Homilies for February 2022

For February 6, February 13, February 20, and February 27

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 6, 2022

Readings: Is 6:1–2a, 3–8 Ps 138:1–2, 2–3, 4–5, 7–8 1 Cor 15:1–11 or 1 Cor 15:3–8, 11 • Lk 5:1–11    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/020622.cfm

Have you ever felt set up for failure? You know what I’m talking about: You are sent by your boss into a staff meeting with news that everyone is going to have to work over the weekend. Or you are told by customers that they need twelve dozen chocolate-chip cookies for a dinner they’re hosting in two hours, and you have neither the facilities nor the personnel to fill the order. Or you know that finances don’t allow for your kids to go camp this summer, they have their hearts set upon it, and now it’s time to break the news. Can you notice your heart starting to beat faster? You’re going into a battle, and you’re not coming out unscathed.

If you’ve composed that scene in your mind, you’re where Isaiah once found himself. Like us, he goes to worship. But unlike us, he experiences a grand vision: six-winged seraphim, a burning ember, and a voice asking, “Whom shall I send?” We heard in the first reading that Isaiah responded readily, “Here I am . . . send me!” But left unstated is that Isaiah would experience much failure than success in life. His homeland was invaded. Kings would ignore him, as would priests and others encountered. And this was a cruel time: when war broke out, famine and poverty were sure to come. Poor Isaiah suffered it all. He wrote the Lord a blank check; he said yes without counting the cost, and he would learn that his obedience was quite costly.

Did the Lord set him up to fail? It might have seemed like it. Isaiah endured multiple attacks and invasions. He knew hunger and thirst, and he felt rejection as kings ignored him. He understood that God was with him, but that must have felt like slight consolation. Yet we know in truth that Isaiah did not fail. Even before the time of Jesus, the Book of Sirach praised him as an instrument of salvation. Of course, the Evangelists go out of their way to tell us that his words are fulfilled in Jesus. Contrary to first impressions, Isaiah was a success, although he didn’t live to see it.

What about St. Peter, eight centuries later, in today’s Gospel? Did he feel like a success when he was working all night, trying to catch fish without success? Amid this frustration the Lord speaks to him: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets.” What do you suppose happened in Peter’s inner monologue? Were it you, what might you have uttered? Would you give him a scornful retort: “You’re not a fisherman; what do you know about fish?” Or perhaps — with grit teeth thinly veiling irritation — “I didn’t sleep a wink last night, I’m exhausted and hungry with nothing to eat; why are you pestering me?” We couldn’t have blamed Peter had he responded less than gracefully. But he didn’t. Instead his response does hint at frustration — “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing” — but tempers it with openness: “but at your command I will lower the nets.” Peter could have rejected the Lord, but he didn’t. Yes, he felt agitated but obeyed the Lord anyway, and success came in the form of a catch that exceeded the nets’ ability to secure it.

Notice what happened next. Peter didn’t respond to the Lord as though he had just won the lottery. Instead, like Isaiah, Peter acknowledges his unworthiness: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Seized by fear, Peter wants to escape back to what was familiar. But the Lord helps him: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And, consoled by the Lord’s invitation, Peter, James, and John “left everything and followed him.” But the story doesn’t end there; this is only chapter five of a Gospel with twenty-four chapters. The story is only beginning. Later in Luke, Jesus will tell his disciples twice that he is going to Jerusalem where he will be killed. The Lord and his disciples already know how the story is going to end — violently. Could anyone be more set up to fail: going on a trip aware of certain death? Yet they go to Jerusalem anyway! The Lord leads his disciples to witness the death he freely accepted. The disciples don’t understand, but the Lord knows what he is doing. Once again, there is a plan, but one that unfolds gradually.

Do we have anything in common with Isaiah and Peter? Do we feel set up to fail? It’s not always easy to live the Christian life, but the call remains the same. Every Mass graces us with an experience like Isaiah’s and Peter’s: we behold the Lord and welcome him into our bodies. Like Isaiah, we are cleansed by a touch on our lips. Like Peter, we proclaim our unworthiness: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” Shall we join these forefathers in faith? God will never set us up to fail; he is calling us to communion with him, and the Holy Communion we receive is but a foretaste.

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 13, 2022

Readings: Jer 17:5–8Ps 1:1–2, 3, 4 and 61 Cor 15:12, 16–20Lk 6:17, 20–26    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021322.cfm

Blessings are woven into the fabric of our Catholic heritage: “Father, will you give me a blessing”; “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”; “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts.” We invoke God’s blessings on all sorts of things in our lives: everything from food to fishing gear, from automobiles to religious articles. As Catholics, why do we do that? We do it as a way of inviting God into all the different places we go in our lives. Far from confining God to one hour on the weekend, we want to be aware that God is present in our lives when we go to work, when we are cooking dinner or cleaning dishes, when we are at rest or at play, and when we are alone or with friends and family. And rightfully so. We profess in the Creed faith in God, creator of “all things visible and invisible.” Surely God cannot be restricted from the world he made, but — although we are mere creatures — he chooses to give us real choice as to whether to invite him into our lives. Blessings are our response to that.

Our readings today speak five times about blessing, and that doesn’t count the refrain in the Responsorial Psalm. The Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” That sounds nice enough. But things take a surprising turn when we hear our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor.” “Blessed are you who are now hungry.” “Blessed are you who are now weeping.” “Blessed are you who when people hate you.” These blessings sound familiar but a bit different. When we were younger, many of us learned that there are eight Beatitudes; those come from the Sermon on the Mount as reported in Matthew’s Gospel. Today, instead, we are hearing the four Beatitudes that come from the Sermon on the Plain, which is what we are reading in Luke’s Gospel, so we are indeed listening to a different perspective. But the difference is not just the number of them. Did you notice two other differences?

First, Jesus used a key word: you. “Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping,” and “when people hate you.” Unlike the more familiar eight Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, these Beatitudes are addressed directly to Jesus’ audience. Here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to directly to his disciples in the presence of a large crowd. He lets them know exactly what discipleship requires. How do you think they felt as they heard these words from the Lord? I’m sure they were pleased to hear the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor — after all, none of the Twelve were wealthy — and the promise of future satisfaction, laughter, and a great reward. But certainly, they had to wonder what was going to happen before those future blessings.

That brings us to the second major difference from Matthew’s Beatitudes. These four blessings in Luke all have a corresponding woe: “Woe to you who are rich . . . who are filled now . . . who laugh now . . . when all speak well of you.” For the disciples who first heard the Word of the Lord, these four woes had to make them even more curious. Of course, we know how the story ends; the Twelve — except for Judas Iscariot — became great saints after a long struggle; they inherited the future blessings after experiencing plenty of poverty, hunger, sorrow, and hatred. Even if Jesus’ words perplexed this first audience, the disciples no doubt recognized that following their Lord required serious commitment.

What about us today? These blessings and woes apply to us no less than they did two thousand years ago. Do we find them scary or disturbing? Or do we find in them a challenge and consolation? Our forebears in faith, the saints, have seen in them the latter. They have heard in these words a call to follow the Lord’s humble example and enter into solidarity with the poor, hungry, sorrowful, and persecuted. The common Christian vocation of all the baptized demands no less. We can take solace amid suffering by looking to the first saint to believe in Jesus’ words here: Mary, our mother. Even before her Son was born, she proclaimed similar sentiments in her Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” As we bring our present hunger to the Lord’s table, let us welcome him anew into our lives, secure in our trust that the Lord will satisfy our every need as we commit ourselves to following his example of humble self-emptying.

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 20, 2022

Readings: 1 Sm 26:2, 7–9, 12–13, 22–23Ps 103:1–2, 3–4, 8, 10, 12–131 Cor 15:45–49Lk 6:27–38  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/022022.cfm

He must have been terrified. Imagine what David was experiencing: He had already been anointed heir-apparent to become king after Saul died. David had become popular with the ladies of Israel. I kid you not; the First Book of Samuel reports that they would fawn, “Saul has slain his thousands, David his tens of thousands” (1 Sm 18:7). Unsurprisingly, King Saul takes offense and wanted David dead. Forced to flee as King Saul pursues him with three thousand of his best soldiers, David gets the opportunity you heard about in our first reading: King Saul is happily asleep with his spear resting in the ground next to his head. All David has to do is grab that spear and thrust it through the sleeping Saul, Jael-style (see Jgs 4:21). And indeed, Abishai is egging him on. But David refuses. Instead, he takes the spear and the king’s water jug, removing Saul’s weapon and thus the threat, but does not kill the murderous king.

What do you think? Is David faithful or foolish? This isn’t even the first time that Saul has sought David’s life; he’s been intent on killing David for the last eight chapters of First Samuel before the reading we just heard. Does David have a hard time accepting the reality that the king wants him dead and that he needs to stand up for himself? I doubt it. After all, David is fleeing from him and dwelling in the wilderness during most of this second half of First Samuel; he is acutely aware of his choices’ consequences. Yet his refrain is the same: “the Lord forbid that I lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” David trusts that the Lord has a plan even as he finds himself living as a de facto political exile. Moreover, he understands that Saul has an opportunity to come to his senses and to quit letting his jealousy and other personal problems incite him to royal rage. It is David’s fidelity to doing the right thing even when inconvenient that keeps him from becoming an assassin. (At least for now, we don’t have time to discuss the Uriah-and-Bathsheba episode . . .)

David’s choice here paves the path for his distant descendent a millennium later; Jesus too will choose obedience to the Father’s will during his agony in the Garden: “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). He would freely accept a cruel death rather than use divine power to defuse the mortal threat. When mockers jeer at him, “Save yourself by coming down from the cross” (Mk 15:30), the Son of David does not take the bait. He refuses to let physical or political power determine the day; instead, it is his own humble and generous obedience to the Father’s will. And what is the Father’s will? We find out in today’s Gospel: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Notably, Matthew reports a similar saying in his Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). The words are different, but I would suggest that Luke’s version is more specific than Matthew’s: it is the Father’s mercy that is his greatest perfection.

As we all know, Pope Francis seems to agree. He made this passage central to the Jubilee Year of Mercy back in 2015 and, from the beginning of his pontificate, has repeated this message — mercy, mercy, mercy — especially to those who find themselves distant from the heart of the Church. As the mystical Body of Christ, the Church must allow the Father’s merciful perfection to shine forth, and we all do so by heeding the Lord’s call in today’s Gospel: “Love your enemies.” If we examine our consciences, we can probably find that we have someone who, as the saying goes, lives rent-free in our minds. That’s an enemy. If it’s not an individual, perhaps it’s a group: a quick peek at cable news will reveal the intense hatred and cynicism that currently infects worldwide politics. The Gospel poses us a serious question: Do I have to courage to show my enemies mercy? Can I truly love them, to see them as beloved children of the Father, redeemed by Son? Can I extend to them the same restrained strength that David showed to King Saul when he stayed his hand on that spear? As we come forth to receive the Prince of Peace into our bodies in Holy Communion, we beg him to let his peace reign in our hearts.

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 27, 2022

Readings: Sir 27:4–7 Ps 92:2–3, 13–14, 15–16• 1 Cor 15:54–58Lk 6:39–45  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/022722.cfm

We have arrived at the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Lent begins this week, and so do our Lenten traditions: self-denial, Stations of the Cross, the Friday fish fry, rice bowls, and hopefully some time in silence to listen more attentively to the Lord’s quiet voice calling us to rest in his love. We do it every year, and it’s such an ingrained part of our Catholic culture: “What are you giving up for Lent?” In the jungle of Catholic social media, suggestions abound.

Why the fuss? And isn’t it a bit of overkill? After all, we’ve all suffered through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, political turmoil, natural disasters, not to mention all kinds of personal traumas: financial distress, job insecurity, family problems, and the list goes on. Do we really need to do still more penance? A clarification may help us: penance is not self-imposed punishment. It’s not like how college basketball programs self-impose postseason bans in their (often vain) hope that the governing body might decide not to punish them further. Lent is not like the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Rather, the English word penance comes from the Latin verb “to convert” (see Mk 1:15); it’s all about conversion, about making space for God in our noisy, busy lives.

St. Paul’s words in our second reading today tell us why penance matters. About a quarter-century after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Apostle to the Gentiles instructed the Corinthian Christians: “Be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” He issues three commands — “be firm,” “[be] steadfast,” and “[be] always fully devoted.” St. Paul knew what he was talking about. As he traveled the Mediterranean world bringing the Gospel to new lands and starting new churches, he suffered all kinds of indignities. He even listed them for the Corinthians: imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, beatings, exposure to the cold, just to name a few (2 Cor 6:3–10; 11:25–27). Paul suffered all these things willingly, because he recognized that there was something better than what this world had to offer. Upon his next visit to Corinth, St. Paul would write another letter, this one to the Romans, in which he would declare that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18). Strong, hope-filled words these are. Do we share St. Paul’s glory-focused perspective?

Paul’s three instructions to the Corinthians are no less relevant to us today than they were when the Apostle first wrote them in his letter. They give us a nifty itinerary for our Lenten journey: be firm, be steadfast, and be devoted. In our present world of excess — excess food, drink, entertainment, news, text messages, memes, basketball highlight videos, and everything else that consumes our time and dulls our senses—we need to take a step back, to hit the mute button on it all, in order to hear God’s voice so that we can respond firmly, steadfastly, and devotedly. We hear our Lord in the Gospel today speak about good trees having to bear good fruit, but if we are to bear good fruit, we have to first receive proper spiritual nutrition by hearing God’s word. And Lent is the time do it.

Over these next few days before Ash Wednesday, the Lord invites us to prepare for this annual forty-day spiritual journey. Imagine you’re going on a sightseeing tour in a city you’ve never visited before. You’re going on foot, so anything you want to bring with you, you must carry all day. You have to decide what you really need and what to leave behind. Lent is a journey. What needs to come with us, and what needs to stay behind? During these final days before Ash Wednesday, let us accept the Lord’s invitation to leave all the excess behind and journey forward with faith, knowing that the Lord — who comes to us in this Eucharist as our Bread for the journey — has something greater to offer us, eternal life. The Apostle says it so beautifully in today’s second reading: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” It was the Lord’s own death that swallowed death up in the victory of his empty tomb. Let us hasten to meet him there.

Rev. Llane Briese About Rev. Llane Briese

Born in Oklahoma City but raised in suburban north Georgia and upstate South Carolina, Rev. Llane Briese is a cradle Catholic from the Bible Belt. His first serious encounter with the Bible was when he was 10 years old, and it has become his life’s work ever since, especially after he first learned about the Church’s nuanced and rich approach to the Bible when he attended St. Pius X Catholic High School, graduating in 2003. After a year of engineering studies at Clemson University, he discerned the Lord’s call to priesthood and so entered seminary for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, earning a BA in philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio) in 2006 and three pontifical degrees, culminating in a doctorate in biblical theology, from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. He was ordained a priest in 2010 and has served on the faculty of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach since 2017.


  1. Avatar G. Poulin says:

    Matthew’s Beatitudes are also addressed to the disciples of Jesus, and are also a set of promises made to them for persevering through difficulties. They are not, as many today believe, a blueprint for making the world a better place. Rather, they are intended as an encouragement to Christians.