Homilies for August 2021

For August 1, August 8, August 15 (the Solemnity of the Assumption), August 22, and August 29

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 1, 2021

Readings: Ex 16:2–4, 12–15 • Ps 78:3–4, 23–24, 25, 54 • Eph 4:17, 20–24 • Jn 6:24–35  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/080121.cfm

When we encounter Moses in the first reading for this Sunday, taken from the Book of Exodus, the people of Israel are already long into this trek in the desert. They are tired from all of the heat, from the cold, from the lack of food; perhaps they are tired even of each other.

They are certainly tired of their leader, their liberator, Moses. Were they thinking: “Is this what we really signed up for when he said that he was going to lead us out of that place of oppression, the land of the Pharaohs?” No one could have expected this trip to take so long. Some even long for the days of the “fleshpots of Egypt.” Perhaps even captivity seems better than where they are now, lost, disheartened, disillusioned with the great lawgiver. Back in Egypt, at least they had their share of bread. Why should they trust this man, Moses?

Is their trust in God, Yahweh, “I am who am,” the One who revealed himself to Moses, waning? Is their devotion fading to the one who has carried them so many times, the one who has always been faithful to the Covenant, even when time and again, the people of Israel have become unfaithful? Perhaps they might be thinking: “If this is how God treats His Chosen People, I would hate to see how he treats his foes!”

So, into this dramatic scene of upset and anger, God sends a sign, that of manna from the skies. As we read, the Israelites did not even know what it was when they first saw it; it is Moses, their leader and guide, who has to explain it to them.

In the Gospel we proclaim today taken from the sixth chapter of John, the famous Bread of Life Discourse, we encounter a similar sight. Hungry and tired, worn from the journey, the gathered crowd are fed not by manna, but by the Bread of Life Himself, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The gathered crowd needed the Lord Jesus to explain the sign to them.

We come tired, wearied, and worn, longing to be fed with the new and perfect Manna, the Lord Jesus whom we received sacramentally at Holy Mass. But just as the Israelites didn’t know what the manna was before them until Moses explained it to them, just as the crowd gathered around the Lord Jesus needed him to explain to them the Bread of Life, we need someone to explain what, or rather, who it is whom we receive, who it is whom we encounter at the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

How often do we who are preachers of the Word explain to the People of God entrusted to us who the Eucharist is and what the Eucharistic action at Mass is all about? In 2019, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey containing the following startling statistics: “In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion ‘are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.’ Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that ‘during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.’ ”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 3, No. 1322–1419). We, as Catholics, believe that during the Mass — with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration, at the hands of a validly ordained priest — the bread and wine are truly and substantially (meaning at their core, at their truest, deepest meanings) changed into the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is not a mere symbol. Jesus Christ himself is truly, substantially present in the Eucharistic species; his body and his blood, his soul and divinity are given to us so that we might share in the new and eternal life given to us. This concept is affirmed not only in the Catechism of the Catholic Church but also in the Council of Trent. We call this the doctrine of transubstantiation.

We have something so much greater than Moses’ manna. We have the Lord Himself, sacramentally present in the Eucharist. We need to understand the Eucharist and we need to be able to explain it to our people. This is our greatest gift.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 8, 2021

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4–8 • Ps 34:2–3, 4–5, 6–7, 8–9 • Eph 4:30—5:2 • Jn 6:41–51  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/080821.cfm

In First Book of Kings, we read of the Prophet Elijah. Who is Elijah? Elijah is a man of mystery. He is known as a “Tishbite,” basically an immigrant living in a foreign land as a resident. His name means simply “YHWH is my God.” And this man of mystery is on the run.

Why would this prophet of God be on the run? Well, he has just challenged the seventh king of Israel, Ahab, the son of King Omri. By the time Ahab is reigning, Israel has been split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north. King Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre, and had begun to reject the worship of the one, true God of the Israelites for the wicked god Baal. The Prophet Elijah warned the king that the nation will suffer drought due to his worship of a false god.

At Mount Carmel, 450 of the prophets of Baal and 400 of the prophets of Asherah, an Akkadian goddess, square off against Elijah and, by the power of God, he thoroughly humiliates them, has the priests slain, and then orders rain down from the sky, thus ending the drought.

Jezebel orders Elijah’s death and he flees to the land of Beersheeba in Judah. The prophet, exhausted and disheartened, wanders in the desert until he comes across a small broom tree. Desperate for some shelter from the sun, Elijah goes and falls asleep under it, wishing to die.

It is at this low point, this moment in which everything seems wrong, a time when all seems lost and hopeless that God sends his angel to Elijah, carrying a jug of water and some food for the journey. Strengthened by this nourishment from the angel, the prophet is able to make his way on the journey to Horeb, which was the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

It is not coincidental that the Church parallels this reading with the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the Bread of Life discourse. The Eucharist, the true bread come down from Heaven, is given to us when we need the nourishment, the strength to carry on in this Christian journey. When we eat the Lord’s Body and when we drink the Lord’s Blood given to us in the Eucharist, we, as the psalm tells us, “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

In his 2008 text, Eucharist, Bishop Robert Barron writes:

In the spring of 2007, I was privileged to be a scholar in residence at the North American College in Rome. During that period, I had the opportunity, on three occasions, to distribute communion at Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Standing on one side of a partition, I watched as scores of people came forward to receive the Eucharist. In the typically Italian style, things were a tad disorganized, and the faithful were compelled, in the press of the crowd, to stretch out their hands toward me. I saw all sorts of hands — old and young, dirty and clean, lined and unlined — reaching out for the bread of life. When I would move along the partition, some would cry out to me plaintively, “Padre, Padre, per favore (Father, Father, please).” Never before in my priesthood, though I had distributed communion to thousands, had I had the sense of carrying food to those who were desperate for it. Those faithful in St. Peter’s Square embodied a truth that is deep in our Catholic tradition, though too infrequently stated: the Eucharist is not a luxury, but a necessity, for without it, we would, in the spiritual sense, starve to death. (9)

We are tired, we are weary, we are worn. We frantically look for the broom trees in our lives, seeking immediate shelter from the burning heat of daily life; but, in fact, all we need to do is come with arms outstretched to be fed by the Lord with the Bread of Life, which he himself is. At our low points, remember the Prophet Elijah and allow ourselves to be fed with something even greater than the nourishment brought by the angel, the actual Bread of Angels, who is Christ Himself.

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15, 2021

Readings: Rv 11:19a; 12:1–6a, 10ab • Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16 • 1 Cor 15:20–27 • Lk 1:39–56  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/081521-Day.cfm

When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were debating where they might place the section on Mariology, it was ultimately discerned that it would be best to promulgate it as part of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Lumen gentium) on December 21, 1964. In this document’s eighth chapter, #52–69, the Blessed Mother is discussed. Some of the Council Fathers thought it best to keep Lumen gentium ecumenical and thought it would be better to have a separate Council document on the Blessed Virgin Mary, but, ultimately, the Holy Father, Pope Saint Paul VI and the bishops decided to place this Mariological section firmly at the end of the section on the Church. At his speech lauding Lumen gentium, Pope Saint Paul VI declared it to be a document which is “a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.” Truly, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the very model of the Christian believer.

Our Mother Mary is our guide in everything. As she is in life, so were we meant to be, before the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve. She is immaculately conceived and born to be the first and perfect disciple, unstained by Original Sin. We who are conceived and born under the burden of original sin, yet who nonetheless want to be disciples of the Lord, look to her as our guide in this life, learning from her example virtues, especially that of faith.

Our Mother Mary is our guide in everything. As she is in the life to come, so are we meant to be. In this solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, we commemorate that day when Mary is taken up, assumed, body and soul, into Heaven to be with the Lord. This assumption is the logical consequence of the fact that Mary is the Immaculate Conception. As no stain of sin or decay could ever touch her body in this life, certainly it could not do so in the next life, the true life of Heaven.

When we die, unlike Mary, our bodies decay, wither and return to the elements, but our souls face the particular judgement. But in the final judgment, at the end of time, for the just, body and soul will be united. Listen to the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1059 “The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ’s tribunal to render an account of their own deeds” (Council of Lyons II [1274]:DS 859; cf. DS 1549).

1060 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Then the just will reign with Christ forever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), in eternal life.

The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a day of hope, a day of promise. By following the example of the Blessed Lady in this life, we who are not immaculately conceived can hope to have the reality foreshadowed in Mary’s Assumption. She, the first and perfect disciple, leads the way for us. Strengthened by the Eucharist, that Heavenly Bread, we laud and magnify the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 22, 2021

Readings: Jos 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b • Ps 34:2–3, 16-17, 18–19, 20–21 • Eph 5:21–32 or 5:2a, 25–32 • Jn 6:60–69   bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082221.cfm

I know many homilists who refuse to ever preach on today’s epistle, a small yet vital section taken from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. I know many celebrants today who will use the shorter version of this epistle in the lectionary (and please recall that it is entirely legitimate to do so) because they wish to avoid any controversy. I honestly wish that they would not worry so very much, but instead attempt to explain this famous passage in full.

Yes, the pericope from the epistle today contains the famous line: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” But how does it begin? “Brothers and Sisters, (B)e subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It clearly places responsibility on both the husband and the wife to see Christ, to be Christ, for each other, each in the manner appropriate for his or her life. In our contemporary world, we should relish in the words of the Apostle who clearly, boldly, and unequivocally states to us that Christian marriage is no mere natural union, but is in fact a supernatural union in Christ Jesus.

And, reading this complete selection from Ephesians, we might wish to focus on the second to last line of the Epistle, which states: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” The entire reason why Saint Paul employs the husband/wife imagery is to make a greater point — namely, that Christ is the head of the body, the Church, which Paul tells us in Colossians 1:18.

Christ is the head and we are his members. He is clearly distinct from the Church, and yet, due to his Incarnation, due to his saving power, he deigns to be identified with the Church totally. He is the Bridegroom and the Church, our Mother, is the Bride. In the supernatural union between the Bridegroom and the Church, they become one flesh. In the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body lives on, bringing He who is the Light of the World, the Lumen Gentium, to us all. As the nineteenth-century German Roman Catholic theologian J.S. Mohler stated “. . . the Church is nothing else but the embodied love.”

The Bridegroom gives life and fruitfulness to his Bride, the Church, in this sacred marriage, the Church become Mother, the one who on this plane of existence is the bearer of salvation. The Church is our Mother; she gives us life, which is born in her from her Bridegroom, Jesus. Although clearly distinct, they are no longer two, but one. When one encounters the Bride, one should encounter the Bridegroom. This is true in a sacramental marriage; it is even more so in the union of Christ and his Bride, his Body, the Church. Our Mother, the Church, is glorious and awesome, as both militant and triumphant, as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 29, 2021

Readings: Dt 4:1–2, 6–8 • Ps 15:2–3, 3–4, 4–5 • Jas 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27 • Mk 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082921.cfm

Sometimes, I truly feel for the Pharisees. When most people read the Gospels, they automatically vilify these men. Over the years, I have grown to not see them as the embodiment of all forces in opposition to the Lord Jesus, but as religiously observant men who miss the bigger picture. With their focus on the details of the practice of their faith, they fail to see that the fulfillment of their faith is standing right in their midst.

Who were the Pharisees? Simply put, they were those who “set apart,” “separated” from the impure, the Gentiles, and the non-observant members of Judaism. Beginning around the second century BC, these “separated” brethren, the “pious,” lived their lives in strict accord with the life-giving, liberating laws which Moses promulgates in today’s first reading, taken from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Read again the words of Moses:

“In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”

“(Y)ou shall not add to what I command you, nor subtract from it.” Yet, when we try to understand the New Testament world in which Our Blessed Lord walked, we need to recall that even the Pharisees were thought to be too weak in their interpretations. They were considered by some to not be conservative enough. Groups like the Essenes believed that the Pharisees were the “seekers of smooth things” or “givers of smooth interpretations.” Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees interpreted the Law orally, eventually collecting their interpretations in the Mishnah (c. 200 AD).

The truth of the matter is the Pharisees were striving really hard to keep their religion pure and unblemished amid the growing secularization caused by Hellenism and the secular world. Yes, they are “blind guides,” and not to sound like an apologist for the Pharisees, were they really that different than many of us today who are striving to keep our faith, our families, our Church’s teachings and worship correct in a world that is mightily battling to assimilate our faith, to secularize our teachings, and to water-down our worship?

Can you imagine what encountering Our Blessed Lord Jesus must have been like for the Pharisees? Here is a man, the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, who is claiming by his words and his deeds to be inbreaking the Kingdom of God. This man heals the sick, feeds the multitude, and raises the dead. Some of his followers are claiming that this “rabbi” who eats with sinners, with prostitutes, with tax collectors, is the long-awaited Messiah, God Himself come in the flesh. This man surrounds himself with disciples who, for the most part, are from the lower echelons of society, fisherman and the like. The words that this Jesus speaks are like none they had every heard. And it probably scared them to death.

So fight him they do, looking for ways to ensnare him in his words, trying to prove that they have the correct answers and that this one from Nazareth is going to ultimately lead his growing disciples astray.

Would I be a Pharisee, a group which consisted of both clerics and laymen, if I were a Jew of the Lord Jesus’ day? In my own personal spiritual life, in my search for holiness, in my following of the rules which the Holy Church does teach, do I put more emphasis on the performance and the following of the tenets of my faith (which are important and are meant to be followed) and lose sight of the Lord Jesus who is standing in my midst, demanding my full and undivided attention?

This week, perhaps we might want to recognize the Pharisee who might live in you and me and catch ourselves, knowing that we need to be wise and follow the law of our faith, but at the same time not lose sight of the All-Beautiful One, Christ our Lord, who beckons us forward to follow him in spirit and in truth.

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).