Homilies for February 2024

For the Fifth Sunday and Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Ash Wednesday, and the First Sunday and Second Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 4, 2024

Readings: Jb 7:1–4, 6–7 • Ps 147:1–2, 3–4, 5–6 • 1 Cor 9:16–19, 22–23 • Mk 1:29–39    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/020424.cfm

“Everyone is looking for you.” It’s expected that Jesus’ response would be one similar to what he would later say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28). Yet, to our surprise, he responds,“Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also; for this purpose I have come.” Jesus makes it clear that he came for one purpose: to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

The crowds were coming to Jesus not to receive what he wanted to give them, but to receive from him what they themselves wanted. They saw Jesus as a miracle worker, as a free physician. Jesus came not to be a doctor of their mortal bodies, but to be the Savior of their immortal souls.

Like those in the Gospel, many people today come to Jesus as a worker of miracles, or a genie who grants wishes, or a friend who provides a quick fix to problems. Jesus, however, wants more. As he said in the Gospel, the reason he came was to proclaim the message of the kingdom and to bring us to embrace it, follow it, and live it out with joy. Jesus wants us to respond with the fervor and life-changing faith that we see in Mary, the apostles, and the saints.

Do we hunger for what he wants to give us or for what we want him to give us? Do we seek to align our priorities with His, or His with ours?

There is an important lesson here for each of us. God wants more from us than just to pray, to help the poor, to be kind. He also wants us, having heard the Gospel, to live it and bring it to others.

Pope Francis, in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, asked, “If we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? . . . What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?

Since we are convinced of who Jesus is, what he has done and what he promises us, we must evangelize, we must bring it to our families, our friends, our workplaces, our schools, our gyms, our coffee shops, and to those who haven’t yet heard or embraced this proclamation of the kingdom and propose it to them. Go and make disciples of all nations!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 11, 2024

Readings: Lv 13:1–2, 44–46 • Ps 32:1–2, 5, 11 • 1 Cor 10:31—11:1 • Mk 1:40–45    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021124.cfm

“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Lepers, as you know, have a bacterial infection that eats away at their flesh and gives them a pungent odor. At the time of Jesus, leprosy — now known under its scientific name, Hansen’s disease — was considered so contagious that those with it were quarantined for life and were cast out from their family, from their jobs, from the synagogue and from the temple. They were ostracized from all things human. Anyone who touched a leper became, under the Jewish custom, unclean.

And here, one of the most physically disgusting and repulsive human beings imaginable, a leper, came to Jesus, knelt down and begged Jesus to cure him.

The man in this Gospel, as a sign of great desperation, broke all Jewish convention to come close to Jesus. The people around Jesus most likely, out of fear of catching it, ran away from him. But what was Jesus’ reaction to this man on his knees before him?

To the leper’s plea of faith, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” Jesus, filled with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched the leper. Imagine the shrieks of onlookers. It was probably the first time a non-leper had touched him in years.

Then Jesus said the words that were the answer to the man’s prolonged prayers: “I do will it. Be made clean!” He was immediately made whole.

This Gospel ties in beautifully as we enter into the Season of Lent. During Lent, each of us is called to approach Jesus with faith, with all our sins that are eating away our souls like Hansen’s disease and say, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Jesus wants to say to each of us in return, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Lent is a time of cleansing. The practice of prayer helps us to overcome the leprosy of focusing on ourselves and to put God first. The practice of almsgiving helps us to conquer the leprosy of selfishness and put others ahead of ourselves. The practice of fasting helps us to triumph against the leprosy of pleasure-seeking, so that we can learn how to hunger for what God hungers.

Each of us needs to be humble enough to recognize our need and come to God so that he, moved with compassion, can stretch out his hand, touch us and heal us.

Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2024

Readings: Jl 2:12–18 • Ps 51:3–4, 5–6ab, 12–13, 14 and 17 • 2 Cor 5:20—6:2 • Mt 6:1–6, 16–18  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021424.cfm

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words spoken to us were spoken to Adam and Eve as the Lord admonished them before their exile. When we repeat these words, we remember that we continue that journey into the fallen world. With our foreheads smeared with ashes, we are called to face our own mortality and sinfulness.

The ashes we receive remind us of two things.

First, they remind us of our own mortality. Death is a reality for each of us, but God wants to raise us, even now. Lent is not just about a minor course correction in our life but about a death and resurrection, Christ’s and ours through him.

Second, ashes remind us of our sinfulness and need for repentance. Ashes were used by many throughout the Old Testament as a sign of repentance. In the book of Judith, “all the Israelite men, women, and children who lived in Jerusalem fell prostrate in front of the temple and sprinkled ashes on their heads, spreading out their sackcloth before the Lord” (Judith 4:11). Afterwards,“The Lord heard their cry and saw their distress” (Judith 4:13). Ashes are a reminder for us to repent and believe in the Gospel.

In recognizing our mortality, sinfulness, and need for the Lord, Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel about the three practices that help us to die to ourselves and to live faithfully according to the Gospel.

Prayer helps us die to our own ego in order to put on the mind of Christ. Almsgiving has us think of others’ needs and act to help them, rather than be obsessed about our own needs and wants. Fasting helps us to control our fleshly hungers and makes it possible for us to hunger what God hungers. These three practices are the means by which we enter into Jesus’ prayer, fasting for forty days in the desert, and his total self-giving.

To help us on this forty-day journey, Jesus gives himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. It’s here we enter into the now of our faith, prioritizing him whom we receive in the Eucharist. It’s here that we come having fasted so that we might hunger for what he hungers. It’s here, as we receive him as our greatest alms, that we’re made capable of giving him to others.

First Sunday of Lent – February 18, 2024

Readings: Gn 9:8–15 • Ps 25:4–5, 6–7, 8–9 • 1 Pt 3:18–22 • Mk 1:12–15    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021824.cfm

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

I do not know about you, but a temptation that I face every Lent is to refuse to go into the desert with Christ, to think that Lent can be complete if, for example, all I do is give up snacking or listening to music in the car. The first big hurdle that we need to get over is to hear Christ’s voice from the desert saying, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mk 6:31) and respond to it.

Every Lent, the same Holy Spirit whom drove Jesus into the desert wants to drive us into the desert in order to renew and deepen our relationship with God. While God is not calling us all physically to go to the Sahara Desert, he is calling us to remove ourselves from the distractions of life, so that in doing so, we can clearly hear and see him.

Let us now turn to the Gospel. The three temptations in the Gospel are temptations that every one of us faces. Learning how Jesus responds to them, we learn how to respond to them in our own lives.

In the first temptation, the devil disordered our relationship with God the Father. The devil seeks to tempt us to tempt God, jump off various cliffs of sin and then blame God for letting us suffer. Jesus shows that the proper response is never to put the Lord our God to the test, but to love him and throw ourselves into his arms rather than from dangerous cliffs into sin.

In the second temptation, the devil disordered our relationships with others. The devil promised that he would give Jesus rule over all the cities, if only he would take the bargain of falling down before the devil in worship. Jesus resisted the temptation toward this type of diabolical tyranny by quoting Scripture about worshipping and serving the Lord our God alone. And when we do so, we seek to serve others made in that God’s image and likeness, reverencing the Lord in them, seeking to serve them with love rather than be served and ultimately to lay down our lives for them as Christ himself did.

And in the final temptation, the devil disordered our relationship with ourselves, using what God has given us for our own purposes rather than for God and others. This is shown in the temptation the devil gave to Jesus to change stones into bread after forty days of hunger. Jesus replied that we live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth. We’re supposed to use our talents not selfishly, but for God and others.

In response to these three fundamental temptations, Jesus not only shows us how to resist but also prescribes for us on Ash Wednesday the medicine we need through the traditional practices of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Prayer helps us die to our own ego in order to put on the mind of Christ. Almsgiving has us think of others’ needs and act to help them. Fasting helps us to control our fleshly hungers and makes it possible for us to hunger for what God hungers.

These three practices are the means by which we enter into Jesus’ prayer, fasting for 40 days in the desert, and his total self-giving and resist the temptations of the devil.

Second Sunday of Lent – February 25, 2024

Readings: Gn 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18 • Ps 116:10, 15, 16–17, 18–19 • Rom 8:31b–34 • Mk 9:2–10  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/022524.cfm

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” This week in the scene of the Transfiguration of the Lord, I want to focus on one aspect that is rarely emphasized, which I believe is imperative to our advancing in the Lenten journey: listening to God the Father speaking.

After the disciples climb up the mountain, see the Lord transfigured, and witness the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, God the Father finally speaks. Note that God the Father only speaks three times in the entire New Testament: at Jesus’ baptism, at the Last Supper, and here. But what he says is really quite strange when you think about it. After pronouncing Jesus once again as his Beloved Son, God the Father thundered, “Listen to him!” How strange is this? After all, what had Peter, James, and John been doing for the previous two years but listening to Jesus?

They listened to him call them from their boats to be fishers of men. They heard him speak about all his parables. They listened to the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, and the Bread of Life Discourse. They listened to him teach them how to pray. They listened to him instruct them as they walked along the streets of Palestine. They listened to him correct the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees and console widows, sinners, and many others. They had spent the last two years constantly listening to Jesus!

But God the Father noticed something that they themselves hadn’t grasped. They had been selectively listening to Jesus and they had been particularly tone-deaf to what Jesus had been saying about how he was going to be betrayed, suffer, be tortured, crucified, killed and on the third day be raised.

They didn’t want to hear it. Jesus ended up telling them what would have to happen, not once, not twice, but three separate times, but they didn’t want to hear it. When Good Friday came, most of them were not even present. What they were even less willing to hear was what Jesus said after that, namely, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24). To be Jesus’ disciple, to be able to follow him, they needed to say no to their earthly ambitions and be crucified with him.

God the Father, who could see their hearts, knew that they were ignoring what Jesus was saying about his need and their need for suffering, that’s why he said, “Listen to him!” The same Father gives us the same imperative. On Ash Wednesday Jesus said, “Repent and Believe!” Have we? Jesus called us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Are we doing all three? Are we growing in the self-denial, self-death through the crosses God gives us and in following Jesus and his words?

God the Father who calls us to listen to his Son will listen to our prayers when we ask for help to have the trusting, obedient ears needed to follow him. That’s one of the most important parts of Lent.

Fr. Randy Hoang About Fr. Randy Hoang

Fr. Randy Hoang is a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. He completed a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in Liturgical Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome in 2021. He currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Parish & School in Beaverton, OR and the Chaplain to the Young Catholic Professionals Chapter of Portland, Oregon.

Comments

  1. I am a longtime reader of H&PR, I have always found article very informative in my homily

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