Homilies for July 2021

For July 4, July 11, July 18, July 25

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 4, 2021

Readings: Ez 2:2–5 • Ps 123: 1–2, 2, 3–4 • 2 Cor 12:7–10 • Mk 6:1–6    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/070421.cfm

Happy Independence Day! Today we celebrate values that our country, the United States, has always prized. And it’s a good day to look at our lives in the light of the Gospel. To ask if we’ve prized those values. Today, our readings allow us to ponder humility and bravery, Invite us to be humble before God, and to courageously respond to God’s call.

In our first reading, we’re introduced to Ezekiel, the prophet. The man Ezekiel is called to be God’s messenger. Our reading is from the second chapter of Ezekiel, the book. And in chapter one we get this detailed account of Ezekiel’s vision of God. Ezekiel falls to the ground in awe at this vision of God. He’s aware of his own limitation, unworthiness before God. And this is important for us. To keep in mind our littleness before God. But littleness isn’t all there is to humility. Jesus isn’t little before God! So how can he show a humility orders of magnitude greater than Ezekiel?

Because even though he’s not human, he’s embraced human littleness. He doesn’t show himself on earth seated on a heavenly throne. But in humble, dirty human flesh: so he can preach in the little synagogue of his hometown. Yeah, he’s embraced human littleness.

Ezekiel shows humility as he remembers his littleness before God. And Jesus shows humility as God, come in human littleness. These two give a rich picture of humility for us to imitate.

There’s courage too in these readings, and maybe it’s clearest in a little passage from our first reading, where the Spirit puts Ezekiel on his feet again. Ezekiel, even in his littleness, rises when he’s asked to rise. The Spirit wouldn’t have set Ezekiel on his feet had Ezekiel not been willing. And he wouldn’t have been willing if he hadn’t been brave. Ezekiel, in his littleness, rises because he’s been sent; he rises because he knows he’s been charged to give a message to Israel. And he embraces that task he’s been given with courage.

So we see Ezekiel’s courage; his littleness, which goes out bravely. But what about Jesus — how can he be brave?

I think it’s important we not underestimate how hard this experience of rejection would have been for Him. I think it’s important to remember his capacity of love for us, how he loves each person in that town more than we’ve ever loved anyone. And the one He loves mock him under their breath, ignore what he says. I think we can see Jesus’ courage in his invitation, in his inviting them to accept him and opening himself to this heartbreaking rejection.

They wouldn’t have rejected Him had he come in power. But they would have been overawed by that power, by his appearance. Their freedom would have been compromised. Jesus doesn’t want that, for them or us. For them and us, He leaves his words; the words God wants his people to hear; words in which are the fabric of the universe, in all its majesty. He gives them parables and teachings, and He leaves them — He leaves us — free to accept them or not.

Jesus is astonished and saddened by the lack of faith in His hometown, because in other places where He’s shared these parables, these teachings, people have been drawn out in love for Him. Their hearts have been moved, and they’ve believed that the one speaking this way is in touch with God. And people have opened their hearts to him, opened their hearts to the grace he has to pour into their lives, and have been opened for Jesus to do for them so many things.

So two figures: Ezekiel; little, aware of his littleness, but brave enough to do what he’s sent to do; and Jesus: great, mighty, but who comes down to our level and is brave enough to accept rejection. On this 4th of July Weekend, we remember humble men and women, brave women and men, who’ve made so many contributions to our country. Can we ask God to help us live humility and courage wherever we can? Children, knowing their own littleness, but still willing to challenge a playground bully. Parents, knowing their authority over their children, but leading their family with love rather than fear. Can we live these and other examples of these virtues? Can we be humble before God? And courageously respond to God’s call?

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 11, 2021

Readings: Am 7:12–15 • Ps 85:9–10, 11–12, 13–14 • Eph 1:3–14 • Mk 6:7–13      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/071121.cfm

Do we own our place as members of God’s priestly people? Do each of us realize that God wants to use us to make the world holy?

We’re not sure why God would choose us to prophesy, like how we’re not sure why He chose a shepherd and treekeeper to communicate for Him. But it’s clear that Amos was called. And we are too. It seems that God’s calls come to those who are most ready to listen, who have cultivated a receptivity to His word. Amos did that. And he responded faithfully to his call.

Now what does this have to do with us? If I had been sitting in these pews 10 years ago, I know, hearing this, I’d have thought, “Ok, Father, that’s good enough for Amos. But I don’t know I’m called to be a prophet. He was, that’s fine, but I don’t know if that’s me.”

And actually, there’s some good instinct there. To be a prophet like Amos, to really prophesy, a person’s got to be really in touch with God’s laws, His ways, His person, to be in relationship with Him. And we just have to look at the people who claim to be God’s prophets, but who preach messages of hate and condemnation, to see how scandalous it can be for someone who isn’t fit for this office of prophecy to grasp for it.

But at the same time, and I know at least some have heard this before, we are called to be a whole prophetic people. These readings invite us to look with the eyes of faith at baptism. There’s something prophetic in it. Because in baptism we are made powerful with the Holy Spirit.

Do you know each of us has the power to invoke the Holy Spirit? To call the Holy Ghost down into our lives, into our world. Oh! That we would all exercise the gifts we’ve been given. We’d be, each of us, holy as the saints, detached as the greatest Eastern guru, disciplined as any Marine. In all this, we’d be ready for any trial, but with this radiant disposition that would attract anyone of good heart we came into contact with. This all can seem, and it is, in a lot of ways, far distant. So let’s take a second and reflect on the means Jesus gives us to shorten that distance. Reflect on the authority Jesus gives his apostles.

What about this authority? It’s greater than any given to Amos or any other prophet. It was only Elijah and Elisha who performed wonders like the apostles did so regularly. And never so many of them, so close together. The prophets were in contact with God, but they didn’t have these powers. The apostles, collectively, go beyond the work of even the greatest Old Testament prophets. And they’re still with us. A couple years ago, I told the grade schoolers I taught, “If you want to see an apostle, you don’t have to go too far; that’s the bishop. He’s the successor to the apostles around here.” And believe it or not, he’s been given every bit of power the apostles were. Those sent to help him too . . . like me. Given authority, the power to perform miracles.

I’m not just saying this; let’s remember with the eyes of faith what the Church teaches about the Eucharist. There’s going to be a miracle in about 15 minutes on that altar. Because of the power Jesus left his apostles, and has left the Church, you can be sure that Jesus is going to use me to turn ordinary bread and wine into his Body and Blood. He’s entrusted me with that power. The power to miraculously forgive sins, just like He did. The power to heal too, in anointing. Why have all of these been given? To strengthen all of us in our sanctifying work. To make us fit, sisters, brothers, for our prophetic office. To help us, like Amos, cultivate a receptivity to God.To help unlock the powers he’s given all of us.

Sisters, Brothers, let’s make use of the power Jesus gave his apostles, that he gave the Church. And let’s make use of the power he gives each of us in baptism. Let’s own our place as God’s priestly people. Let’s let God use us to make the world holy.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 18, 2021

Readings: Jer 23:1–6 • Ps 23:1–3, 3–4, 5, 6 • Eph 2:13–18 • Mk 6:30–34       bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/071821.cfm

We call Jesus the Good Shepherd. Are we ready to give whatever we can to help him shepherd his people?

The first reading from Jeremiah shows us what happens when the shepherds of Israel fall short in their responsibility, and what happens when not enough people step up to help them. Bad leadership has consequences for the people being led. Under bad leaders, everyone gives less than they can. And a lot of people are left behind.

If we know what to look for when reading this time in Israelite history, we can see the shortcomings of Israel’s shepherds; where right worship is not prioritized and the needs of the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, and poor are set aside. Those shepherds — and a pretty good percentage of the people — are good at caring for themselves, and keeping up appearances. But they leave a lot of people without care. And if we look at all that goes on, I think we experience a great sadness. Sadness at the leaders’ inadequacy; sadness that not enough Israelites make up for the leaders’ failure. Sadness at the consequences for the whole Israelite people, who all lose their country, and go into exile because of their collective failure to serve people like these.

All the years later, during Jesus’ time, the problem of leadership still hasn’t been solved. It makes sense why Jesus is moved with pity for the people. Israel’s shepherds are still letting Israel down, and no one’s filling in the gap. That’s why Jesus finds these people in the gospel like sheep without a shepherd. That’s why they approach Jesus and implore Him to help them. And Jesus looks at them, pities them, resolves to shepherd them. It’s not too long after this pitying look we hear about that Jesus works his famous miracle with the bread and the fish, to feed this crowd.

And we see a marvelous thing: that Jesus — apparently an ordinary man — knows how to give what he can, and has it in his power to give everything they need. He’s the only one like that. That’s why he’s the only one up to the task to personally gather the people to Himself, to be the one Jeremiah promises; who can lead and shepherd this people totally worthily. Who can be the True Good Shepherd.

Jesus it was who came to give a shepherding presence to his people, and he does it today. We have to understand how Jesus functions as a shepherd in our world; how he’s different from any other would-be shepherd. And doing this, we have to understand that Jesus is the only shepherd. The apostles were not shepherds in the same sense; their successors, the bishops, are not shepherds in the same sense. Like the people Jesus looks at with pity, the human members of the Church need Jesus as a shepherd. The apostles needed Jesus as their shepherd. The bishops need Jesus as their shepherd.

We’re all in the same flock. We’re all sheep in need of Christ, the Good Shepherd. But what an amazing thing that Jesus — the one at whom people in need have looked lovingly and longingly up and down the ages —came looking like an ordinary man, remember; that he shepherded looking like an ordinary man. And while He entrusted his shepherding task to the apostles and their successors, He also asks the most ordinary of people to share in that shepherding task in this or that or the other way: to be like Him, and give what all we can as members of His Body to help people who need it. How amazing that he brings all of us into his life; that we’re transformed into hands of the Good Shepherd.

So today, let’s ask Jesus for help in doing our part. Let’s say, “I’m ready to help. I’m little, I’m small and it doesn’t seem there’s much I can do. But help me to see with your eyes how to give whatever I can, and through your power, help it to be enough. Help me to play my little role in shepherding your people.”

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 25, 2021

Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42–44 • Ps 145:10–11, 15–16, 17–18 • Eph 4:1–6 • Jn 6:1–15         bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/072521.cfm

How do we respond when we’re opposed? Whose example do we follow?

The great heroes of our tradition are not just opposed; they’re almost always wanted dead by many people of their time. The prophet Elisha, from our first reading, is no different. How does Elisha respond to opposition? Before the story in our first reading, we hear a story of him defending himself. In that story, someone poisons his soup. He miraculously detects it, it’s one of his wonders; he defends himself by diffusing the poison. That’s one way he responds. He also respects the people and is very patient with them.

But this patience only goes so far. And I think some of the reason we don’t hear so many stories of Elisha’s life being in danger has to do with a story from early in his ministry. There’s a story, maybe you’ve heard, where Elisha, right after he receives his double portion of Elijah’s spirit, is mocked by a group of young men. A bear comes out of the forest to attack them, and Elisha doesn’t use his power to save them. He has the power to do it, but he doesn’t save them.

Now, let’s not miss how the people of Jesus’ time would have read that story: that’s a key for us to know how to read it. They would have all seen what happens to these men as appropriate; that’s the whole point of the story. They would have said, “Look, these people came out and mocked God’s anointed, and there’s a spiritual physics that comes with that. You get what you pay for.” Even Jesus’ own apostles, in another place, are very sympathetic to that reading; they would have gone further. Maybe you know this story; they’re rejected in a town, and they all ask Jesus if he’ll call down fire from heaven to consume those who mock and reject him. They get this idea because it’s what another prophet did in the Book of Kings. But we don’t hear stories of Jesus calling down fire. And I think there’s something interesting for us about why that is.

I think that from a young age, Jesus would have heard from Mary and Joseph the stories of the prophets. Look with these eyes at the stories from our first reading and our gospel, because now maybe we can see the tie between Jesus’ and Elisha’s miracles. Mary might have bounced Jesus on her knee and told Him this exact story. She would have told the story because she loved the prophets, and wanted to help her little boy cultivate the same love.

And now look at what Jesus does in our Gospel: They bring to him less bread than Elisha was given, He’s asked to feed more people . . . and he does it. And there’s more left over. He brings this marvelous story to life, and he makes it even more marvelous. But I think the way Mary told the story of the barley loaves would have been different than how she presented the story of how Elisha treated those who mocked him. I think she especially, like us, would have had a sensibility that there’s a much more appropriate way for God’s anointed to respond to mockery than how Elisha did.

Because Jesus is mocked. God’s anointed is mocked time and time again. And we see Jesus’ response: turning the other cheek, not defending himself. So many of Jesus’ miracles are taken straight from the great prophets: he raises a boy from the dead, like Elisha; he does this miracle of the barley loaves. But for his enemies on earth, there’s not heavenly fire. Or wild beasts. Not even a miraculous escape.

Only a call to conversion, and a refusal to defend himself. Even if it means his own death.

So even though it’s a tall order for us, as we strive to discern how to respond in this world where Christians are often mocked and marginalized for the things we believe, let’s look at these stories, at these two great figures and remember that it’s Jesus we’re called to imitate. It’s Jesus who calls us to share in his life, and who promises to give us all we need to do it. Let’s ask, “Jesus, help me imitate you.” And he’ll give us what we need.

Br. James Pierce Cavanaugh About Br. James Pierce Cavanaugh

Fr. James Pierce Cavanaugh, O.P. is a Dominican priest in the Province of St. Albert the Great, which serves the Midwestern United States. He holds Master’s degrees in Theology and Divinity, as well as Certificates in Thomistic and Biblical Studies from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. He currently serves as Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Madison, Wisconsin.


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