Homilies for July 2022

For July 3, July 10, July 17, July 24, and July 31

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 3, 2022

Readings: Is 66:10–14cPs 66:1–3, 4–5, 6–7, 16, 20Gal 6:14–18Lk 10:1–12, 17–20  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/070322.cfm

Sacred Scripture uses expansive language to speak of the fruitfulness of God’s generosity — words that illustrate flourishing and abundance. Jesus speaks of the divine action within us, as Saint Luke records, in these expansive terms: growing, expanding, bursting; “the harvest is abundant,” Jesus says. This echoes what you just heard read from the prophet Isaiah: “Your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”

Grace moves within us for growth and for greater intimacy with God Himself. The irony is apparent: this interior, soulful journey not only draws us inward into our very depths, but it also pushes us outward.

The growth of grace within us often comes with difficulty from our vantage point — the struggle to surrender to the intimate workings of grace, the struggle to receive the very love of God, which is freely given. Again, the irony is apparent: we often have to learn to trust God to surrender to what He freely gives to us by grace. Often, this interior struggle leads us to an inward turn, to self-reflection.

However, the soul that longs for flourishing and fulfillment can feel as a lamb among wolves. Difficulty sometimes makes us hard-nosed, stubborn even in some cases, or in a protective posture for those who know a world of hurt in their heart. The art of surrender is in fact a movement outward — from being trapped within the confines of our very selves. The art of surrender is one whereby we learn to trust. This movement outward is the call of the Lord. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” To labor is not only to serve the good of another, but also to know Him.

So, what does it take to surrender to grace, to be moved by God — that ecstatic means by which we are drawn from the trappings of our own very selves and come to know how to rest our longing hearts in the Lord’s peace? While the heart longs to be loved — to receive the love of another, generously—we long not only to receive that which is good, but also to give of our own selves generously. The taste of giving of oneself for the good of another is the taste of charity.

We human beings cannot love what we do not know. Knowing and loving go hand in hand. In fact, it requires a substantial imagination to think beyond our surroundings — stretching our minds beyond what we already know and what we are familiar with. Too few Christians have an imagination for heaven. Faith stretches the mind — not to fantasy, but to reality, to possibilities, and to see the world as God sees it.

The early Dominicans used similar expansive language regarding study, believe it or not. The exhortation was that the brothers should devour the living word of God — hungrily desiring to know God more deeply in their study, which enkindled the fire of a greater love in their hearts for the Savior.

You cannot love what you do not know. Study in faith brings greater knowledge of God, which is itself a grace. The virtue of faith teaches us how to see beyond. Those without faith believe in only what they can see — what is visible. The lack of faith risks spiritual death; the lack of faith risks being trapped in one’s own self. The virtue of faith allows you to see deeper and further. The virtue of faith allows you to come to know that you are loved by God, whom you can know. This kind of faith requires not only grace and prayer, but also study — not the drudgery of regurgitation, but the kind of wonderment for the ways of God, and the life of God that enlivens the mind and the heart to see as God sees and to know God in Himself.

Faith comes with a risk, however, which threatens our native stability and comfortability. Moreover, faith brings a sweet taste of salvation to our souls. This growing, expanding, and flourishing is required for a life animated by the love of God and the knowledge of God — of a soul who has fallen in love with God and who has discovered the virtue of faith.

The grace of faith enlivens the soul with the Holy Spirit, who is a living presence. The Holy Spirit enlivens the form of our Christian life — making it fuller, more expansive, and full of joy for this movement outward. But this takes strengthening our interior life with the virtue of faith and the labor of study. The virtue of faith brings us life, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives the breath of new life in faith.

The harvest is abundant. Ask for the grace of faith to be a laborer.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 10, 2022

Readings: Dt 30:10–14Ps 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37 or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11Col 1:15–20Lk 10:25–37        bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/071022.cfm

Many children love to play outside. Whether it’s the mountains, the beach, the lake, or the forest, there is something refreshing about the great outdoors, especially on a warm summer day. Nature, from your own backyard to the wilds of Yellowstone National Park to the rocks of the Grand Canyon, sparks wonderment and a sense of adventure in the human heart, especially in summertime when you’re looking to get out of the house. You don’t really appreciate the outdoors until you’ve been locked inside for way too long.

Nature teaches us all sorts of things. For a kid, nature is an adventure; you dig around in nature and experiment, from building a dam on the beach to building a fort in the woods. Nature has always been the best substitute for science class and for the curious adventurer or scientist in us all.

Science class also teaches us to be curious about nature. Kids, who may or may not like the outdoors, become curious not only about nature, like trees and forests and giraffes, but also about human nature. Teens and pre-teens, especially, become self-interested and self-conscious about their own bodily nature with things like clothes and hairstyles. For young and old, sports, too, can teach us to push our bodies physically with training, learning to harness the power of our own body. Some of us grow completely vain about our bodies; for others, the body is never perfect enough. Some people even seem prone to hate their bodies. And many of us struggle with our self-image.

The discovery of the natural world outdoors can sometimes also become a discovery of another nature — our own bodily nature. The innocent thrill of the adventurous outdoors can become the thrill of the body, sometimes innocent and virtuous, yet sometimes also secret and devious.

What’s the strange point of this homily — about nature, about forests and trees and the great outdoors, and the body?

Nature teaches us, whether it’s the natural world or our own bodily nature. That’s reflected in what we know of as the natural law, which “is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out,” as you heard in today’s first reading from Deuteronomy. The natural law is not only something objective, it is written into our own very human nature.

The struggle to understand what it means to have a human nature is, in part, the struggle of what it means to live in a body — your body, love it or hate it. We love in the body, we are thrilled in the body, and we sin in the body, and our body rages with desires and wishes of its own.

Why is this so relevant? Here’s the secret: so many of us think that reality is in our heads. The body is at best a tool, but we’re lost in our heads.

The challenge of growing up is learning how to live in the body and how to master the body — not succumbing to it with every passion and curiosity, nor by ignoring it by becoming numb, bored, and hopeless, but by mastering life in the body.

We would be wise to remind ourselves what Saint Thomas Aquinas has to teach: that all knowledge comes through the senses. Living just in our heads, so to speak, keeps us stuck. Recognizing our sins, however, and what we have done or failed to do in the body, provides the true reality check.

The truth and reality of nature reflects the wisdom of the Creator. As the pinnacle of creation, human nature takes its very shape and form from the Creator. As Saint Paul says, “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” We are made in the image and likeness of God.

All of this talk about nature speaks of the reality to which Jesus Christ testifies — of the good of nature, and of the natural law. Remember all the parables Jesus uses from nature. God came to us, not as an idea or as a ghost, but as God made man in the flesh. The reality of God is the reality of God in the flesh. Jesus Christ came to save us from the trap of sin and to set us free for our own happiness, in the body, in the flesh.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 17, 2022

Readings: Gn 18:1–10aPs 15:2–3, 3–4, 5Col 1:24–28Lk 10:38–42    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/071722.cfm

For Martha to hear from Jesus that Mary had chosen the better part reminds all of us how choice and sacrifice are connected in the Christian life. We all have to play our part, and while we long to discover our vocation — that is, what specific part we are called to play — every Christian vocation requires a deep understanding of sacrifice.

As Saint Paul shows, sacrifice is not just the effect of our choices and commitments; sacrifice is not merely choosing something less. Sacrifice is not merely the loss of something more.

True sacrifice is cast in a positive light only in the light of Christ. True sacrifice is about coming upon the opportunity to witness to a greater love. True sacrifice is coming to discover the joy of giving something away with the thrill of charity. True sacrifice aligns the virtue of religion, within the virtue of justice, with charity.

Those moments of true sacrifice become monumental for some saints who witness to what great lengths the Christian saints go to testify to their greater love. That is martyrdom. As Saint Paul says, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” True sacrifice asks something more from us. It stings. While charity is the complete giving of oneself for the good of another, sacrifice stings. It brings with it a little death. Martyrdom and sacrifice are characteristics of the Christian witness.

Birth and death, gain and loss, light and darkness are quickly enfolded into the Christian mystery in the lives of the saints. The God whom we adore, Jesus the Lord, hangs on the Cross to demonstrate to the Christian heart that an essential aspect of the Christian vocation, and of the battle for salvation and redemption, is the necessity of sacrifice.

The sign of sacrifice, of blood poured out for the salvation of the world, is not meant to glamorize horror or pain or loss; rather, it is a sign of a greater love, of God’s own love, to give of oneself for the good of another. Sacrifice is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian religion.

For the uninitiated, sacrifice signifies the horror of loss accompanied by sadness. It is true that to give up certain things is a kind of sacrifice. For the uninitiated, sacrifice is simply loss — what you’ve given up.

For the religious, rather, voluntary sacrifice is the gateway to the mystery of life in Christ. The religious person comes to see how sacrifice brings a sense of gain in the soul, not loss. It is true that the act of sacrifice can sting. The perfect sacrifice that Jesus Christ models for us is one of complete charity—the sacrifice of self for the good of another, for the greater good, for God.

Sacrifice is fundamental to the Christian religion, and it is a sign of our greater love for another—for God, above all. Christians are encouraged to remember the many sacrifices that we make—that we should make. These are the little deaths that we undergo. How often do we consider the mortifications of our life? The secret is: these little deaths unite us to Christ with love. To live a Christian life without sacrifice lulls us into growing comfortable. This growing comfortable is one of religion’s greatest enemies. Contentment is a vice that fails to choose a greater sacrifice.

Today’s gospel is a call to remember the beauty of sacrifice, not for its horror but for its great love, which can only be seen with the eyes of faith: that in serving God, we serve another. To sacrifice is to love another, greater good, more than we love our self. That good is God Himself, the God who peers to you and me from the eyes of the longing innocence of the Cross, with blood poured out for the salvation of the world. The mystery of Jesus Christ witnesses to the great good of sacrifice. It itself is a sign of the greatest love. Let us each make a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 24, 2022

Readings: Gn 18:20–32Ps 138:1–2, 2–3, 6–7, 7–8Col 2:12–14Lk 11:1–13  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/072422.cfm

What does it mean, this word debtor in the Our Father? To “forgive everyone in debt to us”?

We have the tendency as human beings to make a balance sheet of our interactions with other people. “This person did this to me, for me, against me; I did this good, or not so good deed for him, for her.” We sometimes evaluate other people this way: “that’s a nice dress, she’s rich; he looks smart, or cunning.” . . . our balance sheet. We pay specific attention to the details of other people, weighing them; and we do it so often, so easily, that it seems automatic.

Most of us are polite, however, and these kinds of thoughts just remain secret and hidden — the kind of things we mutter to ourselves, never speaking them out loud. If we’re on the defensive, we might say it’s just natural, or it’s a form of evaluation — even justice, maybe — sizing up the situation. But this critical clinging to what other people have done to us, for us, or against us is a vice. This tendency displays our balance sheet of debtors — everyone who’s in debt to us. And, instead of forgiving, letting go, in freedom, we prefer to cling and account for everyone in debt to us. We have to let it go. It’s not justice, and it’s not good for our soul.

Sure, we can see the truth in our interaction with others, and we can come to know the truth in another. We can notice the details; we can even evaluate and analyze. We are thinking creatures. But, that takes seeing as God sees. It requires purity of heart; it requires prayer and charity.

It is not a coincidence that we find the exhortation to, “forgive everyone in debt to us,” within a prayer. It is this temptation that we should seek to avoid — holding onto our list, our evaluation of everyone in debt to us, constantly evaluating others and keeping a balance sheet. The truth sets you free, as Jesus says, so it’s possible to know the truth, with a free heart, in charity.

Forgiveness, like prayer, requires continual, even daily practice. The need for forgiveness shapes the Christian attitude: not to cling to things or our pathetic evaluation of others, but rather to let go, to abandon oneself, to surrender oneself to the truth of all things.

But, very often in a commitment to so-called justice, we size-up the situation, noting carefully who did what, for or against; who has this position or that. Our gaze upon others becomes the same as when we watch politics: we make careful lists, and we align persons on this list or that, daily adding to the list careful distinctions that make other sub-lists. List-making becomes never-ending. And, with pride, we say how carefully we have sized up the situation — how accurate we are. Even worse is when we become chatty about it — grabbing the attention of someone who will listen, eager to confirm our appraisals. Chatty becomes calumny.

This is exactly the behavior and habit of the mind that Jesus condemns in the Gospel. To forgive everyone in debt to us is to set us free from the chains of that economy of list-making. Stop making lists. Seek, instead, a forgiving heart. Make that your daily prayer, to be set free. That heart is the heart of Christ which promised freedom; the other is to be enslaved.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 31, 2022

Readings: Ecc 1:2; 2:21–23Ps 90:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 14 and 17Col 3:1–5, 9–11Lk 12:13–21    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/073122.cfm

Most of us preach not from our poverty but from our riches. After all, how could one have anything to say unless we share our pearls of wisdom, our treasures, which we all hope are pure gold. These are our rich possessions, and we think ourselves good for giving them away. Sadly, there are many rich preachers — convinced of our own opinions and eloquence. If our preaching was so good, surely more people would show up to hear us preach, instead of so few.

Good preaching converts hearts; and truth be told, if our preaching was more effective, there would be more vocations. Holiness comes from imitation, and we need more young men to say: I want to be a preacher like him! (I want to imitate him!) To seek holiness is to seek to imitate Jesus — the perfect preacher — He who is “the way, the truth and the life.” His words are life! The world hungers for the truth, and souls are often desperate for wisdom. We are those who “are not [yet] rich in what matters to God.” That is a quality of our poverty.

The testimony of the founder of the Order of Preachers is that Saint Dominic was a poor preacher. He spoke from the depths of his poverty and his dependence on God. Saint Dominic’s words of preaching grew in the quiet of contemplation. Saint Dominic knew that the word of truth is born in silence; he knew to listen first for the word of God before muttering his own poor speech.

In our day, we squint and struggle to know the difference between our opinions and the truth, between the riches of our opinions and reality. Good teaching, good preaching speaks of reality; it speaks the truth. The riches of our opinions begin and end with our rich selves.

Preaching the truth, however, is seen by its fruit — that is the salvation of souls. That is our poverty. We pray for the truth to bear fruit. Hungry souls long for the truth and long to be saved. True and good preaching converts hearts. Our preaching needs to be more fruitful, and for that, the preacher needs to make himself poor.

Opinion is not the same as the truth; we should have surrendered enough – become poor enough – whereby we can realize that instantaneously. Or, we can quibble like Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” . . . and cling to the riches of our opinions. The good news is: only the truth has grace. The challenge is: we must humble ourselves in poverty to gain it.

In a world beset by confusion in matters of truth, many of us struggle to find our courage. It’s tempting to showcase our courage by having strong opinions. Our strong opinions can sometimes be a showcase for our vanity. It’s true, smart people have opinions and not so smart people have opinions too.

We sometimes forget that opinions don’t save the world. Opinions aren’t courageous. As Saint Thomas Aquinas indicates, fortitude (that is, courage) is the readiness to face death. That can seem charming: children play video games, and we watch movies that mimic this apparent heroism.

But true fortitude, which the Christian saints possessed, can only be gained by having strong passion that leads you to virtuous activity. As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, to have fortitude (that is, courage), you must see how you are motivated by five different appetites, which move both the heart and the mind: fear, daring, hope, despair, and anger. These passions can either move us for a good to be gained or help us to overcome an evil to be overcome with difficulty. Either way, passion moves us.

The virtue of fortitude moderates these irascible appetites. It’s worth it, therefore, to consider in what ways we are prone to despair or to fear, for example. These are passions that we’re probably less likely to admit to ourselves. It’s only by looking these (personal) passions straight in the face that we can overcome their negative tendencies and moderate them with virtue. That kind of passion needs to be harnessed, and it is a quality of the virtue of fortitude. To make oneself poor in this way takes real courage.

The world — and the Church — needs strong men and women. There is a plethora of strong opinions in the world, that’s for sure. What the world, and the Church, hungers for is men and women who are witnesses to the drama of the Gospel — not to the drama of their own wavering opinions, where we are proud of our strong opinions, and we hold tight to them with apparent strength. Those kinds of displays of false strength are merely embarrassing. Rather than strong opinions, try the humility of the truth. That comes with poverty . . . and courage.

Fr. Cassian Derbes, OP About Fr. Cassian Derbes, OP

Fr. Cassian Derbes, O.P. is a priest of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph (Eastern, USA) assigned to Rome, Italy, where he is a professor of spiritual theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).

Comments

  1. Father Derbes, thank you for your inspiring article for the 17th Sunday Ordinary Time July 24, 2022.
    Rather than clinging to Jesus Christ it can be such a temptation to cling instead to what others have or have not done to or for us, and what we think in justice they owe us! it seems without even realizing it we leave our Lord to concentrate, even if momentarily on negative aspects of our neighbor. And to think we are doing this for justice sake! And then as you say, we can sometimes share these thoughts and “chatty becomes calumny”. After I read your article Isaiah 30:15 came to mind: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and it trust shall be your strength….” (USCCB) Oh how we need to quiet our hearts, to be silent interiorly so that we can wait on the Lord rather than waiting to find our neighbor at fault and in debt to us. Oh how we need to cling to our loving Savior so that our chattiness does not deteriorate into calumny, for it is sacrificial love in the Holy Spirit that heals and unites. Thank you Father Derbes for your fine reflection as it has certainly made me reflect!

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