Justice and the People of God: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 5, 2014 (Year A)

ripe cabernet grapes ready for harvestWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Justice and the people of God. Doctrine: The Church is sacramental. Practical application: Frequent the Sacraments that can be frequented.

To view Lectionary 139, click here.

Central idea: Justice and the people of God

Reading 1 Is 5:1-7

Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes.
Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do with my vineyard:
take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!
Yes, I will make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but overgrown with thorns and briers;
I will command the clouds
not to send rain upon it.
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant;
he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!

  • The vineyard is a metaphor for God’s Chosen People. God would provide everything Israel needed for a good life and Israel would obey the commands of the covenant. But they did not; they were “wild.” So, God said he would remove his favor, everything would fall apart for them, and their enemies would overrun them.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20

R/ (Is 5:7a) The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.

A vine from Egypt you transplanted;
you drove away the nations and planted it.
It put forth its foliage to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.

Why have you broken down its walls,
so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The boar from the forest lays it waste,
and the beasts of the field feed upon it?

Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.

Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
LORD, God of hosts, restore us;
if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.

  • The psalmist is not one of those wild grapes whose injustice resulted in God removing his favor from Israel. He asks the question, “Why are we in this condition?” which Isaiah answered, “Because of Israel’s injustice.”
  • The psalmist says ‘give your favor back to us and we will return to the covenant’. The psalmist sees that life, happiness, and salvation consist in being in a right relationship with God.

Reading 2 Phil 4:6-9

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

  • St. Paul speaks of the fundamental, deep-down peace we followers of Christ and members of his Church should have. The reason for this happiness is that we are in a right relationship with God, our neighbor, and creation.
  • With gratitude for all we have received and with trust in God’s steadfast goodness, we ask for what we now need—and we will be in need every day of our life. This is why we make petitions to God for everyone’s needs.
  • We should focus our minds on the goodness, truth, and beauty of God, of human beings, and of the natural world. And we should fix our wills on pursuing these goods.

Gospel Mt 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

  • Our Lord addressed this parable “to the chief priests and the elders of the people.”
  • Isaiah described the unjust Israelites as “wild grapes.” Now Our Lord refers his own people as “tenants,” not part of the family of the landowner but outsiders who wish to rob the landowner of his property through murder.
  • This parable applies to each of us insofar as we have responsibilities and authority—and we all do to some degree.
  • God demands good works from us, just as the landowner expected produce from the land he leased. Our natural tendency, because of original sin, is to look out only for our own selfish interests, like the tenants. We can reject any “prophet”—that is, anyone who tells us the truth about ourselves and God—just as the tenants did.
  • We are capable of being rejected by God and having everything taken away from us, just like the wretched men who faced a wretched death.

Doctrine: The Church is sacramental

  • In the beginning, every human being was supposed to be a member of the family or people of God. This was broken by original sin. Then God formed a people for himself through Abraham. In the time of Moses, this now-numerous assembly of the descendants of Abraham agreed to live in a covenant with God. They did so imperfectly but reached the apex of their temporal prosperity with King David and his son King Solomon. Christ, the descendent of David, brought salvation and sanctification to every human being, establishing his Church as the new People of God. Every human being is invited to be a member of this family.
  • The vineyard of the Lord today is the Church. We enter its protective hedge through baptism. The work that God himself did in the vineyard so that the choice vines could grow and bear fruit is the sacraments. The sacraments provide grace so we can be saved and sanctified while in this earthly vineyard.
  • There are seven sacraments, all instituted by Christ, through which he pours his salvation and sanctification on his people. (See The Seven Sacraments of the Church CCC 1210 ff.)
    • Baptism forgives all sins, gives us a share in God’s own life through sanctifying grace, and makes us children of God.
    • Confirmation is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit which enables us to live and witness the Faith maturely.
    • The Eucharist gives us as our daily spiritual food the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
    • Holy Orders gives to some men the power Christ gave the Apostles to teach, rule, and sanctify the people of God.
    • Matrimony raises the natural institution of marriage to a means of sanctification for spouses so they can help each other and their children and contribute to the common good.
    • Penance forgives sins committed after Baptism.
    • Anointing of the Sick helps the faithful face serious illness and death.

Practical Application: Frequent the Sacraments that can be frequented

  • The Church recommends that we receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist frequently.
  • For many, frequent Confession means once or twice a month or weekly. It is good to get prudent advice and then to make a prayerful decision about how often to receive this sacrament of healing—and then to be faithful to this resolution. For example, one might decide to go on the first Saturday of each month. Frequent Confession is greatly aided by a daily evening examination of conscience.
    • Pastors can assist the faithful in receiving this sacrament frequently by offering times for Confession that are convenient for the faithful. Pastors can let people know they are always available. At my parish, the celebrant hears weekday confessions for ten minutes beginning twenty minutes before Mass.
  • The Church requires us to attend Mass each Sunday. We can also attend daily Mass. Many do because they have discovered what a treasure it is.
    • If you attend Mass each Sunday and wish to go deeper, you can start small by attending just one more Mass each week. Choose a day and time that will work for you and, assuming you are in a state of grace, receive Communion.
    • Pastors can assist the faithful in receiving frequent Communion by offering daily Mass at a time convenient for people who have regular work commitments. For example, in a city center Mass, could be offered before or after most people work or during the noon hour.
    • They can also welcome mothers with small children.
    • They can also not make the weekday Mass unnecessarily long. A daily Mass can be celebrated reverently and without hurry in twenty minutes; a forty-minute Mass may preclude busy people.
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The Same Attitude as Christ: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 28, 2014 (Year A)

tissot-simon-the-cyrenian-and-his-two-sons-608x682Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The attitude of Christ. Doctrine: Thy will be done. Practical application: Loving the will of God.

To view Lectionary 136, click here.

Central idea: The attitude of Christ

Reading 1 Ez 18:25-28

Thus says the LORD:
You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed,
he does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.

  • Every evil act we perform makes us less human and in a sense more dead. The opposite is true also: good acts make us more human and alive.
  • If we turn from our sins and do what is right, God will give us life now and eternal life after this life. In our doing what is right, God assists us by his grace that helps us desire to do what is right and to actually do it.
  • But we have an essential part in our doing what is right. Our intellect says yes to God’s law, and our will cooperates with God’s will.
  • Repeatedly to act in this way builds virtues, so that rather than dying through sin, our souls are more and more alive. The word “alive” here has the same meaning as in the famous expression of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14

R/ Remember your mercies, O Lord.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not;
in your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.

  • We are in the condition of needing to be taught and guided. We don’t come into the world having the rule of right conduct but must learn it. Thus we commit sins out of ignorance, strong passions, and weakness of will. But God is good and “he shows sinners the way.” On our part, we need humility to say, “I need to be taught; I’m willing to be taught; I want to be taught.”

Reading 2 Phil 2:1-11

Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

  • Paul recommends that we have the same attitude toward others that Our Lord has.
  • It is the opposite of selfishness, vainglory, and everyone only looking out for his own interests.
  • It is humbly regarding others as more important than oneself and looking out for the interests of others.
  • It is encouraging others, giving loving solace to others, listening to what the Holy Spirit wants you to say and do for the others, showing compassion and mercy toward the others, and everyone being of one mind in love.
  • This attitude Christ has can be best and most easily seen his self-emptying, in his taking the form of a slave, humbling himself and “becoming obedient” to his Father’s will “to the point of death, even on a cross.”
  • We rightly desire to have everything, to be highly esteemed, and to be important, to be exalted and glorified, yet the way to this is through our own self-emptying out of love.

Gospel Mt 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

  • John the Baptist proclaimed God’s will “in the way of righteousness.” Tax collectors and prostitutes, who seemed to be saying by their lives, “I will not,” did God’s will. Chief priests and elders of the people, who seemed to be saying by their lives, “I will,” did not do God’s will. Not even seeing the good example of the repentant sinners changed the minds of the seemingly righteous.
  • For us, it is better to be a person who resists God’s will but does it than to be a person who says he will do God’s will but does not do it. But the best is to say yes to God’s will and then to do it, like Mary, who heard the word of God and kept it (Lk 11:28).

Doctrine: “Thy will be done”

  • In the Catechism, points 2822-2827 explicate the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • What is God’s will? Jesus’ new command “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34) “summarizes all the others and expresses [God’s] entire will” (CCC 2822).
  • Part of God’s will is to gather up everything in creation in Christ and to give us as an inheritance (CCC 2823).
  • Christ alone has perfectly fulfilled God’s will, which is why he can save and sanctify us (CCC 2824).
  • We can do God’s will because of Christ, in Christ, through Christ. “United with Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit” we can do what we are otherwise “radically incapable of” doing: surrendering our will and doing “what is pleasing to the Father” (CCC 2825).
  • This will to be done that “is pleasing to the Father” is not just our private good but good for the whole world (CCC 2825).
  • Prayer teaches us the will of God but “one enters the kingdom of heaven not by speaking words, but by doing ‘the will of my Father in heaven’” (CCC 2826).

Practical application: Loving the will of God

  • Our Faith teaches us that God’s will for us is entirely good, a far greater good than we can even imagine. So, in theory, it is easy to say, “Thy will be done.”
  • But it is often not easy to do in practice. One of the most basic aspects of our human condition is that we want pleasure and happiness and hate pain and suffering. This is why we resist and so may reject the will of God. We see that what God wants or what we think he wants will make us suffer or prevent us from being happy. This is why the first brother said he would not go out into the field to work and why the second brother said he would but did not.
    • The things that happen to us can be accepted and even embraced as coming to us from God for our good or the good of others. We can do this even when what happens is objectively bad: God is not sending us the evil but permitting it and he will draw a greater good out of it.
    • Many things that are the will of God and that we can see are perfectly good are just hard. For example, it is hard to obey one of the commandments when a strong passion is making us want to disobey it. It is hard to act virtuously when we are weak in that virtue.
    • Then there are the things we actively set out to do: We might think: “I think it is God’s will that I do this” And then come setbacks, contradictions, obstacles, and opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • St. Josemaria Escriva had a succinct and very practical formula we can aspire to when it comes to the will of God: “Stages: to be resigned to the will of God; to conform to the will of God, to want the will of God; to love the will of God” (Way 774).


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Fruitful Workers: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time—September 21, 2014 (Year A)

Codex_aureus_Epternacensis_Parable_of_the_Workers_in_the_Vineyard_700Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Fruitful workers. Doctrine: Right Conduct. Practical application: Stop sinning and start loving.

To view Lectionary 133, click here.

Central idea: Fruitful workers

Reading 1 Is 55:6-9

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

  • Advent is a time in which the Church invites us to think about time. The time we are alive in this world is the time we have to seek the LORD. Now is the time in which he can be found. This implies there will be a time in which either we will not be able to seek him or we will not be able to find him, or both. That time will begin at the moment of our death.
  • What are our thoughts which are not God’s thoughts? Our thoughts are to rationalize, to justify our sins. We say what is wrong is right. We can claim that God approves of sin, of course not just any sin, but our particular sin.
  • But God’s ways are not our ways, unless we make the effort to adopt them, with his assistance.
  • We cannot truthfully claim that God approves of sin. However, we can stumble and fall, and God will lift us back up if we turn to him for mercy through his forgiveness, but not if we say ‘I am standing’ when we are really in the muck.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18

R/ The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.

The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

  • God’s ways are not our ways. God is good even if we are not. All we have to do is call upon him and he will be near to us in his greatness, grace, mercy, kindness, goodness, compassion, justice, and holiness. As Isaiah just reminded us, this is the time in which to seek the LORD.
  • We bless and praise God, or as St. Paul will say, we ‘magnify’ him, because of his manifold goodness.
  • All we have to do is to turn to him, with one important stipulation: we must “call upon him in truth.” This is why St. Paul will remind the Philippians, “Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Reading 2 Phil 1:20c-24, 27a

Brothers and sisters:
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
If I go on living in the flesh,
that means fruitful labor for me.
And I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.

Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

  • Even though Paul has the high status of Apostle, all the baptized are in the same situation. Our lives are to be a “fruitful labor” to benefit others. The reward, which begins with the death of the body, is the “gain” of to “be with Christ.”
  • We glorify Christ now in our bodies, that is, in this life, if we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.
  • We magnify or glorify Christ now by our good conduct and fruitful work.

Gospel Mt 20:1-16a

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

  • This parable of the workers in the vineyard is like the parable of the prodigal son. The owner of the vineyard is like the father, the first-hired laborers are like the older, faithful brother, and the last-hired laborers are like the prodigal son. The first-hired laborers are upset by the behavior of the landowner and the elder brother is upset by the behavior of his father. Both think they are being treated unjustly.
  • The parable of the prodigal son focuses on God’s unconditional love, while this parable focuses on God’s generosity. God’s goodness is for every one of his children: All we have to do, with his help, is to turn to him.
  • God offers eternal life and happiness to everyone who turns to him. That is generosity.
  • We who follow him should not compare ourselves with others. One reason is that we don’t have enough knowledge even of ourselves to know how much merit we have in God’s eyes. Have we really borne the day’s burden and the heat? We certainly don’t know how others stand. This is why Our Lord says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
  • A second reason we should not compare ourselves with others is that we can become falsely proud and, consequently, upset at the best thing in the universe, God’s generous love.

Doctrine: Right Conduct

  • Paul advises the Philippians to “conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
  • This is what the entire third part of the Catechism deals with: “the final end of man created in the image of God” and how to reach this end (CCC 16).
  • This final end for which we have been created, but are not guaranteed reaching, is beatitude, that is, eternal life.
  • What are the ways of reaching it? There are two ways, according to the Catechism, and the second builds on the first.
    • The first, which pertains to every human being, is “through right conduct freely chosen, with the help of God’s law and grace” (CCC 16). Everyone has the obligation to do what is right and just. The basic moral law is written in every human heart, so everyone is capable of knowing it. God also offers everyone sufficient grace to do what is right in order to be saved.
      • On the other hand, we Catholics know or ought to know God’s law very clearly since the Church teaches it to us. We also have the grace of the sacraments to give us strength to freely choose and to act with right conduct. We also have the Sacraments of Healing when we fail.
    • The second way of reaching the beatitude for which we have been created is “through conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity, specified in God’s Ten Commandments” (CCC 16).
      • The twofold commandment is to love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are specified in the Ten Commandments, the first three pertaining to love for God and the final seven for love for neighbor. Part three of the Catechism reveals how deeply this love can be specified, considering every kind of conduct toward God and neighbor.
      • We can also add that Our Lord has importantly modified love of neighbor beyond “as yourself.” In his new law of love he counseled us to love one another has he has loved us, that is, without limit, with a sacrificial love.

Practical application: Stop sinning and start loving

  • It should be clear that nothing is more practical than the advice to “conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ” since it deals with our concrete behavior and on it depends our eternal life.
  • It is up to each one of us to say to Our Lord, “Yes, I want to do that. Help me.”
  • The two ways, pertain to us, as well. The first is to stop sinning. Stop the mortal sins and confess them. Begin to identify the venial sins and work on eliminating them. The struggle against sin is lifelong. One would be foolish to say, “I don’t sin anymore.”
  • The second is to start loving God and neighbor and to keep loving more. This is also a lifelong endeavor. We can never say, “I love enough.”
  • One can ask himself, “What do I need more at this point in my life, to stop sinning or to start loving?” And then to act accordingly.
  • In regard to our good and bad conduct, we don’t want to become proud if we are successful or paralyzed by discouragement if we are not. Neither do we want to see the moral life only as a duty. Rather, the moral life is the pursuit of integral human fulfillment or happiness, motivated by love and aided by the life of the Spirit.


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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Doctrinal Homily Outline for Sunday, September 14, 2014 (Year A)


Detail of the Crucifixion from The Isenheim Altar by Matthias Grünewald (ca. 1512).

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The exaltation of Christ crucified. Doctrine: Jesus died crucified for our salvation. Practical application: Devotion to Christ crucified.

To view Lectionary 638, click here.

Central Idea: The exaltation of Christ crucified.

Reading 1 Nm 21:4b-9

With their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

  • This reading is an example of how Christians see the Gospel hidden in the Old Testament.
  • Saraph means fiery, possibly due to these serpents’ burning venom.
  • The Chosen People understood these poisonous snakes to be punishment for them not having faith in God or his prophet Moses. After they repented, Moses prayed and God’s answer was to instruct Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and mount it on a pole, “and if any have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
  • The mounted bronze saraph represented this poisonous creature, which bit people and caused them to die. If a person bitten by one of these serpents just looked up at this image of evil and death, he would live.
  • In light of the Gospel, we can say that every human being has been “bitten” by the serpent which seduced Adam and Eve in the Garden. Every one of us has inherited the condition of original sin and we experience its consequences, even if we are baptized. Our inclination to sin leads us to sin and so each time we do, we are “bitten” again. And death is a consequence of sin (CCC 1008).
  • Sin and death have been personified in the Passion of Christ. Our Lord took on himself the sin of the world, so when we look on the cross with faith, we are seeing both what causes death and the sacrificial victim who is the remedy for sin and death.
  • “If any have been bitten look at it, they will live.” If we look upon the crucified Christ with the eyes of faith, we will live eternally (Mk 1:15).

Responsorial Psalm Ps 78:1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!

Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.

While he slew them they sought him
and inquired after God again,
Remembering that God was their rock
and the Most High God, their redeemer.

But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues,
Though their hearts were not steadfast toward him,
nor were they faithful to his covenant.

But he, being merciful, forgave their sin
and destroyed them not;
Often he turned back his anger
and let none of his wrath be roused.

  • In the formation God gave his Chosen People, faithfulness to their covenant was blessed and unfaithfulness was punished. This was how the Jews interpreted the saraph serpent: as punishment for the complaining which arose from a lack of trust in God and Moses.
  • In the desert, one kind of suffering (not having a home, eating the same thing over and over, and not knowing where their next drink of water would come from) led the Israelites to lose faith in God’s care for them and to blame Moses. Then another kind of suffering (deadly snake bites) caused them to remember God. What they needed all along were steadfast hearts faithful to the covenant.
  • To apply this to us, one reason God permits us to suffer in so many ways in this life is that, unfortunately, that is the way many of us begin to remember him. God permits the suffering only so he can exercise his mercy.

Reading 2 Phil 2:6-11

Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

  • St. Paul is explaining Christ’s kenosis or emptying: “The voluntary renunciation by Christ of his right to divine privilege in his humble acceptance of human status” (Hardon). Christ our Lord lived this emptying to such perfection that he became “obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Therefore, God the Father exalted him to the greatest degree possible, making him Lord.
  • As a consequence of Christ’s kenosis, the supreme expression of which was his death on the cross, God has greatly exalted him, and so should we. This is why we glorify Christ crucified.

Gospel Jn 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

  • The evangelist John’s reflection (3:16) encapsulates the core of the kerygma (“the irreducible essence of Christian apostolic preaching”). God the Father sent his Son into the world. Why? To give us salvation and eternal life. John 3:16 is justly famous and extremely attractive, but we miss something essential by taking it out of its context of the crucifixion.
  • God the Father “gave” us the gift of his Son for our salvation. He also “gave him over” to us, sinful men, who lifted him up on the cross. On the cross, the Father gave his Son for our salvation, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The cross, that is, the Passion of Christ, is lifted up, exalted, because it is the way, through faith, that we can have salvation and eternal life.

Doctrine: Jesus died crucified for our salvation

  • “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). Christ’s death for our salvation was foretold in Old Testament writings and events (CCC 619). One figure of this is the incident with the saraph serpents.
  • “Our salvation flows from God’s initiative of love for us, because ‘he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins’ (1 Jn 4:10). ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5:19).” (CCC 620) As today’s Gospel put it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
  • “Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: ‘This is my body which is given for you’ (Lk 22:19).” (CCC 621) In this mass, today, we really will be at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and can receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
  • “The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28), that is, he ‘loved [his own] to the end’ (Jn 13:1), so that they might be ‘ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers’ (1 Pet 1:18).” (CCC 622)
  • “By his loving obedience to the Father, ‘unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission (cf. Isa 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will ‘make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities’ (Isa 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19).” (CCC 623)

 Practical application: Devotion to Christ crucified

  • The Blessed Trinity offers us salvation and eternal life won through Christ crucified. Here are some practical ways we can “exalt the cross,” that is, offer thanksgiving and praise to Christ crucified.
    • Notice the large crucifix on or over the altar of your parish church. Now you know why it is there. Use this image to help you talk to Our Lord.
    • Have at least one crucifix in the home, prominently displayed. This tells us and our children and our neighbors who we are.
    • The Sign of the Cross, in which we trace the shape of the cross from our head to our heart and across our shoulders while invoking the Blessed Trinity, can be made more attentively.
    • Many people find it helpful to keep a small crucifix with them, and if possible within view when they work, and to look at it from time to time with love, and even to kiss it, to unite themselves in their work to Christ crucified.
    • Thinking of Christ crucified is a very good accompaniment to offering up the small and large crosses that come everyone’s way every day.
    • The Way of the Cross with its fourteen stations is a means of mentally and physically tracing Our Lord’s final journey. Every Catholic church has a set of these and some are real works of art.
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If Your Brother Sins against You: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 7, 2014 (Year A)

getty_rf_photo_of_two_people_talking_under_treeWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Admonishing the sinner. Doctrine: Fraternal correction. Practical application: How to give fraternal correction.

To view Lectionary 127, click here.

Central Idea: Admonishing the sinner

Reading 1 Ez 33:7-9

Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ”
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
But if you warn the wicked,
trying to turn him from his way,
and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt,
but you shall save yourself.

  • Moses and the prophets were the moral teachers of the Chosen People. The legitimate pastors of the Church are our moral teachers. These “watchmen” today are the Pope and the bishops united to him and those pastors under their authority. The Church’s moral teachings are found in a handy form in part three of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • The Church has been ever faithful in teaching the moral law. But at times some of the Church’s watchmen have failed to “warn the wicked.” Lamentably, many have failed in the past fifty years in the West.
  • God also appoints each of us “watchmen” over some, to teach and correct them. If we fail to do so, we commit a sin of omission.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.

Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”

  • Neither the human race nor the Church is just a collection of individuals, like beans in a bag. We are a flock, a people. Besides the fact that we are social beings, we should be united in loving God who has created us and made us neighbors and even brothers of each other, especially among the household of the Church.
  • Out of destructive pride, we can also harden our hearts against instruction or correction. Sometimes the instruction is the correction, because the instruction “accuses” us of doing wrong when we compare the teaching to our own behavior.

Reading 2 Rom 13:8-10

Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, ”
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

  • The entire moral law—“whatever other commandment there may be”—is contained in the Ten Commandments. And the Ten Commandments are contained in the Two Commandments to love God and neighbor. So to fulfill the God’s moral law, do not do evil to your neighbor, but love him.

Gospel Mt 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

  • Those in authority in the Church—the hierarchy—have the right and the duty to correct members of the faithful who stray. They can even excommunicate members who seriously deny Catholic faith or morals.
  • Procedures for this are spelled out in the Code of Canon Law for the Church and in the various constitutions of religious orders for their members.
  • We ordinary lay members of the faithful also can prudently correct others. This is called fraternal correction. It is the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner. It is basically that first step to “tell him his fault between you and him alone.” To avoid being a busybody, the person should be someone we have some business talking to, for example, a member of the family, a person we work with, a friend.
  • One of the things we constantly get wrong when it comes to another’s fault is to gossip about this person’s fault to a third party rather than talk to that person directly.

Doctrine: Fraternal correction

  • Fraternal correction is a loving “heads up” given by one Christian to his neighbor to help him become holy. The matter of correction could be a sin (mortal or venial) or even a fault that is harming that neighbor or those he comes in contact with.
  • This correction might deepen the relationship if the correction is called for, made charitably, and the other accepts it humbly, or it might spell the end of the relationship if it is made badly or the person rejects what you have to say. God foresees that.
  • The Catechism points out that “charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction” (CCC 1829). Few of us would doubt that love without beneficence—doing good for others—could not possibly be love. We might not be so clear about the need to correct others. But when someone is doing something wrong we love that person by attempting to correct him.
  • Fraternal correction is also an act of justice toward others who are harmed or could be harmed by the sin or fault of the person being corrected (ST II-II, Q33, A1). For example, a father who is unreasonably harsh toward his wife and children is not only harming himself but also unjustly harming his family.
  • In addition, the Catechism points out, fraternal correction is good for the person who does the correcting. Fraternal correction is one of the ways that we ourselves are converted to Christ. It is a way of taking up our own daily cross (CCC 1435). The reason is that it is a difficult good because of the rejection we are liable to face.
  • Some obstacles to fraternal correction are:
    • We don’t bother thinking and praying about others.
    • We don’t take into account the need and value of admonishing the sinner.
    • We are afraid of upsetting the other.
    • We feel we are unworthy to correct the other either because of the other person’s good qualities or because we may have the same fault ourselves.
    • We tell ourselves it won’t do any good.

Practical Application: How to give fraternal correction

  • Four things that can make the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner” or fraternal correction effective rather than destructive are supernatural outlook, humility, consideration, and affection.
    • Fraternal correction is only to be given because we are convinced God wants it for the sake of the person we are correcting and those affected by him. We pray about him and for him, asking the Holy Spirit if he wants this correction made and how it should be made. That is what supernatural outlook means.
    • Humility is necessary because we are sinners ourselves and fail in many ways. We could just as easily have the same fault and we certainly have other imperfections. Nevertheless, God wants us to help each other.
    • It is also necessary to be considerate, that is, to say what we have to say in the least hurtful way possible without beating around the bush. It is so easy to humiliate another and no one likes being corrected.
    • Finally, the correction should be given out of love and concern. The motive for the correction is the true good of the others, not your own benefit. That is true affection.




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Take Up Your Cross: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 31, 2014 (Year A)

kitty crossWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The Cross. Doctrine: The cross of a follower of Christ. Practical application: Taking up one’s cross.

To view Lectionary 124, click here.

Central Idea: The Cross

Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

  • Jeremiah was derided by his own people for speaking the word of God.
  • Christians throughout the world today are persecuted, many severely.
  • Here in the English-speaking west, a willingness at least to be laughed at, at least behind your back, is a minimal condition for being a follower of Christ.
  • In fact, if you do not face some rejection from someone, it could be healthy to ask, “Am I really living my Catholic faith or is it so hidden that no one can tell me from anyone else?”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

R/ My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.

Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.

You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.

  • The most profound religious truths are here in the Psalms. One is this: All we need is God. That is, all the things we need and want exist to lead us to the realization that God is the superabundant satisfaction of every human desire.
  • Holiness, lost through Original Sin, is nothing more than friendship with God, which in our case, is the friendship of sons and daughters of their infinitely good Father.
  • The longing for God and the partial possession of him here below create a joyful pain. It is a spur to keep us moving toward him as our lives move forward in time.
  • We can remind ourselves that every material and spiritual good we pine for is really the desire for God mistakenly fixed on security, or admiration, or power, or wealth, or beauty, or skill, or any of many other objects.
  • We can also remind ourselves that every time our desire is thwarted we have the opportunity to take up our cross.

Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

  • We hear in the Gospel reading Our Lord tell St. Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” God’s will for us is to do “what is good and pleasing and perfect.” This is very often contrary to the mentality we may have because of the age in which we live. Because of this conflict, doing what goes against the grain of “this age” often requires sacrifice. That sacrifice is an act of “spiritual worship.”
  • Not always, of course. Before every meal, we say grace, thanking God for the nourishment we are receiving, which is also a pleasurable good.
  • So as not to exaggerate, we should admit that normally our lives are full of good things which are legitimate as long as they are enjoyed according to the will of God.
  • For example, a married couple can enjoy relations fully according the will of God. But chastity also calls for sacrifices so as not to seek sexual pleasure according to the mentality of the age we live in.
  • As Mathetes wrote in the second century about the followers of Christ, “They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.” (Epistle to Diognetus 5)

Gospel Mt 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“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.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

  • Just before St. Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” he had declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” According to Our Lord, in declaring him the Messiah, Peter was speaking through a divine revelation: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” But now, Our Lord rebukes St. Peter for “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
  • There is really nothing wrong with what Peter says—no one wants to see his friend tortured and killed. Our Lord actually agrees, which is why he rebuked Peter for tempting him. Our Lord’s human nature naturally recoiled from the events he was predicting. This is confirmed in the Garden of Gethsemane when Our Lord prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39,42).
  • There is nothing wrong with what Peter says—except that he is wrong! Our redemption, according to the way God thinks, had to pass through the Passion of Christ. And our own Christians lives have to pass through our own cross.
  • So, Our Lord lays down the basic principle of ascetical life for the Christian. Suffering of any kind is our own cross, which we must embrace to gain eternal life. Nobody wants to deny himself—otherwise it would not be denial—but it is a way to eternal life and to a reward.

Doctrine: The cross of a follower of Christ

  • Holiness for us is being in the condition to be in a right relationship with the Blessed Trinity. Negatively, this means freedom from original sin and mortal sin. Positively, this means being in the state of sanctifying grace through Baptism, or regaining that condition, if lost, through Penance.
  • Holiness is simultaneously being in that right relationship with God. This is why we can say that holiness is friendship with God. For us, holiness is the friendship of sons and daughters of our infinitely good Father. It is the friendship with our brother and savior Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son. It is friendship with the Holy Spirit.
  • So, God gives us the grace to be capable of being friends with him and he also gives us the actual friendship.
  • However, as the Catechism teaches, “The way of perfection,” that is holiness, “passes by way of the Cross” (CCC 2015). In the Gospel, Our Lord said to his apostles, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24; cf. CCC 2029).
  • “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (CCC 2015). As St. Paul said to Timothy, “As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). It is as if, after establishing friendship with us, Our Lord then said, “We are in a war, you know.”
  • Renunciation signifies the negative: what we turn our backs on—acts of sin. Spiritual battle signifies the positive: what we advance toward—acts of goodness. Both can require a dying to self or the cross.
  • “Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (CCC 2015). Ascesis means self-discipline, originally the kind of training an athlete would undertake. Mortification is self-denial, giving up something you want either because it could hurt you or someone else or because this little dying to self could help you or someone else.
  • While we are in this world, the struggle of a son or daughter of God never ends. In fact, we start over every single day. As St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows” (Hom. in Cant. 8: PG 44, 941C).

Practical Application: Taking up one’s cross

  • Everyone has his own cross to bear. This cross is the sum total of all the difficulties in our lives. They can be big (cancer) or little (a paper cut), recurring (having to get up early every day) or unique (the windshield wipers just stopped working), foreseen (the electric bill is due in ten days) and unforeseen (there’s a parking ticket under one of by broken windshield wiper blades), sought (I’m going on a diet) and unsought (Mattie just vomited on the carpeted stairs).
  • We don’t need to be told what our cross is since God can show us what they are and what to do with them. As Our Lord said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’” (Jn 6:45).
  • This cross will be different depending on whether you are a man or woman, young or old, what country you live in, your family of origin and family of marriage, the season of the year, what kind of work you do or are not able to do, your social class and educational background, and many other factors.
  • Our Lord wants us to embrace our cross as much as we want to embrace the many goods he sends us. God does not will evil on us but he must have a good reason to permit us to suffer in so many ways. One way of dealing graciously with them is to preface every realization of suffering with an, “I guess God wants.” I guess God wants me to have this headache. I guess God wants me to work here for now. I guess God wants me to wait at this railroad crossing till the freight train passes, and so on.
  • Our Lord also wants us to offer them back to him. After all, we are a priestly people (1 Pt 2:9). Lord, I offer this bee sting to you. Even better, I offer this bee sting for grandma who is not feeling well.
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The Keys of the Kingdom: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 24, 2014 (Year A)

perugino_sleutels_grtWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Doctrine: The Office of the Pope. Practical application: Cooperating with the Pope and Our Bishop.

To view Lectionary 121, click here.

Central Idea: The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven

Reading 1 Is 22:19-23

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace:
“I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and give over to him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.”

  • The master of the palace was an office of stewardship with both the authority and responsibility to be “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.”
  • Because of his infidelity, the office of Shebna would taken away and given to Eliakim.
  • The complete scope of the master of the palace’s authority was symbolized by the “key of the House of David.” What he said and did could not be gainsaid by anyone.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8

R/ Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple.

I will give thanks to your name,
because of your kindness and your truth:
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.

The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly he sees,
and the proud he knows from afar.
Your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.

  • God, who is exalted, does not favor the proud, who exalt themselves, but the lowly.
  • Divine Revelation is a catechesis on why this is so.
  • The lowly one, who knows his need, looks to God, so God sees him. As Our Lord taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:3).
  • The proud one does not look to God, so God only sees him from afar.
  • The lowly are like God: Christ confesses that he is meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29). 

Reading 2 Rom 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything
that he may be repaid?

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

  • It is foolish to try to instruct God, especially since our understanding is so flawed. Much better is it to be instructed by God, provided the instruction is authentic.
  • When we correctly see what God decides to do and how he goes about acting, we have to confess “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” even while we cannot see all the reasons why.
    • God permits human beings to do real good and real evil. Christ has saved and redeemed us through his sufferings caused by man’s sins. Christ has founded a Church with the hierarchical structure he has given it. We can say these decisions are immensely good but why God decided to act in these ways remain mysteries.

Gospel Mt 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

  • According to Our Lord, Peter’s confession that Jesus is “The Christ, the Son of the living God” is not the conclusion to a chain of human reasoning but “revealed . . . by my heavenly Father.”
  • Our Lord changes Simon’s name to “Peter,” which means “rock,” on which Christ will build his church.
  • Nothing will prevail against his church. Nothing will conquer it. Not even death—“the gates of the netherworld.”
  • Just as God gives Eliakim complete authority over Jerusalem and Judah with the power of the key of the House of David to open and shut, Christ gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven to bind and loose.
  • Peter has complete stewardship over Christ’s church in Christ’s absence, so what Peter decides on earth will be ratified in heaven.
  • So we see in this passage of the Gospel three important realities: (1) Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one who is to redeem Israel and the rest of the world; (2) he founded a Church to carry on his saving work; and (3) the Church has a structure with Peter at its head.

Doctrine: The Office of Pope

  • Christ put Peter first among the Twelve as the rock on whom he would build his Church. “Christ, the ‘living stone’ (1 Pet 2:4), thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.” (CCC 552)
  • “The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (CCC 553). “The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church” (CCC 553).
  • “Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom” (CCC 553).
  • The Pope stands in the place of Peter for the whole Church, and the various bishops stand in the place of the Apostles. Thus, each of the lay faithful has two shepherds to look to: the shepherd of the universal Church and the shepherd of his diocese.

Practical Application: Cooperating with the Pope and Our Bishop

  • Since the Pope and our bishop are our religious leaders, it is good for us to be good followers.
  • It is not possible for us to follow either of these men if we don’t know where they want to lead us. How can we know what they want?
  • Hopefully, our parish priest will tell us things in the Sunday homily and at other times.
  • Then there is the media. We have to be good discerners of media, since so much is distorted. It is necessary to find media outlets you trust. One place for your bishop is the diocesan website and the diocesan Catholic newspaper.
  • We can also, according to our capacity, read what the Pope and our bishop write. The pope’s encyclical, audiences, homilies, and other addresses can be read on the Vatican website (http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html).
  • We can do the same with our diocesan bishop. My own bishop recently wrote a very important pastoral letter for our diocese on “The Art of Celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy Properly and Adoring the Lord in the Eucharist Devoutly.”
  • Again, according to our ability, we can engage in the kind of work he wants done.
  • Finally, we should pray daily for both the Pope and our bishop, for their well-being and for what they want done to be faithfully carried out.


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Salvation is for those who want it: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 17, 2014 (Year A)

Jean Colombe (b. Bourges ca. 1430; d. ca. 1493) The Canaanite woman

Jean Colombe (b. Bourges ca. 1430; d. ca. 1493) The Canaanite woman

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: God’s salvation is for everyone who wants it. Doctrine: Living out our salvation by doing what is just. Practical application: Being more just.

To view Lectionary 118, click here. For the outline for the Solemnity of the Assumption, click here.

Central Idea: God’s salvation is for everyone who wants it

Reading 1 Is 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants—
all who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
for my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.

  • Communion with God—and with everyone one and everything else in God—is the ultimate good and happiness for us.
  • This good was revealed to the Chosen People over time.
  • Isaiah was glimpsing something on the horizon. A justice and salvation for all people was about to come. Foreigners will be acceptable and the temple “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
  • How does one prepare for this? “Observe what is right, do what is just.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R/ O God, let all the nations praise you!

May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.

May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.

May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!

  • Some Jews thought God’s favor was only for them. Some people today think God favors only those in their religion, whatever it is. Yet we can see just from this Psalm that God’s goodness and mercy, his authority, and his salvation are for everyone. “May your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.”
  • This was to come about through the favor God showed Israel. God promised Abraham, the father of the Jews, that every nation would be blessed through him. This universal blessing was accomplished through the Jew, Jesus Christ.

Reading 2 Rom 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters:
I am speaking to you Gentiles.
Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles,
I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous
and thus save some of them.
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world,
what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Just as you once disobeyed God
but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,
so they have now disobeyed in order that,
by virtue of the mercy shown to you,
they too may now receive mercy.
For God delivered all to disobedience,
that he might have mercy upon all.

  • The Jews are the Chosen People and God has not unchosen them.
  • But now anyone can become a member of the new people of God, the Church.
  • God has permitted every human being to disobey him through sin. This disobedience of sin is what human beings need to be forgiven and healed of. God’s mercy to both Gentile and Jew—everyone, everywhere, in every time—is Jesus Christ. His rejection by his own people resulted in his Passion and Death, so their rejection became the source of everyone’s salvation—their forgiveness and sanctification.

Gospel Mt 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

  • Jesus was facing increasing hostility from the Jewish authorities and so he withdrew with his disciples to pagan territory on the northern coast. There he is met by a pagan woman who recognizes him as the king of Israel (she calls him “Lord,” “Son of David,” and abases herself before him). She is certain he can heal her demon-possessed daughter. That is what she wants.
  • Our Lord places an obstacle in her path: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” meaning to the Jews. But she does him homage and begs, “Lord, help me.”
  • Then Our Lord throws down an even greater obstacle. “It is not right,” he says in her hearing, “to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The children are the Chosen People. The dogs are Gentiles. Jesus was sent to offer what he had to offer to his own people, God’s children, not to Gentile dogs.
  • But the woman is humble and persistent when it would not be hard to imagine her getting angry and cursing Christ. She is also a desperate mother with a mother’s love for her daughter.
  • Not only is the Canaanite woman persistent, her reply reveals a kind of genius: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
  • This woman is remarkable. Without anyone instructing her, this pagan woman recognizes who Christ is. This is while his own people, whom he came to save, are rejecting him, despite his preaching accompanied by miraculous signs.
  • She knew Jesus could do good for her daughter. She learned that not only could Jesus do good, he was good.

Doctrine: Living out our salvation by doing what is just

  • Speaking for God, Isaiah said, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” John the Baptist said the same thing: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). Jesus also repeated the words of the Baptist (Mt. 4:17).
  • The first step on the road to salvation, and every new step on the way, is the step of doing what is just.
  • Justice is giving what you owe. There are many dimensions of justice, depending on to whom something is owed and the nature of the debt.
  • For example, the virtue of religion is giving God what you owe him, which includes sorrow for sins, gratitude for benefits received, requests for the goods we need, and adoration.
  • Or the virtue of piety is rendering to your parents appropriate love, obedience, respect, and care, depending on the family-members’ age and circumstances.
  • In every role we have in life, there are natural obligations: what we owe our siblings, our friends, our teachers, employers and employees, our neighbor, our government, our pastors and the Church, and so on.
  • We prepare for God’s salvation by doing what is right. The Church teaches that we are not left on our own to do what is right by our own power but that God’s grace draws us to what is right and helps us do it.

Practical application: Being more just

  • The justice that God wants from us is very concrete and practical. This is why, for example, when tax collectors ask John the Baptist, “What are we to do?” he replies, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” To soldiers, he says, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Lk 3:10-14) In both cases, the Baptist zeroes in on the injustices tax collectors and soldiers are naturally prone to commit.
  • To make a good examination of conscience in terms of justice, one can consider his state in life (single, married, clerical, or consecrated), the roles that state entails (e.g., high school student, hospital chaplain, daughter of elderly parents, citizen), and the persons to whom justice is due, always beginning with those closest to us (God first, spouse, children, religious superior, employer, etc.). To consider the example of the Baptist’s Roman soldier, he might think, “I am a creature of God, the son of my father and mother, a sibling, a married man with children, a subject of the Emperor, a soldier in the Roman legion,” and so on.
  • The next step is to stop doing what is wrong, which for a Catholic also means seeking God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance and doing due restitution. The Roman soldier cannot go to Confession, but he can stop using his military training and weapons to extort money out of people. This is what “repent” means.
  • The final step is to begin doing the good as best we can with the help of God’s grace. . This is a seemingly infinite obligation. For example, a husband owes love to his wife, and how can ever say, “I’ve perfectly loved her and so am done”? The husband can only keep performing acts of love, service, and sacrifice as he thinks of them and they arise through circumstances.
  • I claimed above that the first step on the road to salvation, and every new step on the way, is the step of doing what is just. We are assisted on this walk by God’s grace which helps us want to take each step and to actually take the step.
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The Assumption 2014 Vigil Mass


Carl Schmitt “Blue Madonna”

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Doctrinal Homily Outline for August 15 (Vigil Mass)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

To view Lectionary 621, click here. To see a doctrinal homily outline for the Mass for the day, click here.

Central idea: The Ark of the Covenant. Doctrine: The Assumption. Practical application: Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Reading 1 1 Chron 15:3-4, 15-16; 16:1-2

David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem to bring the ark of the LORD
to the place which he had prepared for it.
David also called together the sons of Aaron and the Levites.

The Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders with poles,
as Moses had ordained according to the word of the LORD.

David commanded the chiefs of the Levites
to appoint their kinsmen as chanters,
to play on musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals,
to make a loud sound of rejoicing.

They brought in the ark of God and set it within the tent
which David had pitched for it.
Then they offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.
When David had finished offering up the burnt offerings and peace offerings,
he blessed the people in the name of the LORD.

  • The Ark of the Covenant was the beautiful and precious chest, designed by God, which contained God’s Word, the tablets on which God himself wrote the Law he gave to Moses.
  • This reading is an example of how New Testament realities are hidden in the Old Testament. The Ark is a type or foreshadowing of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the beautiful and precious vessel, designed by God to be free of Original Sin and filled with every grace, to contain the very Word of God, the Incarnate Son of the Father and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
  • This is why in the Litany of Loreto one of the titles Our Lady is praised with is “Ark of the Covenant.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 132:6-7, 9-10, 13-14

R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your holiness.

Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us enter his dwelling,
let us worship at his footstool.

May your priests be clothed with justice;
let your faithful ones shout merrily for joy.
For the sake of David your servant,
reject not the plea of your anointed.

For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he prefers her for her dwelling.
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her will I dwell, for I prefer her.”

  • This Psalm was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was transferred from the Tabernacle outside the city to Jerusalem or Zion. God desired the Ark, his throne, to be in Zion.
    • “For the LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers her for her dwelling.” The LORD prefers Zion for his Ark’s dwelling.
  • In the same way, we learn in the Annunciation that God chose a new place to dwell: the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
    • The LORD has chosen Mary; he prefers her for his dwelling.
    • He dwelt in her physically for nine months and he dwells in her through grace from that time on forever.
  • As the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary also needs a place to dwell forever. That place is the New Jerusalem, heaven.
    • The LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers heaven for Mary’s dwelling.

Reading 2 1 Cor 15:54b-57

Brothers and sisters:
When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • God gave to the Blessed Virgin Mary his Son’s victory over death at the moment of her conception by preserving her from the consequences of Original Sin and filling her with grace. This gift was given in view of her vocation to be the Mother of God.
  • The moral law reveals the reality of sin and so gives sin its power to condemn man to death. But the moral law had no power to condemn Mary because she never sinned. Death could never destroy her. So, at the end of her life on earth, her mortal body was clothed in immortality.

Gospel Lk 11:27-28

While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
He replied,
“Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”

  • The most basic reason we call Mary blessed is that she did, better than any human being, “hear the word of God and observe it.”
    • She heard the word of God from Gabriel that God would dwell in her physically in his Incarnation and Mary said yes.
    • She heard the Law, the word of God which was carried in the Ark of the Covenant, and observed it all her life.
    • She heard the word of God from the lips of the Word of God. She observed the Word of God with her own eyes. She kept all these things in her heart.
  • We don’t know why this woman from the crowd said what she said. It is clear that she was praising both Jesus and his mother. As a woman who was a mother or who wanted to be a mother, this woman in the crowd praised the Mother of Christ with the focus on physical, life-giving femininity: the womb which nurtured and protected the fetus Jesus as he grew and the breasts which fed him as a baby and a toddler until weaned. Mary was blessed in this way, as is every human mother who accepts her gift of femininity.
  • Perhaps this woman in the crowd was really saying, “I wish I had a son like you. If I had a son like you I would be blessed.” There are many mothers who haven’t gotten what they hoped. To make this universal, how many of us can say, “Things have not turned out the way I wished. I have regrets”?
  • Our Lord shifts what the woman says to a deeper level. The truly blessed person is the one who hears what God has to say and conforms her life to that word. And the Blessed Virgin Mary was such a person par excellence. She heard the word of God from the angel Gabriel and said, “Let it be done to me as you have said.” And she never stopped observing God’s will.
  • In the same way, the woman in the crowd could also be blessed in this way. She too could hear the word of God and keep it. That way, if her original words were spoken out of regret, if she was really saying, “I do not feel blessed because I do not have a son,” or “The son I have is not the son I would wish,” she can have something even better, just by conforming her life to the will of God.
  • The same is true for each of us. We can have the best thing for us by imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary and hearing the word of God and keeping it. We can be the Blessed Woman in the Crowd or the Blessed Man in the Pew.

Doctrine: The Assumption

  • What is the doctrine of the Assumption we celebrate today?
  • “The Immaculate Mother of God . . . having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (MD 44).
  • “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CCC 966).
  • Christ rose from the dead with his glorified body never to die again. The Blessed Virgin Mary never experienced physical death, that is, the separation of her body from her soul, because she was preserved at the moment of her own conception from original sin and she never committed an actual sin.
  • Her Assumption anticipates the final judgment when God will reunite our bodies with our immortal souls.

Practical Application: Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary

  • We venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.
  • Just as the ancient Jews venerated the Ark of the Covenant (it was the only physical thing they were permitted to venerate—everything else was idolatry), we can also venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catholic piety has invented countless ways to do so. I’ll discuss just two here.
  • Veneration of Our Lady through images:
    • The Ark was kept in a tent or tabernacle and later in the Temple in the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could see it and he could see it only once a year. When the Temple was sacked and razed, the Ark disappeared. The ancient Jews must have longed to see the Ark again and devout Jews must still desire to see it.
    • We can see Mary anytime we want through some image of her. Do you have an image of Mary close by? In your bedroom, or on your desk, or as a screensaver on your computer, or in your car? You want this so that from time to time during the day you can look at her with love and remind yourself that she heard the word of God and kept it . . . and so should you. Remember, we venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.
  • Veneration through praying the Hail Mary.
    • Drawing on Sacred Scripture, Catholic piety composed the Hail Mary. We can say this prayer throughout the day in many contexts. One special one is as a last thing at night. As we fall asleep it is appropriate to ask her to intercede for us at the hour of our death.
    • We are sinners because we disobey the moral law. Sin is what gives death its sting. We pray for the same victory over death that Mary accomplished by her cooperation with the graces God gave her. Again, we venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.


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The Prayer of Christ’s Followers: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 10, 2014 (Year A)


Lorenzo Veneziano, Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning (1370)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Christ’s prayer to the Father. Doctrine: The prayer of Jesus and Mary. Practical application: Important norms for our own life of prayer.

To view Lectionary 115, click here.

Central Idea: Christ’s prayer to the Father

Reading 1 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
Then the LORD said to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

  • Horeb or Sinai is the mountain where Moses also spoke to God.
  • Elijah has been driven here by his own people who rejected the LORD and embraced idolatry.
  • When God revealed himself to Elijah, it was through “a tiny whispering sound.”
  • A lesson for us in our life of prayer is that we should not expect God to reveal himself to us or to answer us dramatically (if he does, so much the better). Rather, the normal way to hear him is to listen carefully for “words” that are gentle, non-coercive, and do not contradict the moral law.
  • God’s quiet words should be asking us to do something good: acts of kindness, truth, justice, and so on, as the Psalm indicates. (For example, “God proclaims . . . peace.”)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

R/ Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD — for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.

  • This psalm speaks of the Incarnation of Christ. The person of Christ is our peace. He became near to us. He was God’s glory dwelling in our land. He embodies in himself kindness, truth, justice, and peace. Through him, God himself gave us his benefits.
  • In the time of the Psalmist it was understood that the LORD could be near to those who tried to be near to him. As the Chosen People, the Jews could be near to the LORD.
  • The same is even more true for us through Baptism. We live now in the condition of anticipating heavenly happiness. Heaven is not just something for the future but can be experienced in a limited way now. This heaven now is living in communion with Christ and his family the Church.

Reading 2 Rom 9:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie;
my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness
that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my own people,
my kindred according to the flesh.
They are Israelites;
theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;
theirs the patriarchs, and from them,
according to the flesh, is the Christ,
who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

  • St. Paul was a Jew by birth and a Christian by Christ’s personal calling.
  • He desires his own people’s conversion to Christ so much that he is willing to be damned himself (“accursed and cut off from Christ”) for their sake, meaning for their conversion.
  • He also provides a catalogue of reasons why we should always admire the Jewish religion, first for what God gave them and then for what God gave us through them: “from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever.”

Gospel Mt 14:22-33

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

  • Our Lord wanted to be by himself to pray and he finally got the chance after sending the disciples ahead and dismissing the crowds himself.
  • Like Moses and Elijah on Sinai, Christ “went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Later, these two Old Testament prophets will appear with Christ on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
  • We wonder what Jesus said and what the Father answered. We don’t know, but we can imitate Christ. We can go by ourselves to pray. If we do, we will know what we will say to the Father and we will know what the Father answers. As was the case with Elijah, we should listen carefully.
  • Our own Horeb will be someplace we can be alone: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6:6).
  • Christ shows his complete mastery over nature by walking on water. It is hard to imagine a reason that any of us would need to walk on water but we do need to carry out God’s will with (sometimes) heroic faith. God may ask us to do something we are afraid to do, because it seems beyond our powers, and so we don’t do it. Or, we start to do it and then feel overwhelmed and cry out, “Lord, save me.” God is much more pleased by that seeming failure than the one that results from doing nothing. Still, he rebukes us a little: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
  • In asking Christ to call him to walk with him on the water, Peter was asking to enjoy heaven now. Christ agreed and said, “Come.”

Doctrine: The prayer of Jesus and Mary

  • Jesus “went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Jesus’ prayer to the Father “is the perfect model of prayer in the New Testament. Often done in solitude and in secret,” as we see in today’s Gospel, “the prayer of Jesus involves a loving adherence to the will of the Father even to the Cross and an absolute confidence in being heard.” (CCC 2620)
  • “In his teaching, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray with a purified heart, with lively and persevering faith, with filial boldness. He calls them to vigilance and invites them to present their petitions to God in his name. Jesus Christ himself answers prayers addressed to him.” (CCC 2621)
  • “The prayers of the Virgin Mary, in her Fiat and Magnificat, are characterized by the generous offering of her whole being in faith.” (CCC 2622)

Practical Application: Important norms for our own life of prayer

  • While the Mass is the perfect prayer, we also need to have a private life of prayer, a daily and intimate conversation with God. Heaven is communion with God and one way to begin this communion now is by the conversation of prayer. “Commune with your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (Ps 4:4).
  • As was the case with Christ and his mother, the heart of prayer is offering oneself in “loving adherence to the will of the Father,” regardless of the cost. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). “And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
  • In imitation of Christ our Master, we also have to have the confidence of faith that God will answer our prayers. So we pray with faith. “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.’” (Jn 11: 41-42)
  • We cannot expect our life of prayer to mean anything without on-going conversion of heart. If we don’t work with God to purify our lives of sin, we can’t expect a life of prayer. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mt. 1:15).
  • We can also pray with “filial boldness” or the audacity of a loved child. We can ask for what we want, so long as it is not evil. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13).
  • We pray to the Father through Christ and directly to Christ. Christ “invites [his disciples] to present their petitions to God in his name. Jesus Christ himself answers prayers addressed to him” (CCC 2621).
  • To be vigilant means to be on watch. We are vigilant if we say to Our Lord, I will pray at this time every day and I will pray in these ways every day, and then actually do it.
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