Homilies for July 2020

For July 5, July 12, July 19, and July 26.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 5, 2020

  Readings: Zech 9:9–10 • Ps 145:1–2, 8–11, 13–14 • Rom 8:9, 11–13 • Mt 11:25–30
  usccb.org/bible/readings/070520.cfm

  OT: Zech 9: Banish the warrior’s bow;
  NT: Rom 8: Be raised by the Holy Spirit who raised Christ;
  Gospel: Mt 11: “Come to me and rest.”

One lesson to be learned during the coronavirus pandemic is to turn to the Lord and rest in Him. It sounds easy, but it’s not. This is anything but easy, to learn to rest in the Lord, but it is possible. Most ordinary days do not permit us to spend leisurely time with God, but these have not been ordinary days. And so even though many of us want to be back at work full-time, yet we are still probably more “cooped up” than normal. It’s not just a curse; it’s also an opportunity to appreciate God and our loved ones even more than usual.

Despite the virus, this is that great time of year, on this holiday weekend, when maybe we get to slow down even more and appreciate family and friends and, especially around the Fourth of July, appreciate our country. Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest.” No matter where we’re from, how blest we are to have a great country! Even if we’re from other countries, it is a very good thing to be grateful for one’s own country and to appreciate one’s homeland and, above all, to pray for one’s country, which I hope we all do today or later this week. In the United States, it is our privilege and honor to be able to pray freely for our country (perhaps with some social distancing!), founded on July 4, 1776, with the words of our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What a great country! Perfect? — no. Capable of constant improvement due to the freedoms we enjoy to speak out and to organize and to vote? — you bet.

St. Paul says in Romans chapter eight that the same Holy Spirit who raised our Savior Jesus Christ from the dead is going to raise us up as well. Let me repeat — God the Holy Spirit is alive and well today and will raise us up who through faith and baptism are united with Christ. Once we know that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and is working to raise us up here and hereafter with Christ, we have great trust in God our heavenly Father. And when we have trust in God our heavenly Father, then we are not afraid to pray to Him for all our needs.

Jesus teaches us to pray confidently: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” So we want to take Jesus at his word — we want to pray around the Fourth of July for our families, our friends, our neighbors, our communities, and above all, our country. We want to pray for health and prosperity for everyone. I don’t often like to sign up for group projects, but I was asked two years ago to sign up to pray the daily Rosary for our country, which sounded like a great project, something I could do and was already doing, and you know what? — I did this, and I continue to do this, and I’m going to keep doing this, precisely for the special intention that God will bless America. And I’m glad I signed up, and I myself have received unexpected graces and favors from praying the daily Rosary for our country.

It’s very important to pray for our country. We take many blessings for granted in our country. But there are certain blessings and graces that will come to us in no other way than by asking for them. It’s a great mystery why God wants us to ask for certain graces, when He loves us and wants to give us many graces. Why does God want us to ask for certain graces? — because, as you young parents know, humility and obedience and good manners are very important for those who ask for favors, like children. God our heavenly Father wants us to be humble enough, obedient enough, polite enough to ask respectfully, reverently, for what we need, and even for what we want. St. Therese the Little Flower says we need to be “little” enough, to receive all that God wants to give us. St. Alphonsus says we are to pray to God familiarly and intimately as to our best friend, and God will infallibly help us, maybe in ways we do not expect. Even if we’re praying to win the lottery and don’t win (winning might be bad for us, although some would like to take their chances!), we can be supremely confident that God our loving Father hears every prayer uttered in faith, and He will assist in some way all who ask His help.

St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we do well to pray for “all who are in authority . . . that we may lead lives of tranquility and devotion.” Did you ever stop to realize that one of the greatest things you can do for your country is to pray for your country, for your elected officials, for all who serve the common good, like police, firefighters, first responders, teachers, health-care workers, postal workers, and all who make this country run as well as it does? So many of these good people have been heroes in the virus crisis — thank you, heroes! And thank you, Lord, for sending us heroes when we need them most! Yes, one of the best things we can do is to pray for our country. St. Thomas Aquinas says patriotism or love of one’s country is a great virtue and a great attitude to have; patriotism is part of the virtue of religion, which is part of the virtue of justice, the virtue by which we give to God what we owe to Him — our love, our gratitude, our appreciation, our thanks. So let’s be sure this week to pray for our country, and in fact, we might pause right now for a moment of silence to ask the good Lord to bless this land, this country, this “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And right now we can lift up everyone in our country, and in our world, who needs our prayer and God’s help. We’ll get through this challenging time! — o yes we will, with God’s help. So let’s be still with God for a moment now, and ask His help.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 12, 2020

  Readings: Is 55:10–11 • Ps 65:10–14 • Rom 8:18–23 • Mt 13:1–23 (or 13:1–9)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/071220.cfm

  OT: Is 55: God’s Word is fruitful;
  NT: Rom 8: the glorious freedom of the children of God;
  Gospel: Mt 13: The seed of God’s word produces a great harvest in us.

It is not easy to be a young person today. There are so many challenges that confront our young people, as they grow into adulthood. Recently the coronavirus and social distancing and online learning have made the lives of young people even more difficult. God bless our young people! — hang in there, we’re going to be all right, with God’s help!

Getting an education and finding a job are only part of the problem for today’s young people. A recent study showed that less than one-fourth of young people feel that they have a true friend. Well, maybe it feels like that some days, but in fact Jesus is our best Friend, and He sends other friends into our lives, if we are open to them! A student of mine once said that a major problem for college-age people is that they are so distracted by social media or video games or a consumerist mentality. It is not easy for many of our young people today! So we want to take a moment right now to say to our young people, in an over-used phrase that is really true in this case: “Young people: You are awesome! God made you very good, in His own image! God sent His Son Jesus to help and save you and His Holy Spirit to draw you to your heavenly Father! You are loved, you are treasured, you have a bright future in Christ!”

One of the important tasks that virtually all of our young people — and many older people as well — must negotiate is the process of discernment, which means figuring out what one is supposed to do with one’s life and then doing just that. The priesthood or consecrated life may be calling, or the married life, or the single life of service. How do I know where God is calling me? How do I know what is best for me to do with my life? How do I know who is the right person for me, or where I’m supposed to be? What’s the next step in my life?

Jesus says the Word of God is like a planted seed which will produce in us a great harvest. Of course, for that seed to grow, it has to be cared for and protected and watered — and even though the yoke of Jesus is light (“My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” He tells us), still it often feels as though there is a lot of work involved in producing for God the harvest that God wants. In other words, God’s plan will unfold in us for genuine good, definitely; but we have to do our part in order to figure out what God wants and how we can live out His will for us, for our service to others, and for our happiness in this life and the next. “What can I do to discern God’s will?” a person might well ask, or, “What’s next in my life?” Sometimes discernment is easy; sometimes it can be very difficult and painful, as a person does the hard work of seeking God’s will and then doing just that. I remember a friend of mine who agonized for years about whether God was calling him to a religious vocation; or another friend who struggled mightily to discern a vocation toward the Sacrament of Marriage. It turned out that the answer in both cases was Yes, God was calling.

A student whom I had the joy of teaching a few years ago (we’ll call her Mary) had good but not great intellectual gifts. There were other students in the class who had higher levels of natural intelligence. But Mary worked much, much harder than the other students — she did all the assigned daily readings, she took notes, she asked questions, she frequently raised her hand in class — and guess what. Mary did brilliantly on her final exam and she was the number one student in that class. Mary was, and is, the finest learner I have ever had the privilege to teach. To this very day, I am still astounded by what Mary achieved and what anyone can accomplish by working hard at a worthwhile task.

One of the keys to fruitful discernment is the combination of “prayer and work” (ora et labora), the motto of the Benedictine monks. When prayer and work are combined in an effort toward a good cause, we can be reasonably confident that the project will have a good result. St. Benedict used to say that we do well to pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depended on us. St. Ignatius Loyola taught that it is best to keep praying and working at discernment until we have an interior and lasting peace, which is a sign that God is operating in our discernment process. If we don’t arrive at some meaningful measure of interior peace, then we can be confident that what we’re discerning is not what God wants (even though God can still bring good out of imperfect motives and actions).

And so, when we hear the words of Jesus, that God wants a bountiful harvest from us, we want to cooperate with God’s plan. We want to know God’s will and do His will, with His divine assistance, with His grace. I’ll have to use both prayer and work to find God’s will and then do His will. I can’t afford merely to pray and sit back passively and imagine that God will do everything for me; nor can I afford to work feverishly and neglect to ask for and use God’s help; in either case, I’m probably not going to be producing the great harvest that God wants for me. Rather, as Isaiah says, it is God’s Word that produces the greatest harvest of good works for God. St. Paul reminds us that we have “the glorious freedom of the children of God,” so if the discernment process leaves us between two equal goods, we can always freely choose one and ask God to bless our choice. Whatever kind of discernment we’re doing — vocation, job, place to live, relationship — we can be reasonably confident that God will help us to decide and to act well, as long as we ask, “Lord, show me the way” and then become willing to work at God’s way. Right now, let’s ask for the grace of true discernment, so that each person, especially each young person, may know God’s will and do it, quickly and joyfully, through Christ our Lord. Amen!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 19, 2020

  Readings: Wis 12:13, 16–19 • Ps 86:5–6, 9–10, 15–16 • Rom 8:26–27 • Mt 13:24–43 (or 13:24–30)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/071920.cfm

  OT: Wis 12: God allows repentance;
  NT: Rom 8: The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness;
  Gospel: Mt 13: The weeds must not destroy the wheat.

Today’s Scriptures are especially rich in giving us God’s Word for our nourishment and strength and encouragement, especially for any of us who may be suffering or weak or discouraged — which may well include all of us in some way right here, right now, today! The coronavirus gave us many challenges, but we will not be defeated! — God’s grace and divine assistance are available to us! So we want to be encouraged today, and we want to encourage everyone around us during this challenging time! Be not afraid! — we pray today for all family members or loved ones or neighbors, or friends we haven’t met yet, and for all who most need our encouragement. That’s right — there really are no “strangers”; there are only friends we haven’t met yet.

It is most helpful to remember in tough times that anything that is right now tempting us toward discouragement, is actually a grace and a blessing in our lives. Hard to believe, but that’s right — anything these past months (like the coronavirus — uugh!) or even this past week that got on your nerves or hurt your feelings or dragged you down, is actually a blessing; and anything that drags you down this coming week, will also be a blessing to you. The great eighteenth-century Jesuit spiritual writer Father Caussade used to say that anything which God permits is for your good and for God’s greater glory; I have found this to be true in my own life. St. John Vianney said that even life’s most painful moments — sickness, heartbreak, disappointment, betrayal — all these are actually moments of tremendous grace and blessing, if we will accept them in faith and pray for our persecutors. Not so easy, but definitely possible with God’s grace!

Jesus tells the parable of the weeds and the wheat. Let’s apply it to our own lives. It’s a real mystery (maybe more like a confusing mess) when we think about God doing such great things in our lives (producing the wheat), while at the same time we’re so aware of obstacles and roadblocks and imperfections (the weeds) that appear to hinder the good that God wants to do in us (the wheat).

Once upon a time, there was a holy woman, Gloria the gardener, who loved her garden, but then dandelions came along, and so she dug and she picked and she sprayed, and she even prayed, yet apparently to no avail — the dandelions kept on growing. So finally she went down to the park district office and asked the official there how to get rid of dandelions, since the parks have so many dandelions, and the official there told her, “Ma’am, I suggest you learn to love your dandelions.” Sometimes the apparent imperfections in our lives have a beauty all their own, right?

The biblical lesson for us today is: Trust in God. Repeat: Trust in God. He loves you so much; He’s perfectly worthy of our trust; who has done more for you than God has, in creating you, sustaining you, sending His Son Jesus to die and rise to forgive you, sending you His Holy Spirit to be with you always, giving you His blessed Sacrament to nourish you with the medicine of immortality in the Body and Blood of Christ? No one loves you as God loves you! — “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend,” says Jesus Christ, Who is your best friend, even if you don’t think about it every day. Jesus Christ is always, always there for you, so just ask His help and you’ll receive it. And don’t forget — He has laid down His life for you, for me, for the human race. If only you or only I needed forgiveness, He would have died and risen just for you, just for me — that’s how much He loves us.

But how can I trust God when my own imperfect life is filled with weeds yet lacking in wheat? It is especially the Holy Spirit, the mysterious Third Person in God, Who will help us if we let him. St. Paul says today in Romans 8, “The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we know not how to pray.” That passage has helped me so many times over the years, to know that the Holy Spirit really helps us to pray and to flourish, even when we feel most weak. Receiving the help of God the Holy Spirit is as easy as A, B, C: Ask for help, Believe the help is available, and Commit to receiving and sharing God’s help. At this very moment, the Holy Spirit may be helping you to trust in God your heavenly Father, or helping you to feel forgiven or to forgive an enemy, or helping you to think better thoughts, or helping you to be changed inwardly so you can improve yourself and improve your marriage, your family, your neighborhood, your work-place, your society, your world. O yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well — all He wants is an invitation into your heart and mine, and He can change things for the better, gradually perhaps, but sometimes immediately. God the Holy Spirit is alive and well and waiting for your invitation!

Today the Book of Wisdom in chapter 12 gives us great confidence in Almighty God who is rich in mercy. We can be supremely confident in God our Father, because, as the Scripture says, God allows us to repent — He gives us time to change for the better. How great it is to be human beings! — we are not angels, who cannot repent, since they exist in a sense beyond time, and they cannot convert from sins as we can — we humans as creatures in time and space are given by Almighty God the time we need in order to convert and repent and turn back to God! What a blessing that is!

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He entered into death in order to defeat death, because soon He would rise in the victory of the Resurrection. He defeated sin and death for you and for me, by His own dying and rising. So when you are tempted toward discouragement because the weeds in your life seem to be winning over the wheat, do not despair! — the Victory of Jesus Christ is right around the corner. Trust in God! God is perfectly capable of bringing forth wheat from your weeds and mine! — but we have to be open and ask for His help: “Ask and you will receive.”

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 26, 2020

  Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7–12 • Ps 119:57, 72, 76–77, 127–130 • Rom 8:28–30 • Mt 13:44–52 (or 13:44–46)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/072620.cfm

  OT: 1 Kgs 3: Solomon asks for an understanding heart;
  NT: Rom 8: All works for good in God’s plan;
  Gospel: Mt 13: The kingdom is like a treasure in a field, so sell everything else to get it.

You probably have noticed, as I have, that the terrible coronavirus challenge brought out different reactions from different people — sometimes it brought out the best, sometimes it brought out the not-so-good as well. I’ve seen people being extraordinarily kind toward one another; I’ve seen people from various backgrounds work together in heroic ways; and yes, I’ve seen a few people being a little grouchier than normal, but not very often. I think most people have a sense that if we work together, or for believers, if we pray together as well, then we’ll be all right in the long run. We are hopeful! — why? Because God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead, as the sign of His infinite power to bring good out of evil! Evil will not have the last word! — the last word has already been spoken, and it is a word of life and love and victory! — “I have conquered the world,” says the Lord Jesus in John 16:33.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to see God’s loving providence during difficult times. Recently I was driving on a four-lane highway when suddenly a ladder from the truck in front of me bounced off the truck and into my front-right tire and bumper. No one was hurt, thank God, but I did have a damaged bumper and a flat tire — no big deal — and I also had a conversation with God. “Why did you let this happen, Lord? You knew I was doing your work and it would cause me problems to have to fix the bumper and repair the flat tire. Why, Lord? Couldn’t you have arranged it so that the ladder went sideways, off the road, instead of into my car?” Gradually an answer came to my mind, not in words but something like this: “Yes, the ladder could have bounced differently — it could have bounced upwards, through your windshield, and chopped off your head!” OK, Lord, thank you very much, sorry I asked.

There really is such a thing as divine Providence — that’s the mysterious way that events work out for the best in the long run, even though there are many bumps along the way. St. Paul says in Romans 8 that everything works together for good for those who love God. Divine Providence is all about God’s love and mercy toward us. I remember being a teenager and one day walking into a church — randomly, so I thought — and inside was a preacher talking about Jesus’ story about a young man who finds a treasure in a field and then sells everything and goes and buys that field. That seemingly “random” preacher’s words at that precise moment in time changed my life and made me want to follow Jesus Christ, however imperfectly, in order to get that treasure. Divine Providence is a very real thing.

Probably you’ve had an experience of divine Providence in your own life. It’s not unusual. Research shows that most people have some kind of mysterious encounter with God, with Ultimate Reality, with divine Providence, at some point in their lives. It’s usually not a voice or vision or levitation, though such extraordinary spiritual experiences can rarely happen; rather, it is simply the case that a high percentage of reflective persons at least occasionally find God in their daily lives.

Especially people find meaning or God in beauty, in the beauty of a sleeping child, in the beauty of a red sunset, in the beauty of a family gathering, or simply in the beauty of a quiet moment to contemplate God and life. The nineteenth-century Russian novelist Dostoevsky once wrote that “the world will be saved through beauty.” And in fact, as the ancient Greek philosophers insisted, God is found reflected in truth and beauty and goodness. God’s presence in the beauty all around us may well be the best way for many of us to experience God’s presence in our daily lives.

Finding God can be as easy as seeing traces of God in the beauty all around us. Finding God can be as difficult as being stuck in “the dark night of the soul,” when God seems far away, even though that “dark night” contains a beauty all its own. God’s diving Providence has arranged it so that God can be found anywhere at any time, even though God sometimes appears to hide Himself and we have to search diligently to find God in word and sacrament, in nature and in people, in emptiness and solitude.

Solomon in today’s Old Testament reading prays for an “understanding heart.” That’s a great prayer for all of us. What a blessing it is when we have enough understanding to realize that God is in charge and He’s not too far away — we’re going to be all right, because “God is love,” as 1 John 4 tells us, twice. Here’s a challenge for the coming week. When you have a moment of wonder or awe, or a moment of sorrow or suffering, let that moment become a prayer. You can use words, or you can simply be silent. Just take one-half of one minute — thirty seconds — and turn your mind to God: in wonder, in sadness, in thankfulness, whatever. God the Holy Spirit lives in you through faith or baptism or repentance, so let the Holy Spirit give you the wisdom of Solomon, and even the greater infinite wisdom of Jesus Christ. Maybe this week you and I will see, a little more clearly, that God’s Providence is alive and well, waiting for us to be generously provident to others all around.

Has God brought all possible goodness out of our struggle with the coronavirus? Probably not, at least not yet. Our world and our very lives are, for God, a work in progress. God is not finished with us yet. Today we ask God our heavenly Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, to give us a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirt, the Divine Consoler. May the Holy Spirit help us to rejoice that He is bringing good out of all the suffering and imperfection and heartbreak that we see around us and in us. We might not yet see with perfect vision the beautiful things that God is doing, but let’s just wait a while — and praise God, great things are happening by the hand of the living God! All we need is spiritual eyes to see. Let’s ask for spiritual eyes, and let’s see with spiritual eyes! Amen!

Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD About Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD

Fr. Robert Garrity, JCL, SThD, is Associate Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University and a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. He has served as Pastor and Pro-Life Director and Director of Campus Ministry, and has recently authored several articles in spirituality along with two books, Resurrection Power and Mother Teresa’s Mysticism (both through Lectio Publishing).

Trackbacks

  1. […] Notes:<1> Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD, “17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 26, 2020,” Homilies for July 2020, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, July 2, 2020, accessed July 20, 2020, https://www.hprweb.com/2020/07/homilies-for-july-2020/. […]

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