Homilies for August 2022

For August 7, August 14, August 15 (Solemnity of the Assumption), August 21, and August 28

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 7, 2022

Readings: Wis 18:6–9Ps 33:1, 12, 18–19, 20–22Heb 11:1–2, 8–19 or Heb 11:1–2, 8–12Lk 12:32–48       bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/080722.cfm

In the 1950s, John Hopkins professor Curt Richter conducted a series of experiments on resilience and the power of expecting to be saved. We probably wouldn’t do these experiments today, but they nonetheless point us toward an important lesson. First, he placed 46 rats into a bucket of water, observing each of them. All of the 34 strong and aggressive wild rats, he observed, drowned within a matter of minutes. Of the 12 domesticated rats which he placed into the water, however, 9 swam for days before finally succumbing to exhaustion and drowning. The wild rats were stronger; the wild rats were better swimmers; but a good portion of the weaker, domesticated rats survived much longer. Why? Richter hypothesized that the rats who survived for days had experienced being saved before. They were resilient because they had something like hope. To test his theory, here’s what he did:

Taking a whole new group of rats, he placed them into the same buckets of water and waited again until they began to drown. Then, just before each rat died, he rescued it, held it for a while, and helped it to recover. Putting the rats back into the water, he found that his hypothesis was right! Because they had been saved before, the rats no longer gave up. They swam and swam, for much longer than they had swam before.

Contrary to what we might think, the expectation of rescue didn’t make the rats lazy. It didn’t make the rats give up. Instead, the expectation of rescue gave them the resilience they needed to persevere.

What about us? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? Like you’re “drowning” in what Jesus calls “the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). If you do — and we all feel tempted, dry, and overwhelmed sometimes — listen to God’s encouragement. Jesus tells us to be ready. Our kind and loving Master is coming. He desires to rescue us; He desires to save us; He wants us to live with Him forever.

Professor Richter’s rats died. The professor couldn’t ultimately save them. But our loving Father is the Creator of the Universe. Our loving Father sent His Son to be born of a Virgin. Our loving Father raised Jesus from the dead! If God can do all that, can’t we trust Him to rescue us? We are much more valuable than mere rats, after all!

Over and over again, God tells His people to remember all that He has done. God promised Abraham that He give him descendants . . . and He did, even when all seemed lost. God promised to rescue His people from Egypt . . . and He did, even when the leader of the government was against them. God promised to bring His people into the Promised Land . . . and He did, even when they whined, complained, and wanted to go back into slavery.

God will never let us drown so long as we are open to His salvation, but He does ask us to swim. God never abandons us, but He does ask us to trust Him. As we swim through the chaotic waters of this life, our trust in Him grows. We know that He will never let us drown or, as the old saying goes, “He always provides sufficient grace for salvation.” And, as we practice walking by faith rather than by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we develop resilience greater than we ever thought possible. And, clinging to the Lord in this resilience, we also find joy greater than we ever thought possible. Sometimes we find relief in this life and sometimes we don’t. But always, so long as we are validly baptized and persevere in a state of grace, we find the meaning of everything when we breathe our last breath and go to meet the Lord (perhaps passing through Purgatory along the way). May we place our treasure and our hearts in the Heart of God, trusting in His mercy and moving toward Him with resilience and trust.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 14, 2022

Readings: Jer 38:4–6, 8–10Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18Heb 12:1–4Lk 12:49–53      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/081422.cfm

What does it mean to set the world on fire? What does a world on fire with the Holy Spirit look like? A world on fire with the Spirit is a world filled with people living in radical availability to Him.

When I think about the fire of the Holy Spirit, I think about John Paul II. I think about him constantly searching for a chapel where Jesus was present in the Blessed Sacrament and spending as much time as possible with the Lord. I think about how, rooted in prayer and sound doctrine, he courageously taught the truth, defended the faith and, by the grace of God, withstood all who stood against him. Neither Soviet Communists who tried to squelch religion nor western dissidents who attempted to reject the truths handed down to us could overcome the Holy Spirit who worked powerfully through Saint John Paul II.

When I think about the fire of the Holy Spirit, I think about Mother Teresa. When invited to address the United Nations General Assembly in 1985, then-Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar introduced her with these words: “I present to you the most powerful woman in the world.” This five-foot-tall Albanian nun who held no political office, commanded no armies, and had taken a vow of poverty changed the world, because she lived with the fire of the Holy Spirit. She encountered the Holy Spirit in daily prayer with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, even through her many years of darkness. St. Teresa of Calcutta lived by the Spirit as she cared for the poor, spread the love of Jesus, and denounced the evils of our time, especially abortion.

When I think about the fire of the Holy Spirit, I think of people like Padre Pio, who changed the world from the altar and the confessional in a more-or-less obscure Italian city, and St. Jean Vianney, who did the same from a small town in France. I think of Blessed Carlo Acutis who, with a passion for computers and for the Eucharist, made a website cataloging Eucharistic Miracles before contracting leukemia and, during his illness, offering his sufferings for the Pope and for the Church until his death on October 10, 2006.

Indeed, we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Heb 12:1)! Saints of every race, tribe, people, and language are standing before the throne of God in Heaven today praying for us and encouraging us to fix our eyes on the prize of Heaven. They, along with the angels, encourage us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race.” (Heb 12:1). We too can set our little corners of the world ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit . . . so long as we are set on fire first. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Siena: “If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all the world.”

How do we do that? How do we open ourselves to the fire of the Holy Spirit? Today, I offer you one lesson from the Early Church. After Pentecost, this is what the first Christians did. The Bible says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). The study of Scripture, relationship with fellow disciples of Jesus, partaking of the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), and prayer . . . this is what the early Christians did. God set them on fire with His love and, through them, the whole world. So let us run the race, encouraged by the saints, and fulfill Jesus’ desire that the world be ablaze with the fire of His love.

Solemnity of the Assumption – August 15, 2022

Readings: Rv 11:19A; 12:1–6A, 10ABPs 45:10, 11, 12, 161 Cor 15:20–27Lk 1:39–56    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/081522.cfm

God’s presence overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant. For much of the Old Testament, the Ark wasn’t the only place where a person could encounter God, but it was the main place, the privileged place. That all changed, however, around 587 B.C. Knowing that the Babylonians would come to plunder and destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah took the ark from its place in the Holy of Holies, hiding it in a cave on Mount Nebo. Learning that some tried to mark the way to the hiding place of the Ark, he declared, “The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy.” (2 Macc 2:7)

Then, God’s people waited. For over 600 years our ancestors waited. Until, around 33 A.D. the mercy of God poured forth from the side of Christ Crucified and Mary, the Lord’s mother, was given into the care of John — and John into her care. Later, Mary fell asleep and was assumed into Heaven by the power of Jesus her Son. John continued in this life and eventually found himself exiled by the Roman emperor for the crime of being a Christian. In a vision, John sees Jesus again. Jesus shows John a vision of Mary. Jesus shows John a vision of the Ark of the Covenant. And those two are the same. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, bodily assumed into Heaven.

The devil waged war against Jesus and against Mary. Through the machinations of the chief priests and the might of Rome, our Lord was put to death. Yet, as the fangs of the serpent pierced the flesh of the son of man, he came face to face with the undying God. Death was defeated, the Lord rose from the dead, and mercy was poured out upon the world! As St. Paul boldly proclaims: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

But there’s more! Lest we think that hope, a glorified body, and Heaven are only for Jesus (He is God, after all!), He chose to bring His mother body and soul into Heaven as well. In the preface for today’s Mass we will pray that Mary’s Assumption is, “a sign of sure hope and comfort to [God’s] pilgrim people”. When Jesus comes again we too will join Mary and Jesus body and soul in Heaven — so long as we persevere to the end of our days in a state of grace.

With this, we can leap for joy! Brought into contact with the mystery of God become man in the hill country of Judah, John the Baptist leaps for joy and Elizabeth his mother rejoices in the blessing that Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, is in her life. A thousand years before, King David too had rejoiced before the old Ark, where God allowed His presence to dwell in a special way. Something greater than the Ark is here. God Himself has given us His mother. God Himself comes to us in the Most Holy Eucharist. Let us rejoice in hope and dance for joy at all the marvels which God has done, especially in the Blessed Virgin Mary whom we celebrate today!

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 21, 2022

Readings: Is 66:18–21Ps 117:1, 2Heb 12:5–7, 11–13Lk 13:22–30    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082122.cfm

“I will set a sign among them . . . that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory.” (Isaiah 66:19). In the last chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we get a glimpse of God’s endgame for the world. God our Savior, the Bible says, “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and, to draw men and women into this truth of salvation in Christ, God makes prodigious use of signs. But what sort of signs?

Sure, God parted the Red Sea, made the sun stand still, turned water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead, and all the rest. Those things are real and those kinds of miracles do happen, even today. But miracles are rare. If they were not rare, they wouldn’t be miracles; they’d just be the way things ordinarily go. So what is this sign that God wants to set among the “nations of every language” to draw them to Himself? Perhaps the beginnings of our answer can be found in the greatest sign of God’s love for us that ever could be. What is this greatest of signs? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” who personally demonstrated that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” and, laying down His life for those of us who are His friends, rose from the dead! (John 3:16; 15:13; 1 Cor 15:14) The greatest possible sign of God’s love is the person Jesus Christ, who “loved us to the end” (John 13:1). Therefore, God’s signs to the unbelieving nations today are most likely personal.

And the person meant to be a sign of God in the world is . . .  you. The person is me. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are made alteri Christi — other Christs. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are made witnesses to Jesus —  like Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and the rest. We are entrusted with and empowered for the mission of continuing the world of Jesus in the world (see Acts 1:1). The Holy Spirit has come upon us in Confirmation and we must be witness to Jesus “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). As the saying goes, “You may be the only Bible some person reads.”

So how do we do this? How do we live today as signs of God’s love in the world? We rise above being “good people,” and live as citizens of Heaven. When people say, “I’m a good person,” what they usually mean is something like, “I’m okay by the standards of the world. I haven’t killed anybody.” But since when have the standards of the world brought lasting happiness and fulfillment? Christians are called to the fullness of life which the world cannot give and all humanity is called by God to live in this fullness of Faith. As we live in the world, we must refuse to be of the world. (see John 17:14) This was the witness of the early Christians.

When the Romans abandoned their unwanted babies to die, it was Christians who rescued and adopted them. When plagues struck and pagans fled, it was Christians who cared for the sick even when there was the danger of getting sick themselves. As an ancient Christian writer put it:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life . . . And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through . . . Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country . . . They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. (Letter to Diognetus, in International Commission on English in the Liturgy, The Liturgy of the Hours with Supplement (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1975–1992), 840–841).

May we live by the law of God as true disciples of Jesus and be signs to every man, woman, and child of God’s great love for them!

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 28, 2022

Readings: Sir 3:17–18, 20, 28–29Ps 68:4–5, 6–7, 10–11Heb 12:18–19, 22–24aLk 14:1, 7–14    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082822.cfm

Imagine how it felt. A slave for your whole life, you just escaped! Your God has defeated the powers of Egypt, enriched you with their treasures, and literally parted the Sea for you to walk into freedom. Imagine your relief! Imagine your joy!

Now, three months later, you’ve reached Mount Sinai. God Himself wants to make a covenant with you. If only you keep this covenant and obey His voice, you will be God’s “treasured possession” (Ex 19:5, ESV). As God manifests His presence, you see the cloud and hear the trumpet blasts. You observe the lightning and the thunder resounds in your ears. What a mighty God we serve! A conquering, rescuing God who loves me!

How is this possible? The God of the universe, creator and sustainer of all that exists, loves me. He holds galaxies in the palm of hand and at the same numbers the hairs of my head. My body is a mere speck in this vast, vast universe. My whole self — body and soul — is less than nothing in comparison to God. Yet He loves me. To Him, I am worth more than the sun and the moon and the stars. For me, He came down from Heaven. Rescuing our ancestors from Egypt was not enough; He even came down from Heaven Himself and, in the greatest possible act of love, laid down His life for me, His friend . . . brother/sister . . . son/daughter. By the gift of Baptism, He has shared His very life with me. He has raised me higher than the angels and gives me to eat of His own Flesh and to drink of His own Blood that I might share His life forever.

How amazing . . . how wonderful . . . how awe-inspiring is the deep love of God for me. Realizing that I have been chosen, rescued, and provided for . . . realizing that I have done and can do nothing to earn this kind of love, the only possible attitude for me is one of humble gratitude.

Jesus is quite clear in today’s Gospel that humility is a requirement for His disciples. And how do we get humility? I think that a great way to lay the foundation for this most important of virtues is to foster that gift of the Holy Spirit which is Fear of the Lord, the gift of knowing the grandeur and power of God, then acting in accord with the fact that God is King of the Universe. A person exercising holy Fear of the Lord is filled with wonder and awe as she remembers who God is and what God does. Each one of us who has been blessed by the gift of Baptism has received this gift of the Holy Spirit.

So, if we want to be humble, we might choose to do two things: (1) to ask God to stir into flame the gift of Fear of the Lord in our lives and (2) to meditate — that is, to think about — how grand and powerful and wonderful God is. Even better, we make these prayers on our knees if we are able, because lowering ourselves to our knees is a way of saying with our bodies that God is God and we are not. There could be more to say about humility than this, but this is the foundation. This is the start. Let us today, then, build our humility on the rock foundation of Fear of the Lord, remembering with awe the grandeur of God and His deep, personal love for me.

Fr. Brice Higginbotham About Fr. Brice Higginbotham

Father S. Brice Higginbotham is a Catholic Priest for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana who is currently pursuing a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy. Ordained to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in 2017, Father Brice has previously served as pastor of Holy Cross Parish and Chaplain of Central Catholic School, along with various other assignments. Father Brice received his Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has published one book, Daily Lessons from the Saints (Rockridge Press, 2020), various articles, and more than 60 catechetical videos which are available on the YouTube and Facebook pages of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.