher, through intimate communion with his Teacher. He must not think that the fruit is his own, nor that the power to bear it comes from himself. The Christian is not Pelagian. At the same time, he must put in the work of training. He must go, so to speak, to the spiritual gym of mortification and of prayer. As the Christian is not Pelagian, he is also not Quietist.

Nonetheless, the training of a disciple is something like the growing of plants. Our discipline includes (1) the cultivation of good dirt, so to speak, in mortification and (2) extending our roots to receive the living water of the Holy Spirit available to us in prayer.

Jesus is clear in another place about the importance of good dirt. “A sower went out to sow his seed. . . . And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold. . . . The seed is the word of God. . . . And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Lk 8:5, 8, 11–12, 15; emphasis added). Thus the mortifications required for a disciple include (1) hearing the word, (2) holding it fast, and (3) bring forth fruit in patience.

Therefore, we must ensure that we hear the word. When we come to Mass, are we sufficiently recollected so that we can truly hear? Or, if we are in a state in life where we are easily distracted (such as if we have small children who sometimes require our attention during Mass), do we read the readings ahead of time so that we are as prepared as we can be to receive the word of God?

Next, we must hold fast to the word. Could we re-read the readings on Monday? Could we jot down what stands out to us from the readings, the liturgical texts, or the homily, and revisit it throughout the week (maybe even by taping a sticky note to the back of our cell phones)? If we allow the roots of the Word to sink deeply into us, they can break even through our stony hearts. Think of any plant — even the small ones — given time and nutrition they break through even bricks and stone in their growth.

Finally, we must bring forth fruit in patience or, to translate the Greek hypomonē in another way, in fortitude. Can we make a small resolution each week to do better — e.g., an extra act of kindness for your spouse one week, a bit of fasting another week, or extra time with your kids another week?

Cultivating the soil of our souls in these ways will put us on our way to being the good, fruit-bearing tree — the good fruit-bearing disciple — whom Jesus calls us to be. However, no matter how rich our soil is, we will be sterile if not nourished by the living water of prayer. To truly bear fruit we must, as Pope Benedict writes, maintain living contact with the word of God and thereby spending our lives in dialogue with Him. The Holy Father points us to the example of St. Joseph who, by this meditation on the word of God — simply reading and pondering and praying — “lives the law as Gospel. He seeks the path that brings law and love into unity. And so he is inwardly prepared for the new, unexpected and humanly speaking incredible news that comes to him from God.”1

May we too, as true disciples — prepared by mortification and nourished by prayer — live the law in such a way that the fruit of authentic love is borne in our lives. May we heed the words of St. Paul and, due to God’s grace flowing through our prayer and mortification, never labor in vain.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58; emphasis added).

1st Sunday of Lent – March 10, 2019

  Readings: Dt 26:4–10 • Ps 91:1–2, 10–15 • Rom 10:8–13 • Lk 4:1–13
  usccb.org/bible/readings/031019.cfm

When we face temptation . . .

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted [Greek peirazō] by the devil” (Lk 4:1; cf. Mt 4:1; Mk 1:12).

Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into a place of temptation or testing or trail? (The Greek word peirazō can mean any of the three.) There is more than one reason for this. For example, Jesus was tested in the desert for 40 days just as the Israelites were tested in the desert for 40 years.

Today, however, I think it best to focus upon one reason that the Spirit led Jesus into this place of trial: for Jesus to teach us to battle temptation, and to show us that He is with us. The mysteries of Lent cannot be interpreted without the mystery of Christmas. Jesus truly is Emmanuel, God with us. He is with us — even in our temptations.

We can go to Him for help. We can go to Him because He loves us. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15–16).

Let us listen to the words of St. Ambrose of Milan: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is led into the desert for a purpose, in order to challenge the devil. If he had not fought, he would not have conquered him for me.2 This is love, my friends, that God comes down to earth to fight for me, His beloved and to teach me how to fight alongside Him.

So, why do we experience temptation? It is precisely for that reason — that we might join with Jesus in His conquering of the enemy. How beautiful the vocation of the Christian! How sure the victory when my knight is Christ the Lord! Our mother the Church shows us that temptation to sin “‘is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.’ [Council of Trent; DS 1515] Indeed, ‘an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.’ [2 Tim 2:5]” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1264). Indeed, our Blessed Lord desires that we share with Him in the glory of His victory!

Temptation remains to strengthen us. Temptation remains to point us to Jesus. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

How can temptation do that? How can temptation actually help us to become saints? Let us look today at one simple way.

Our temptations often show us areas where we have the opportunity to grow in love, if only we take the time to appropriately examine them, neither to beat ourselves up nor to strive for a kind of pseudo-perfection unattainable this side of heaven, but to simply remove obstacles to His love. Following St. Paul’s, perhaps we can begin to engage in a nightly examination of conscience: “Examine [peirazō] yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5).

Notice that the same Greek word, peirazō, is used for the “temptation” of Jesus in the Gospels and for St. Paul’s instruction that we should examine our consciences. The test is not necessarily a punishment for wrongdoing. It can’t be, because Jesus never did anything wrong, and so cannot have been subjected to such a test.

Again, the examination is a rooting out of things which prevent us from receiving God’s love. These things are called sins. “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” says St. Paul. He loves you. He gives Himself to you. He wants us to pass the test and will do everything short of impinging upon our freedom to help us. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace . . . and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Let us all take just five minutes every evening to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” First, ask the Holy Spirit for help. Second, reflect back on your day, remembering moments of grace and moments of sin. Third, thank God for His blessings. Fourth, say an Act of Contrition in repentance for your sins. And finally make a resolution to live with a greater openness to God tomorrow. Thus our temptations and trials will truly lead us deeper into the arms of our Father.

2nd Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

  Readings: Gn 15:5–12, 17–18 • Ps 27:1, 7–9, 13–14 • Phil 3:17—4:1 (or Phil 3:20—4:1) • Lk 9:28b–36
  usccb.org/bible/readings/031719.cfm

When God’s “too slow” . . .

In Genesis 15 (today’s first reading), God makes a promise to Abram: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:5–6). Then Abram waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. We don’t know precisely how long he waited; however long it was, it was “too long” for him. Does that happen to us sometimes? Do we sometimes receive God’s word to us? When something sticks out to us at Mass? When something touches us in the Bible? When we’re simply praying?

But then do we get frustrated when God doesn’t act on our timeline? Are we tempted to lose hope when God doesn’t follow our plan for His blessings? Do we sometimes want to take matters into our own hands?

Abram (at the prompting of his wife Sarai) did just that: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; and Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Gen 16:1–2). Sarai’s maid did conceive a son, Ishmael, and there remains strife between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Isaac to this day.

Ishmael was not the child promised by God, and because Abram wouldn’t wait upon the Lord, there was strife between Sarai and her maid Hagar. Because Abram couldn’t wait, there was strife between Ishmael and Isaac. Because Abram couldn’t wait, there was strife between Abram and his wife.

But God is faithful. And God is faithful to Abraham. So, about 15 years later — fifteen years — when Abraham was 100 years old, God did come through. Isaac was born to Abram (now called Abraham) and Sarai his wife (now called Sarah). And today, the children of Abraham (including you and me) are truly more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore of the sea.

With all of this, even in the midst of God’s fidelity, things got worse. Sarai, convinced Abram to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of his house. Perhaps part of this was Ishmael’s fault.3 Nonetheless, Ishmael was Abraham’s flesh and blood, whom he cravenly cast out. If God had not taken care of Hagar and Ishmael, they would have died. Abram took matters into his own hands, and things did not go well. But God is faithful, even to Ishmael who, though he is not the son of the promise, is also not simply the fruit of Abraham’s impatience. God is faithful, because God deeply loves each of his children.

How much strife would have been saved if Abram had not taken matters into his own hands? How much strife do we cause ourselves when we take matters into our own hands? For most of us, most of the time, our stories of taking matters into our own hands are not as dramatic as Abraham’s. Often, we too think that God has forgotten about us, we too think that God won’t come through. Often we just give up and move on to something that helps us to forget about our disappointment. Or we act out in a desire to fulfill those promises ourselves, on our own terms and in our own time.

What small steps can we take to trust God when God is “too slow”?

First, and this is always the first step, we simply ask God for the grace of greater trust. Nothing fancy. Nothing profound. Just ask.

Second, aim small, miss small. Maybe God wants to answer your prayer in stages. Maybe we are searching for immediate gratification in our requests. Before your husband goes to church every Sunday, maybe he could listen to one podcast, pray one decade of the rosary with you, or begin with small steps.

Third, instead of focusing on what God isn’t doing, slow down and ask yourself: “What are the little things God is doing?” When we find the movement of God in the little things, then we become more cooperative and in alignment. “If we do the little things well, the big things will take care of themselves.”

Fourth, pay attention to what is stirring within you. Perhaps the beginning of God’s answer to your prayer is to first do something in you.

Ask for the grace; aim small, miss small; and be attentive to the seemingly little things God is doing. Then, we will be able to see God’s works, quiet as they may be, and resisting the temptation to grasp at our solutions, we might more truly receive God’s gifts this Lent.

3rd Sunday of Lent – March 24, 2019

  Readings: Ex 3:1–8a, 13–15 • Ps 103: 1–4, 6-8, 11 • 1 Cor 10:1–6, 10–12 • Lk 13:1–9
  usccb.org/bible/readings/032419-yearc.cfm

Wonder

A dear friend of mine likes to pray discalced, especially when it is possible to do so before the Blessed Sacrament. No, she’s not a Carmelite. She just has a beautiful sense of wonder. “Remove the sandals from your feet,” God says to Moses, “for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). Moses encounters something — someone — wholly other than himself and is filled with wonder. “When Moses saw [the burning bush] he wondered at the sight” (Acts 7:31). And, at the command of God, he “incarnates” his wonder by removing his shoes.

We priests do the same. On Good Friday, as I come to encounter the mystery of the God who died for me, I take off my shoes as I wonder at such great love. Wonder allows us to “see” God. Wonder is the appropriate response to His presence.

How then do we cultivate wonder? By silence. When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he had by this time spent 40 years in the desert. He had, over those 40 years, spent an untold number of quiet nights under the stars and quiet days guiding the sheep. St. Gregory of Nyssa declares, “It is upon us who continue in this quiet and peaceful course of life that the truth will shine, illuminating the eyes of our soul with its own rays.”4

If we desire to see God, if we desire wonder, we must, so to speak, take off our sandals. “Sandaled feet cannot ascend that height where the light of truth is seen,” says St. Gregory.5 We must take off the sandals of noise. We must take off the sandals of distraction. We must enter into the blessed desert of silence that God might speak to our hearts (cf. Hos 2:14).

So how’s our Lent? In the past three weeks, have we encountered God more or less? This week, has our devotion to our Lenten penances begun to fade? Or maybe we haven’t yet gotten around to making any? Wherever you are is where you are. It’s okay to be there. But it’s not okay to stay there. As we begin the third week of Lent, do we need to “take off our sandals”?

What would it look like if you turned off the radio for your commute and said, “God, I just want to be with you right now”? What would it look like if you only got onto Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat every other day? Whatever our Lenten penance was or wasn’t, what if we committed today to at least five minutes of that “quiet and peaceful course of life” which allows us to wonder at God?

If we want our lives to be transformed — if we want to capture the joy of wonder — we must learn to take off the sandals of our noisy world. For truly, the Kingdom of God is within us (Lk 17:21). Truly we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Truly we are standing on holy ground because we are the holy ground.

Refuse to let something so small as a cell phone distract you from the wonder of who you truly are. Refuse to let something so unimportant as the radio interrupt your listening to God. Refuse to let the noise of life prevent you from being fully human.

Let me close, then, with a word from the great Dr. Tom Neal.

My first spiritual director, a Trappist monk, wrote me once that among the most important signs of a man’s greatness is his capacity to be at home in silence. He said, “If you can’t be at home with yourself alone and in silence, you are not yet fully human. . . . Praying demands more listening than speaking. Thinking requires a space free from noise. Friendship demands an intimacy that transcends words. There are those who have no place for inner silence and talk out of compulsion, and there are those who are at home with silence and speak deliberately with serene freedom. While the first leaves you unsettled, the second brings you peace.”6

Take off your sandals. Enter into silence. Live in wonder.

4th Sunday of Lent – March 31, 2019

  Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10–12 • Ps 34:2–7 • 2 Cor 5:17–21 • Lk 15:1–3, 11–32
  usccb.org/bible/readings/033119-yearc.cfm

Reconciled

Do you want to be happy? Do you want to rejoice? Do you want to live in joy? I don’t know about you, but I desire the joy described in today’s psalm: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the poor one called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him” (Ps 34:6–7).

Joy comes with reconciliation. In three verses, Paul uses the word reconciled five times. Being a new creation “is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18–20). But to reconcile literally means “to bring together again.” In other words, something has to be torn apart before it can be reconciled.

Brothers and sisters, we each have places in our lives where we have torn ourselves away from our relationship with God. These are called sins. Some of us have big sins. Others of us have little sins. And it is our sins which rob us of our joy. To retrieve our joy, we’ve got to be reconciled.

But to be reconciled we must admit our sins. We must confess them. We must repent. Think of the younger son in today’s parable. Only when he was so hungry that he longed to eat the pig slop did he “come to himself” and decide to repent. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Lk 15:16, 18). But why wait that long? Why wait until we hit rock bottom to change? Why not begin to live greater joy now?

One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is in Psalm 19:12–13, “Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant from presumptuous sin.” Thanks be to God I avoid the big sins. But what about the little ones?

Allow me to borrow the words of another preacher, St. Caesarius of Arles:

With God’s help we both can and should be without serious offenses, but no just man ever was or ever will be able to live without small sins. We are continuously troubled and tormented by these as by flies buzzing around, and in accord with this. . . . ‘The just man falls seven times in a day and rises again.’[Prov 24:16] Very often sins creep up on us through thoughts or desires or speech or action, as the result of necessity, through weakness or out of forgetfulness. If a man thinks only of serious sins and strives to resist only these but has little or no care about small sins, he incurs no less danger than if he committed more serious offenses. Therefore let us not think little of our sins because they are slight, but let us fear them because they are many. Drops of rain are small, but because they are very many, they fill rivers and submerge houses, and sometimes by their force they even carry off mountains. Concerning these it is written: “He who scorns little things will fall little by little’ [Sir 19:1]; and again: ‘Who can detect failings?’ [Ps 19:13] Who is there who guards his heart with such great vigilance that no idle word ever proceeds from his lips? However, an account must be rendered for this on the day of judgment. Who is there who does not lie, although Scripture says: ‘A lying mouth slays the soul’ [Wis 1:11]? Who is there from whose mouth an evil word does not sometimes issue, although it is written: ‘No slanderers will inherit God’s kingdom’ [1 Cor 6:10]? Who could even count the sins which we consider small or almost nonexistent, even though Sacred Scripture testifies that we are going to be severely punished for them? For this reason, with God’s help and in accord with the text of Solomon, let us keep our hearts with all watchfulness. If we are unable to escape or avoid small sins entirely and are overtaken by them rather slowly, let us hasten either to purge them or to redeem them by sighs and groans as often as we are overcome.7

The more that our sin is rooted out, the more space there is in our lives for God, and in Him we will find joy. We cannot put on a new cloak if we do not first rid ourselves of our ragged cloak. We cannot receive a ring on our finger if our fingers have grown fat from the slop of pigs. We cannot receive new shoes unless we have cast off our old sandals in wonder and repentance before the majesty of God.

The more that our sin is rooted out, the more space there is in our lives for God, and in Him we will find joy. We cling to the old cloak because it has brought us earthly comfort; we wallow in the pig slop because we see it as a prize of self-possessed industry; we wear out our sandals on the path to destruction because our clouded minds think it to be the road to freedom. But by repentance the scales of deception fall from our eyes. We can let go of the old cloak and allow God to robe us in fine linen; we can allow our generous Father to wipe clean our hands that they might be worthy of a golden ring; we can cast off our worn shoes in wonder to be shod with the sandals that the Lord provides, so that we might walk with him into the heavenly banquet. Thus let us live, my brothers and sisters, as true Christians, showing through our repentance the joy of the Gospel to the entire world.

 


With gratitude to Jennifer Ely, MA, for copy edits and insights both theological and pastoral.
With gratitude to Fr. Mark Toups for collaboration in discernment for the initial outlines of some of these texts.

  1. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, trans. Philip J. Whitmore (New York: Image, 2012), 40–41.
  2. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 4.14, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, ed. Arthur A. Just (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 73, emphasis added.
  3. See Genesis 21:9 and the comment thereon in Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Genesis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 43.
  4. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), II.19, 59.
  5. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, II.22, 59.
  6. This and other marvelous reflections can be found on Dr. Neal’s website, nealobstat.wordpress.com. nealobstat.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/godfriendsilence/
  7. Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, vol. 3, trans. Sister Mary Mageleine Mueller, OSF, in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. Hermigild Dressler, OFM (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1973), 234.4, 203–204. Verbum.
Fr. Brice Higginbotham About Fr. Brice Higginbotham

Father Brice Higginbotham is a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana, currently serving as parochial vicar at Christ the Redeemer in Thibodaux. Ordained to the Sacred Order of Presbyter in 2017, Father Brice graduated from St. Joseph Seminary College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts: Philosophy and from Notre Dame Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in Theological Studies: Sacred Scripture. In addition to his responsibilities as parochial vicar, Father Brice works with the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux’s Office of Communications to produce weekly catechetical videos regarding Scripture, liturgy, and everyday life.

Comments

  1. Avatar Jacob Cheriyan says:

    All these homilies are very good. I would like to put one suggestion that if you could please include a small piece of inspiring story or positive thinking ideas or about a Saint how today’s Gospel or readings relate to his life, which may make homilies more colourful. May God bless your kind efforts.