Catholic homily outline for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B – The good shepherd

Good shepherdCentral idea: Christ is the good shepherd. Doctrine: Responsibilities of a good shepherd. Practical application: Supporting one’s bishop.

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 50, click here.

Central idea: Christ is the good shepherd.

Reading 1 Acts 4:8-12

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said:
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

  • Peter makes an extremely bold claim. It is that Jesus Christ is the one and only savior of the world. “There is no salvation through anyone else,” not even Moses.
  • Peter’s proof to the Jewish authorities is the healing of the cripple by the power of Jesus Christ. This proof is hard for those authorities to accept, since they rejected Jesus.
  • A very important virtue every one of us needs—especially those in authority—is humility. A humble person can accept, when given adequate evidence, that he has been wrong about something. A humble person can then adopt the truth, which he now sees. A humble person can also then adapt his behavior to the truth, which he now sees.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone or Alleluia.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his kindness endures forever.

  • In ancient days, princes and kings were the most likely sources of security because of their strength and wealth. We are still tempted to think that safety lies in power and money.
  • But God taught the Chosen People that real security comes from him. God is the savior.
  • We can see Christ our saving Lord in this psalm. He came in the name of the Lord, was rejected by men, especially the men of power, and became “the cornerstone” of salvation for the Chosen People and the whole world.
  • The building of which Christ serves as cornerstone is his Church.

Reading 2 1 Jn 3:1-2

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.

  • In today’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of the unity that Christ creates between God and man: The Father and Jesus know each other; Jesus and his disciples know each other; the logical conclusion is that Jesus’ disciples and the Father must also know each other. Indeed, Our Lord told his apostles, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
  • For a sheep with its needs, it is enough to be a beloved sheep of the good human shepherd. For a human being with our needs, it might be enough to be a beloved subject or servant of Christ our divine master. Yet we are infinitely more: We are, by gift, children of God: we shall even be like God.
  • It is astonishing to us that we are children of God, “yet so we are.” It is astonishing that “the world” does not recognize this. But “the world” does not know us because it did not know Christ.
  • We have to make Christ known, but in the meantime, we have this secret treasure of being in this relationship with God that will unfold later into something even more astonishing.

Gospel Jn 10:11-18

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

  • The good shepherd owns the sheep he cares for. His sheep know they belong to him; they recognize his voice; and they follow him. He has true concern for them. When the wolf attacks, he stays with the sheep to defend them, risking his safety to do so. He will even lay down his life to protect them. He is a kind of father to his sheep.
  • Jesus has laid down his life for us because he has true concern for us.
  • He has done so to defend us against every evil: the devil, sin, and death.
  • Christ knows us and we know him.
  • We know God the Father through him.
  • Although those persons who belong to him are found scattered throughout the world and throughout time, we really do form one Church.
  • Christ was able to defend us from every evil, because he had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again.

Doctrine: Responsibilities of a good shepherd

  • While Jesus Christ is the good shepherd, every Christian who exercises any responsibility toward others also has the duty of acting as a good shepherd. For example, every teacher, coach, and supervisor has a duty of care toward the children under them.
  • This duty to be a good shepherd particularly falls on bishops, especially diocesan bishops, who are the pastors or shepherds of the faithful of the dioceses entrusted to them. One’s diocesan bishop has Christ’s power, which he first gave to his apostles, to teach, sanctify, and rule the portion of Christ’s people entrusted to him.
  • The Code of Canon Law spells these episcopal responsibilities. Here are some of them.
    • The bishop’s duty of care is very wide. According to Can. 383 §1, “In exercising his pastoral office, the diocesan Bishop is to be solicitous for all Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care, whatever their age, condition or nationality, whether they live in the territory or are visiting there. He is to show an apostolic spirit also to those who, because of their condition of life, are not sufficiently able to benefit from ordinary pastoral care, and to those who have lapsed from religious practice.” To those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, “He is to act with humanity and charity” (383 §3). And he “is to consider the non-baptized as commended to him in the Lord, so that the charity of Christ, of which the Bishop must be a witness to all, may shine also on them” (383 §4).
    • The bishop’s duty to teach is also very wide: According to Can. 386 §1, “The diocesan Bishop is bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to behavior. He is himself to preach frequently. He is also to ensure that the provisions of the canons on the ministry of the word, especially on the homily and catechetical instruction, are faithfully observed, so that the whole of christian teaching is transmitted to all.”
    • The bishop must also be an example of holiness. According to Can. 387, “Mindful that he is bound to give an example of holiness, charity, humility and simplicity of life, the diocesan Bishop is to seek in every way to promote the holiness of Christ’s faithful according to the special vocation of each.” As part of these responsibilities, the Code also spells out requirements in terms of being present (rather than absent) from his diocese and visiting all of his diocese (rather than staying in one place) (Can. 395 & 396).

Practical application: Supporting one’s bishop

  • Clearly, one’s bishop has immense responsibilities before God. What are ways that we, the sheep, can support our shepherd?
  • Sheep hear the voice of their shepherd. We can pay attention to what our bishop is saying. Our bishop has the duty to preach and teach and it is only right that we listen attentively and intelligently. Indeed, Can. 212 §1 tells us that “Christ’s faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.” The diocesan newspaper and website are often effective ways of keeping up with what one’s bishop is saying.
  • Sheep also respond to the voice of their shepherd, so he knows where they are and how they are doing.
    • We can show appreciation for the good our bishop is doing by telling him personally or in writing.
    • When we need something or see a need not being filled we can let him know that. (Can 212 §2).
    • When we see something in our bishop’s behavior or something seriously amiss which comes under his purview, we can let him know—rather than practice the sin of detraction in complaining to everyone but him. Indeed, we have the right and at times the duty to let our views be known “on matters which concern the good of the Church” (Can 212 §3).
  • Another important way we can support our shepherd is by praying for him. It would be crazy not to pray every day for one’s family: one’s parents, siblings, spouse, and children. In the same way, we should pray each day for our spiritual family, especially our “fathers”: the pope, one’s bishop, and the pastor of one’s parish.
  • Finally, we can support our bishop by join him in whatever works he is advocating. This requires a discernment of how we can apply some of our time, talent, or treasure along those lines.
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Catholic homily outline for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B – Repent and Be Saved

road to emmausCentral idea: Repent and be saved. Doctrine: Encounter with Christ. Practical application: Face to face with the Truth.

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 47, click here.

Central idea: Repent and be saved

Reading 1 Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

Peter said to the people:
“The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus,
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Now I know, brothers,
that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

  • In Jerusalem, at Solomon’s Portico in the Temple precincts, Peter has just restored to wholeness the beggar who was lame since birth.
  • The Jews who witnessed this were filled with wonder and Peter took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to them.
  • Our God, he said to them, has glorified Jesus. Even though he was Holy and Righteous, you people denied him before this Gentile ruler who could see his innocence. You people chose a murderer over the author of life, but God made his choice and raised him from the dead.
  • You have an excuse, though, Peter continues: your ignorance, which your leaders shared. You didn’t realize that the Messiah would suffer.
  • The action Peter called them to perform was to “repent . . . and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9

R. Lord, let your face shine on us or R. Alleluia.

When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
have pity on me, and hear my prayer!

Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one;
the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.

O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart.

As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep,
for you alone, O LORD,
bring security to my dwelling.

  • When God’s faithful realize they are in trouble, they call upon the Lord to deliver them.
  • Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico uncovered for the Jews gathered around him the serious mistake they had made and the grave evil in which they had participated. But if they repent, everything will be fine again.
  • The colossal mistakes we repeatedly can make are to deny there is something wrong when there is and to deny that we have done something wrong when we have.
  • The sooner we turn to the Lord the sooner we will have an answer, relief, mercy, gladness, security, and peace.

Reading 2 1 Jn 2:1-5a

My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep
his commandments.
Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.

  • It is easy to forget that Christ became man to redeem us from sin.
  • It is easy to forget that we need that redemption because we are sinners.
  • To know Christ is to be friends with him. His friendship toward us is established by being “expiation for our sins.” Our friendship toward him is established by keeping his commandments.
  • When we do not keep his commandments we sin. We can either confess our sins and return to his friendship or deny we have sinned and make ourselves liars who say we know Christ when we don’t.

Gospel Lk 24:35-48

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

  • Christianity began because Christ’s disciples believed he rose from the dead. They believed this because of the evidence of their senses: Christ appeared to them, spoke to them, showed them where he had been wounded, and even ate something in front of them to show them he was no ghost.
  • Luke recounts that the apostles experienced a flood of emotions: they were startled and terrified, troubled and full of questions, and incredulous for joy and amazed.
  • Our Lord gave them a key, so to speak, to understand him and the Jewish Scriptures: His death and resurrection and his disciples’ mission fulfill the law and the prophets and the psalms.
  • Our Lord also gave them their commission: to preach to all nations repentance from sin in his name.
  • Thus the core of our faith and of these readings is this: Christ has saved us from our sins through his suffering so we should repent.
    • Christ is the Savior.
    • He saved us through his suffering.
    • So turn from your sins.
    • Repent and be saved.

Doctrine: Encounter with Christ

  • In the Responsorial Psalm we sang, “The LORD will hear me when I call upon him.”
  • A practical conclusion we can draw from this Psalm is that is that the sooner we turn to him the sooner we will have an answer, relief, mercy, gladness, security, and peace.
  • What is decisive is that in this call and answer there is a real encounter with Christ who can heal us.
  • Pope Francis has written “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’.”(Evangelium Gaudium §3, quoted in LIOM155)
  • This is why the Church exists, Pope St. John Paul II explains: “In order to make this ‘encounter’ with Christ possible, God willed his Church. Indeed, the Church ‘wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life.’” (Veritatis Splendor §7, quoted in LIOM §156)

Practical application: Face to face with Truth

  • How is one open to a personal encounter with Christ? How does one have this encounter? How can it be daily?
  • In one sense this is something between God and each individual. There are as many ways as there are people. Yet it is possible for us because Baptism makes us children of God. It is also possible through the graces of the other sacraments we have received which persist in us: Confirmation, Matrimony, or Holy Orders. It is also possible through those sacraments we can receive on many occasions, like Reconciliation and, above all, the Eucharist.
  • While this personal encounter comes about through the Church it usually needs to occur in some kind of quietness. This quietness requires not only a withdrawal from the noise and business of the world outside us. It also requires us to quiet ourselves, because we can kneel, close our eyes, and look like we are praying, and yet be completely occupied by our own thoughts.
    • One reason we may want to occupy ourselves even when we are praying is that we are afraid of this encounter actually happening. We can be afraid that God wants to ask for something we don’t want to give.
    • Another reason we might want to occupy ourselves is the fear that nothing will actually occur. We may doubt that God even exists.
  • The answer, I think, are the virtues of courage, love, and optimism: courage to face the truth, love for the truth, and confidence that the truth is always best.
  • In this way, we can say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” or “I come to do your will,” and really mean it. This means we are open to an encounter with Christ.
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Catholic homily outline for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B – Mercy

friday_12

Central idea: Christ is the fullness of God’s mercy. Doctrine: Divine mercy. Practical application: Qualities of the merciful.

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 44, click here.

Central idea: Christ is the fullness of God’s mercy

Reading 1 Acts 4:32-35

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

  • The first Christians in Jerusalem, gathered around the apostles, formed a community of mutual love.
  • The source of their love for one another was joy in the resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Their Lord’s vicars—the apostles—directed the life of the community. One consequence of their love was the sharing of their property, so no one was in need.
  • The primitive Church lived mercy by taking care of its members who otherwise would be needy.
  • We can see in the forms of religious life that have arisen in the Church echoes of the primitive Church in Jerusalem. Religious live poverty (the individual renunciation of ownership of any property) and obedience to their duly appointed superior.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting or R. Alleluia.

Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.

  • His mercy endures forever. God is merciful to human beings. Men understandably plead for God’s mercy when they are in travail, especially when in danger of death. We should also plead for God’s merciful aid as much when we are tempted. And even more, we should plead for God’s merciful forgiveness when we actually sin.
  • I was hard pressed and was falling. In his Passion, Christ was in danger of death, hard pressed and falling, and was, indeed, utterly rejected.
  • The joyful shout of victory in the tents of the just. His Resurrection is his “joyful shout of victory.” It is ours, too, because he restores us to a state of justice by his merciful atonement.
  • The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Jesus Christ is that stone. A cornerstone is important because it is the first stone set in a building and every other stone is laid in reference to it. Thus, Christ is the foundation of his Church and every other follower lives in reference to him.
  • This is the day the Lord has made. This cornerstone was laid on the new day of the Resurrection.
  • Let us be glad and rejoice in it. God has done something new for all time, which is a perennial source of joy.

Reading 2 1 Jn 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

  • To be “begotten by God” means to be a child of God.
  • We become children of God by believing that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the savior of the world.
  • Children of God love not only God but also God’s other children.
  • How do we love God and his children? By keeping God’s commandments.
  • These commandments are not mysterious. They are embodied in the natural moral law that can known using reason. They are embodied in the privileged expression of the natural law, which is the Ten Commandments. They are embodied in the two great commandments: To love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. They are embodied above all for the child of God in Christ’s New Commandment: To love one another as Christ has love us, which is to do what is truly good for the other even if it requires sacrifice on our part.
  • As St. John says, this is not burdensome. In fact, it is attainable with God’s help. It is what overcomes the world. It conquers the sin which is the source of the suffering that every person encounters in this world.
    • God’s mercy has come to us through the water and blood that flowed from the pierced side of Christ. It continues to come to us through Baptism and the Eucharist.Thus, God shows his superabundant mercy to us by making us children of God, victors over the sin and death of the world.

Gospel Jn 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

  • God’s mercy, revealed in Christ, takes away something and gives something.
    • What he takes away is sin. One way Christ dispenses this mercy is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He gives his Apostles (and those who hold their office after them) the power to forgive sins. This power requires discretion, for they can either forgive the sin or not. To make this judgment, they must know what the sin is. That is why we also call this sacrament Confession.
      • The consequence of the forgiveness of sins is peace. That is why Jesus’ greeting is “Peace be with you.”
    • What he gives is life, the fullness of eternal life.
  • The signs that Jesus did were miraculous acts whose purpose was to move his disciples to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief” they might “have life in his name.”
  • John the Evangelist recalls a number of these signs for our sake, that we might have the same life-giving faith.
  • We have not seen these signs with our own eyes, but by hearing about them and believing them, we are those “Blessed . . . who have not seen and believed.”

Doctrine: Divine mercy

  • Paul tells us that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). God loves man so much that even when man is dead in sin he gives him life in Christ.
  • Pope St. John Paul II in his second encyclical Dives in misericordia (DM) uncovers the essence of God’s mercy, a mercy we should imitate.
    • “The true and proper meaning of mercy . . . is manifested . . . when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man” (DM §6).
    • Thus, true mercy is not just a feeling of compassion toward someone suffering from physical evil or sin, though, for us, that is a start. It is not just doing something for someone suffering any in those ways, though that is a very good thing for us to do. Rather, it is restoring that person to his or her dignity.
    • “Understood in this way,” St. John Paul II goes on, “mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission (DM §6). In other words, Our Lord’s basic message is God’s mercy toward man; his fundamental work is to restore man to his original dignity.
      • Both the message and the work of God’s mercy are revealed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The son wrongly thought that his treasure was the material goods he would receive from his father, “but more important than these goods was his dignity as a son in his father’s house” (DM §5). The father still saw the son’s dignity, despite his sin and poverty. His heart went out to him and he restored him to his sonship when he came to his senses and returned home.
    • John Paul II goes on, “[Christ’s] disciples and followers understood and practiced mercy in the same way. Mercy never ceased to reveal itself, in their hearts and in their actions, as an especially creative proof of the love which does not allow itself to be ‘conquered by evil,’ but overcomes ‘evil with good’ (Rom 12:21)” (DM §6).
      • Thus, in his merciful love, God draws good from evil. His followers are called to do the same.

Practical application: Qualities of the merciful

  • God shares his riches with us, including his mercy.
  • Because God was merciful to them, the first members of the Church did not claim their possessions as their own but shared then with persons who otherwise would be needy.
  • Since everything we possess is ultimately a gift from God, we don’t claim anything we possess as our own either. We show mercy to others by sharing our time, talents, and treasures with our neighbor.
  • In one of his homilies, St. Josemaria Escriva gives some practical advice on how followers of Christ can live God’s mercy.
    • Christ “‘began to do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1); he first taught by his action, and then by his divine preaching.”
      • Christ began by serving others. “I really wish we Christians knew how to serve, for only by serving can we know and love Christ and make him known and loved.”
      • A vice in opposition to this mercy is authoritarianism.
    • What else do we need to serve others?
      • We need virtues, because God “normally does not build on disorder, selfishness or emptiness.”
      • We need to be understanding. Everyone does what they do for a reason they think has some good in it.
      • We need to be peacemakers.
      • We need to forgive everyone.
      • We also need truth, not to say evil is not evil.
      • We need not to repay evil with evil but rather to drown evil in an abundance of good.
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Catholic homily outline for Palm Sunday, Year B

Entry into Jerusalem woodcarvingDue to the unique length of today’s Palm Sunday readings, this outline will be limited to a few points about the meaning of the texts

To view Lectionary 37-38, click here.

At the Procession With Palms – Gospel Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16

  • The crowd proclaims Jesus Christ as the Messiah. By this, they understand him to be the God-sent, long-awaited heir of David as king.
    • Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
  • But in just a few days they either will abandon him out of fear or will betray him by calling for his crucifixion.
  • Nevertheless, the Anointed King that the prophets foretold was entering his city, Jerusalem, to redeem the Chosen People and all humanity.
    • Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes.
  • So, despite people’s fickleness, it was a moment of legitimate great joy.
  • But no one accompanying Jesus the Master had any idea how that redemption would be accomplished, even through it was right there in the Old Testament Scriptures, for example in our first reading and responsorial psalm.

At the Mass – First Reading Is 50:4-7

  • In the first reading, Isaiah gives us a prophetic portrait of Jesus Christ the Messiah as the Suffering Servant.
    • The Suffering Servant belongs to God.
      • No prophet ever belonged to God more than Christ because he was God’s only beloved Son.
    • The Suffering Servant is always listening to God in prayer and has completely conformed himself to God’s will.
      • No prophet ever had Christ’s life of prayer and conformity to the will of the Father.
    • The Suffering Servant speaks God’s compassionate word to the people for their
      • No one ever spoke more compassionate words to people for their own salvation.
    • The response the Suffering Servant receives back is physical abuse. Prophets are rejected.
      • No one ever faced more severe physical abuse than Christ.
    • The virtue Christ exercised the most in his Passion was fortitude.
      • Fortitude is courage in the face of fear and toughness in the face of suffering.
        • I have set my face like flint.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

  • Christ is the Son of David, the author of this psalm.
  • Long before Isaiah foresaw the suffering Messiah, King David also foresaw his descendant’s ordeal.
  • This is truly a startling prophecy of the Passion of Christ down to minute details.
  • At the same time, for anyone who has ever been set upon by evil men, it is sickeningly familiar. It was perhaps David’s own experience when he was hunted by those loyal to Saul.
  • David also foresaw his descendant’s redemption. Despite his unjust ordeal, the suffering servant “will proclaim [God’s] name to my brethren” and will praise God “in the midst of the assembly.”

Reading 2 Phil 2:6-11

  • This selection from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of the key passages in the New Testament. It is a meditation on what theologians call Christ’s kenosis or self-emptying [Gr. ekenosen].[1]
    • God the Son came to earth not in the form of God but of man.
    • He came not in the form of a great man but of a humble man.
    • He came in a form so humble that he permitted other men to put him to death.
    • He did this out of obedience to his Father.
    • This is how Christ redeemed us and became the exalted Savior of the world.

Gospel Mk 14:1—15:47

  • The Gospel reading ends before the Redemption is complete, before Christ rises from the dead.
  • He did all he did out of love for us.
  • He left behind the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
  • Then he underwent the full human drama Mark recounts which fulfilled the predictions of the Old Testament.
  • Without being facetious, we can say it is no fun to be a prophet and even less to fulfill a prophecy. The self-emptying required is hard. Noting could be harder than redeeming the world, so only God-made-Man could do it.
  • No one had any idea how that redemption would be accomplished. We do now. This is why we kneel at the point in the proclamation of the Gospel when Christ’s body hangs dead on the Cross. It is our confession, not just with our minds and hearts but also with our bodies, that Jesus Christ, seemingly defeated, is Lord.

[1] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08617a.htm

 

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Catholic homily outline for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Temperance

Salvador Dali's Ascension of Christ

Salvador Dali’s Ascension of Christ “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

Central idea: Loving life by hating it. Doctrine: The virtue of temperance or selfless self-preservation. Practical application: Personal encounter with Christ.

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 35, click here.

Central idea: Loving life by hating it

Reading 1 Jer 31:31-34

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

  • “The New Testament presents the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as inaugurating a new covenant open to anyone who professes faith in Jesus the Christ” (NAB note). We have the ability now, through grace, to know God, to be his son or daughter, to find his law of love written in our hearts, and to be forgiven our sins.
  • Because for each of us personally the new covenant is only beginning, we still need to be taught by our “friends and relatives how to know the Lord.” These friends and family are the members of the Church. This teaching is the work of evangelization and catechesis.
  • This new covenant, unlike the Mosaic covenant, is gentle and without coercion. In Exodus, God led the Chosen People out of Egypt with powerful signs. When they disobeyed the covenant, God punished them like a master would a disobedient slave.
  • But the New Covenant is voluntary and fitting free persons.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15

R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.

  • Our hearts are completely cleaned in Baptism, but as our lives go on, we sin and so sully them.
  • God is always ready to ‘forgive our evildoing and remember our sin no more,’ as Jeremiah put it.
  • We need clean hearts both because they are good for us to have and because that is what draws others to God and to doing good.

Reading 2 Heb 5:7-9

In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

  • Our Lord always was perfect, both perfect God and perfect man. However, he had a work to accomplish, and this work was completed when he remained perfectly obedient to the Father by suffering everything his Passion called for.
  • We can imitate Christ whenever we want, because we all have sufferings, large and small, that we can offer to the Father. We learn obedience to the Father, who permits us to experience these evils. We reverently offer them to the Father, who can save us from death. These crosses, so offered, perfect us.

Gospel Jn 12:20-33

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
Philip went and told Andrew;
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said,
“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.”
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth he began to draw everyone to him.
    • To be “lifted up from the earth” can mean Christ’s entire work to save and sanctify men: his sufferings, his being lifted up on the cross on which he died, his rising up from the dead, and his ascension into heaven.
    • Why draw everyone to him? Christ is “the source of eternal salvation,” as Hebrews puts it.
  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth, God judged the world.
    • Part of the judgment was against ruler of this world, that is, the devil, and the judgment was to begin to drive him out of the world.
    • The other part of the judgment pertained to us. This judgment was radically different than what we might expect from the judgment of practically the entire world in the story of Noah or the judgment of Sodom in the time of Lot. Instead, God’s judgment was that he loves us even in our sins and wants to save us. He wants to lift us from the dominion of the devil whose subjects we are if we sin.
  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth, he glorified the Father and himself.
    • He did this in the most surprising and counterintuitive way. He glorified himself by completely emptying himself, by letting himself be marred and humiliated and crushed. An earthly man would glorify himself by slaying all his enemies and forcing everyone else to serve him. The God-man glorified himself by serving everyone and by letting himself be slain.
  • We participate in God’s good judgment of sinners when we turn from loving our lives to hating them.
    • What does it mean to hate your life? It means to turn from one’s understandable desire for self-preservation to reliance on God’s care.
      • One’s desire for self-preservation is seen in holding on to, by whatever means necessary, ‘my needs, my desires, my pleasures, my health, my honor, my reputation, my being right.’
    • Hating your life means ordering all of those good things to the will of God.
      • To live the virtue of Christian chastity, for example, means ordering one’s desire for sexual pleasure according to the will of God. This means saying no to the desire in many circumstances and yes to it in others. That saying ‘no’ is the kind of good self-hatred Christ advocates.
    • When we hate our lives—in this sense—we plant the grain of wheat in the ground so that it can begin to grow and bear fruit. When we do this “the Father will honor” us, because we are serving his son.

Doctrine: The virtue of temperance or selfless self-preservation

  • Temperance is the virtue or good habit by which we moderate our desire for pleasurable things. We moderate this desire by saying yes to acts that give us pleasure only at the right time and in the right circumstances.
  • Temperance moderates passions necessary for life: hunger and thirst because we must eat and drink; sexual desire so the human race can continue; anger to defend against aggression and injustice; and even hunger for knowledge so we can be educated. These passions are so good in themselves.
  • Josef Pieper describes temperance as selfless self-preservation, whereas intemperance is selfish self-destruction (Pieper p. 150).
    • Pieper argues that our passions get us in trouble because instead of the inner order that ought to prevail in us we have an actual interior disorder.
    • God has created us with a nature which directs us to love him above ourselves, whereas due to original sin we are inclined to love ourselves more than God.
    • We observe the inner order proper to us when we act in obedience to the moral law.
    • Yet we often reject the moral order and make these life-giving drives destructive.
      • Hunger becomes gluttony. Thirst becomes drunkenness. Sexual desire becomes lust. Just anger becomes uncontrollable fury. Even the desire to know becomes the vice of curiosity. (Pieper 150-151)
    • One of the reasons the Church makes every Friday a day of penance and gives us the season of Lent each year is to help us put a curb on our passions, something possible through God’s grace and our cooperation.
    • The virtue of temperance does not ask us to enjoy pleasures less; rather, it makes it possible to enjoy them as much as we wish but at the right time and under the right circumstances.

Practical application: Personal encounter with Jesus Christ

  • We have seen that Our Lord asks us to hate ourselves in a good way. It is easy to see why many persons do not want to do this. It is easy to see why we Catholics do not want to do this! A lot of what Christ asks—which the Church merely echoes—seems very hard.
  • Each of us can ask ourselves what are the obstacles that stand in the way of following Christ fully. The answer will be some form or combination of weakness, vice, sin, fear, or woundedness.
  • The solution is Christ himself, the Divine Physician. He makes it possible for us to live according to his hard sayings.
  • As the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families in 2015 puts it in regard to evangelization, “In the Church, the first priority is to bring people to an encounter with the Divine Physician. Any encounter with Christ brings healing to fallen humanity, and the Holy Spirit can always be invited into our hearts to enable repentance and conversion.”
  • The authors are not saying this for people “out there” but are addressing each one of us, you and me.
  • We know this because they then go on to quote Pope Francis: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” (LIOM155)
    • Each one of us needs to be renewed, as Pope Francis says. We should seek this everyday.
  • Then, as Jeremiah foresaw, the time will have come when the Lord says, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; . . . No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.”
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Catholic homily outline for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Catholic institutions and same-sex marriage

Henry Ossawa Tanner "Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus"

Henry Ossawa Tanner “Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus”

Central idea: Medicinal suffering. Doctrine: Why Catholic institutions ought not extend marriage benefits to same-sex unions. Practical application: Virtues needed to live the truth.

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 32, click here.

Central idea: Medicinal suffering

Reading 1: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23

In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people
added infidelity to infidelity,
practicing all the abominations of the nations
and polluting the LORD’s temple
which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers,
send his messengers to them,
for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.
But they mocked the messengers of God,
despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets,
until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed
that there was no remedy.
Their enemies burnt the house of God,
tore down the walls of Jerusalem,
set all its palaces afire,
and destroyed all its precious objects.
Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon,
where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons
until the kingdom of the Persians came to power.
All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah:
“Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,
during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest
while seventy years are fulfilled.”

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,
the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia
to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom,
both by word of mouth and in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia:
All the kingdoms of the earth
the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me,
and he has also charged me to build him a house
in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people,
let him go up, and may his God be with him!”

  • Looking back at the terrible events that must have seemed incomprehensible when they occurred, this sacred writer sees the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity as consequences of Israel’s sin. And he sees their return as God’s mercy.
  • The Chosen People—princes, priests, and people—wanted to live like every other people on earth. That is, they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do, which meant to sin freely, if what they wanted to do was sinful. And so, finally, God let them also suffer the fate of every people on earth, which was to be used by physically stronger sinners who killed them, or enslaved them, or used them for their entertainment, and who plundered their goods.
  • The sacred writer shows God’s punishment to be medicinal. Their suffering caused them to turn back to God who was merciful. The Chosen People collectively did penance for some seventy years—“Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,” that is, until the people had made up for their disobedience to the Covenant.
  • Our penance only makes sense if it, too, is medicinal. This is to say, we should see both our involuntary suffering and our voluntary penances as ways for ourselves and others to be healed of the effects of sin and to grow in virtues.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6

R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!

May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.

  • The Chosen People in exile, enslaved in Babylon, were right to never want to forget their true homeland, Jerusalem. They wanted more than anything to go back there.
  • Many persons experience something similar: there was a time when things were right, but things are not right now, and they would give anything to go back to the time before and start over.
  • Every child enters the world with maximal hope for every good thing, but that hope is relentlessly attacked by evil, both moral evil in sin and natural evil in suffering.
  • We can’t go back to our first beginning, but we can begin again and again, in Christ, to live lives of goodness until our new beginning with Christ in heaven.

Reading 2 Eph 2:4-10

Brothers and sisters:
God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love he had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ—by grace you have been saved—,
raised us up with him,
and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.

  • God “is rich in mercy,” as shown in his great love for sinners while they are in sin.
  • In Baptism, God joins us with Christ and brings us to life, raises us from death, and seats us with him in heaven. This will happen definitively in heaven but it is true in a hidden way even now.
  • This salvation and sanctification is a gift from God. We don’t earn it by our works. Rather the good works we do now are our way of corresponding to his grace. Because God has saved us, we strive to live lives of goodness by cooperating with the graces God sends us.

Gospel Jn 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“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.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

  • John 3:16 in isolation seems so beautiful and welcoming, but in context, Jesus’ words are shocking. At the same time they are good because they are true.
  • Apart from Jesus Christ we are on the way to perishing, not in mere oblivion, but in condemnation, because our works are evil.
  • Other animals besides cows, pigs, and chickens live in barns. When it is dark outside and the farmer switches on the lights in his barn, the rats run for cover and the birds nesting in the rafters begin to sin.
    • What category do you prefer to be in: a person who prefers darkness to light because your works are evil and you don’t want them exposed; or a person who comes to the light because your works have been done in God and so you are happy for them to be clearly seen?
  • All of us are sinners and sinners want to hide that their works are evil. But God gave his only Son to us who are sinners to save us.

Doctrine: Reasons why Catholic institutions ought not extend marriage benefits to same-sex unions

  • Just as in the past, people today want to do whatever they wanted to do, which means to sin freely, if what they want to do is sinful. Today, intrinsically evil acts are being called good. More and more, Catholics and their institutions are being pressured not just to tolerate those acts but to affirm them.
  • A particularly worrying trend today is the push to make Catholic institutions recognize and provide benefits to same-sex civilly “married” couples. By Catholic institutions we can include schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and other Church-affiliated agencies, religious orders (many employ lay persons), and non-profit and for-profit institutions owned by Catholic individuals. This is a very serious problem because when Catholic institutions extend marital benefits to same-sex couples they are voluntarily de-Catholicizing themselves.
  • The following points are summarized and paraphrased from a recent position paper by three major American Catholic thinkers.
    • It is morally indefensible for Catholic institutions to extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples. In fact it is their duty—as it is for Catholics in general—to oppose it and not to cooperate with it. We must be conscientious objectors. Thus, recognizing and making privileged such unions are wrong.
    • In addition, extending marriage benefits to such civil unions also has all kinds of negative consequences for those persons and the other persons in and affected by those institutions. So, what are the implications of a Catholic institution recognizing same-sex unions and extending marriage benefits to them?
      • Doing so encourages same-sex couples to persist in their immoral commitment. Why? Because it would withdraw those benefits if the “couple” annulled or dissolved their public commitment.
      • Doing so creates a scandalous structure of sin. Why? Because in recognizing same-sex marriage as equivalent to traditional marriage and extending to it marital benefits, the institution is saying that the sexual relations between those persons must not be gravely immoral. This harms the same-sex partners because the institution is not telling them the truth. It also harms everyone who knows of this policy. Why? Regardless of the kind of sexual temptations these on-lookers face, they know that this institution, at least, must not consider any kind of consensual sex by or among adults a grave matter. So the institution is also not telling them the truth.
      • This misleading of persons by the institution will become permanent as those in same-sexual relationships are integrated into every level of the institution, including leadership positions, in the same way that traditionally married persons are.
    • By bestowing recognition and benefits to same sex couples, the institution would also be cooperating in the grave harm the children these same-sex couples would adopt or somehow have, rendering those children deliberately either fatherless or motherless.
    • Finally, the Catholic institution would lose its ability to argue for itself any religious freedom against civil law. The institution would have already proven it had set aside one area fundamental to Catholic doctrine. From that point on, whatever a legal authority dictated the institution had to do, the institution would have no grounds for resistance.

Practical application: Virtues needed to live the truth

  • Perhaps three virtues are particularly needed today among adult Catholics, especially those in leadership in Catholic institutions, Catholics who operate their own businesses according to the moral law, and ordinary Catholics in the world of work who may be pressured to cooperate in morally evil acts. These virtues are justice, prudence, and fortitude.
  • Justice demands that we speak and live the truth. As we saw above, an institution must tell the truth to its members and those affected by its policies, in this case persons who contract same-sex unions, their “children,” and on-lookers.
  • Prudence makes it possible to live the truth effectively and appropriately.
    • If it is not necessary to speak or act, one can be silent. There is no need to tell everyone everything on you mind.
    • In explaining the reasons for your opposition to cooperation with evil there is a difference between apologetics and an appeal to one’s rights.
      • Apologetics is the ability to explain why you believe and act the way you do. The aim is to show that your beliefs and actions are reasonable. This is certainly needed as Catholics engage others in our culture. For example, we will need to explain and defend again and again why we believe that marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of a man and a woman for their good and the good of any children they may be blessed with.
      • Standing up for one’s rights means naming the right in question, repeating the rationale for that right, and then acting accordingly. For example, if my boss tells me I ought to or must attend a baby shower at work for a same-sex colleague who has gotten a child through a surrogate, it should be enough to reply (1) that celebrating this event is against my religion and (2) (if I am in the U.S.) that free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. If my boss is just, that should be the end of the matter.
    • Fortitude is the courage and strength to stand up for the truth in the face of the harm we can suffer for living our Catholic faith. Already people have been harassed and have lost their jobs and their businesses due to legitimate opposition to same-sex marriage. Standing up for the truth may call us to give up a lot.
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Catholic homily outline for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B – Christ and Laws

images-10

Central idea: God’s Law and Jesus Christ. Doctrine: God’s law, the natural law, civil law, and conscience. Practical application: Obeying God and not men.

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 29, click here.

Central idea: God’s Law and Jesus Christ

Reading 1 Ex 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
“I, the LORD, am your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves
in the shape of anything in the sky above
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;
but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation
on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished
the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Six days you may labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,
or your male or female slave, or your beast,
or by the alien who lives with you.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in them;
but on the seventh day he rested.
That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother,
that you may have a long life in the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything else that belongs to him.”

  • This is the Decalogue, the “ten words” or commandments that God gave to his Chosen People and to the world through them.
  • The Law was given to Moses and the Chosen People in a dramatic display of power: Mt. Horeb was enveloped in cloud, fire, smoke, and lightening, and the people heard thunder and the peals of a mighty trumpet (Ex 19:16 ff.).
  • A rationale is given for keeping the Sabbath rest. For the rest, either no explanation is given or the argument is obey and be blessed; disobey and be punished.
  • However, as God’s people lived the law and pondered it, they began to see how good and beautiful it was.
  • The Catechism tells us the Decalogue “must first be understood in the context of the Exodus, God’s great liberating event at the center of the Old Covenant.” These ten words “point out the conditions of a life freed from the slavery of sin. The Decalogue is a path of life.” (CCC 2057)
  • The revelation of the Ten Commandments is another example of how God has blessed every nation through Abraham and his descendants.
  • Why are the Ten Commandments necessary? Under certain conditions, we will want to do the opposite, will consider the opposite as good and a way to life and happiness, when in reality it is not.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
elightening the eye.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

  • This psalm expresses the truth that as a person obeys the Law deliberately and reflectively, he will begin to see how good and beautiful it is.
    • For example, bearing false witness against one’s neighbor can only bring you into a world of trouble but becoming a person who tells the truth is a reward in itself.
  • Indeed, as the Catechism points out, the Decalogue is a path of life (CCC 2057).

Reading 2 1 Cor 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

  • What does it take to commit oneself to ultimate truth? The Jews of Jesus’ time were looking for great displays of God’s power—signs or miracles. This is understandable since that was how God dealt with their ancestors. The Greeks, on the other hand, were looking for wisdom. This is understandable, too. The Greeks gave the ancient world philosophy. Think of Plato and Aristotle.
  • Christ crucified made no sense to either group. For Jews, it was the opposite of a great display of power from God. It looked more like a curse. For Greeks, it was foolish to think that God would involve himself in human affairs in such a sordid way.
  • It is for us to discern the power and wisdom hidden in Crucifixion of Christ.

Gospel Jn 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the moneychangers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.

  • The crowds thronging Jerusalem during Passover were attracted to Jesus and impressed by the signs or miracles he performed.
  • The merchants, moneychangers, and the temple officials would be furious, though, since Jesus disrupted their biggest money-making season.
  • Here Christ foretells his greatest miracle. He is the true temple of God because he is God incarnate. Men will destroy this temple by putting him to death but he will rebuild it through his resurrection.
  • At the time, Jesus’ disciples did not understand Jesus’ zeal as Son of the Father. They also did not grasp that he was the true temple of God.
  • Perhaps Jesus’ disciples were impressed by the success their master seemed to be enjoying in Jerusalem, since “many began to believe in his name.”
  • But Jesus was not a celebrity riding a wave of success due to people wanting whatever he was offering. He had his own agenda which no one around him understood. He understood people but people did not understand him. He knew human nature. He knew it and loved it, but prudently did not trust it in us fallen men.
  • God gradually revealed himself to humanity through words and deeds. The words are the entire moral law, the Ten Commandments, the two greatest commandments, the new commandment of love, and Christ himself the Word of God. The deeds are signs, blessings and punishments, the experience of happiness of doing good, and suffering, death, and resurrection.

Doctrine: God’s Law, the natural law, civil law, and conscience

  • We live in a time in which Christian consciences are being pressured to accept and to approve things which are immoral. We are accused of unjustly trying to impose our religious morality on people who don’t accept our faith.
  • To counter this, each adult Catholic needs to see clearly the relationship between the Ten Commandments, the natural law, and civil law.
  • Natural law. From pagan Greece and Rome, the Church inherited, developed, and has defended the philosophical notion of natural law. The natural law is what is good and evil for human beings based on our human nature. These standards of human flourishing can be known by reason alone.
    • For example, everyone can know that it is wrong to physically harm or even kill another human being without a just reason. A well-formed conscience can be our guide. What is conscience? It is nothing other than our reason sitting in judgment of our actions, approving or condemning them based on our correct understanding of the natural law.
  • The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are a revealed expression of the natural law. As the Catechism tells us, “The commandments of the Decalogue, although accessible to reason alone, have been revealed.” We needed this revelation “to attain a complete and certain understanding of the requirements of the natural law . . . ‘because the light of reason was obscured and the will had gone astray’.” Thus, “we know God’s commandments through the divine revelation proposed to us in the Church [the Ten Commandments] and through the voice of moral conscience [the natural law].” (CCC 2071)
    • For example, the Fifth Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” expresses and entails everything the natural law teaches us about defending life.
  • Civil law. Civil law exists to embody the natural law in particular times and places for the good of those under it. The commandment not to kill or harm the innocent can be legislated in many different ways and we have laws against all kinds of assault. These laws get their legitimacy by being grounded in the natural law.
  • What about unjust laws? Notice what Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail about the relationship between the civil law and the moral law: “I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

Practical application: Obeying God and not men

  • We should normally obey both God and duly-authorized men. Basing herself both on Divine Revelation and natural law, the Church teaches us we should readily obey all civil laws unless they are unjust. Sometimes we might have to tolerate and even obey unjust civil laws. An example of this was the Penal Laws imposed on Catholics in the United Kingdom, by which Catholics had their property and inheritances seized, were prohibited from operating schools, and were excluded from much of civil life. However, if the law tries to force us to perform a serious wrong, we have the right and may even the obligation to resist. A current example is the Affordable Care Act. Its regulations require Catholic employers and even religious orders to provide abortion and contraception coverage.
  • This situation underlines our need to be engaged in civic life. We have a duty to exercise our rights as citizens and to defend the rights of others in order to promote the common good. We generally do this by voting and otherwise advocating for our rights.
  • Generally, when we engage with our culture, we have to appeal to reason, not to revelation. It does no good to appeal to the Magisterium of the Church to non-Catholic Christians or to God’s Law to non-Christians, agnostics, or even atheists. Consequently, we need to know the natural law in a way that our parents and grandparents did not. We need simple and readily understandable rational arguments. Here are some examples.
    • Abortion kills an innocent and defenseless human being. We refuse to cooperate in that evil.
    • Marriage is the exclusive and permanent friendship of a man and a woman for their good and the good of any children born from their union. Same-sex marriage is just impossible by definition.
    • Contraception separates sex from its procreative purpose and so goes against human nature. It is harmful to marriage and the family and makes possible widespread sexual immorality. It is wrong to make me provide this for other people.
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Catholic homily outline for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B – Suffering

Caravagio - The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail)

Caravagio – The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail)

Central idea: God wants to bestow life. Doctrine: The problem of suffering. Practical application: Alleviate others’ suffering.

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 26, click here.

Central idea: God wants to bestow life

Reading 1 Gn 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

  • Abraham perfectly obeyed the will of God, even though his understanding of God was defective. That his God would command him to sacrifice his own beloved son may not have surprised him—although it would have grieved him—since that was what other “gods” demanded.
  • The test God gave Abraham was geared to the mentality of that time. Perhaps because Abraham’s vocation was so singular—to be the father of God’s Chosen People—his test was singularly difficult. His test may have been more difficult than Adam’s.
  • The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham had faith. “He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead.” Abraham’s test and receiving his son back were a “symbol” of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection and our own. (Hebrews 11:19)
  • Abraham passed the test and so he—and even we—received the promises: above all that in his descendants all the nations of the earth have been blessed, especially in that son of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
  • Also, he and we learned something new about God, that this was a God who would not ask for or allow a human sacrifice from his followers. If someone’s son needed to be a holocaust for sin, it would be his own.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19

R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

I believed, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.

O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.

  • The most fundamental good is life. After that comes freedom: freedom from the bonds of oppression of every kind. We human beings are masters at enslaving ourselves and enslaving others. Why do we bind ourselves and others? It is because of fear of death and desire for life.
  • On this earth, it is not true that might makes right but it is true that might can usually get what it wants. It is best for us, then, to bind ourselves to the one who is mightiest but also good: God. The word religion in its roots means to bind oneself. It is best to become God’s slave because he is good and only intends to free us from the oppression of sin and death.
  • God’s command to Abraham may not have seemed surprising to Abraham—that was the kind of thing the powerful did—but the outcome was truly surprising. Abraham’s God was not about might getting what it wants by oppression, but rather, God is about life and bestowing benefits on those below him—us.

Reading 2 Rom 8:31b-34

Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

  • As the Psalmist said, “Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” The death of his most faithful one, Jesus Christ, is infinitely precious in the eyes of God.
  • His death is precious to us too, because it is the greatest benefit bestowed on us here below to give us life and freedom.
  • So also precious in God’s eyes is our own death and every kind of suffering we endure.
  • If God handed over his own Son to set us free from sin and death, he will also do everything else for us. Thus, no oppressor outside of us, whether it comes from the world, the flesh, or the devil, and no oppressor inside of us, whether the tyrants of the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, can bind us in slavery.

Gospel Mk 9:2-10

Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.

  • According to Mark, six days before Our Lord’s transfiguration on the mountain occurred, Jesus said “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power” (Mk 9:1).
  • On the mountain, something of Jesus’ divine nature was revealed to Peter, James, and John.
    • Our Lord’s clothing become dazzling white.
    • Moses and Elijah appeared. Usually, they are understood as representing the Law and the prophets, and so, all the promises of the Old Covenant.
    • Also, there was the cloud, which in the Old Testament Scriptures often indicated the presence of God to the people of Israel. Out of it the three apostles heard the voice of God the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
    • Then on the way down from the mountain, Christ told the three that he, “the Son of Man,” would rise from the dead.
  • Peter, James, and John witnessed this transfiguration in which for a moment they saw Christ, the King of the kingdom of God, revealed in power. But at the time, they could not grasp the meaning of what they had seen. Peter “hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified” and they questioned among themselves “what rising from the dead meant.”

Doctrine: The problem of suffering

  • Suffering is universal on this earth. No one escapes it, not even animals. Why suffering exists and how God is implicated in suffering is a mystery: that is, it is only partly intelligible.
    • We can have faith that God permits suffering to bring about a greater good. St. Thomas points this out at the very beginning of the Summa:
      • “As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): ‘Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.’ This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good” (ST 1.2.3.).
        • Sometimes we can see the good that God brings out of evil, like the redemption of the world through the innocent suffering of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we cannot.
      • We can grasp that God respects human freedom by allowing our actions to have real consequences, and sometimes those consequences cause us and those we harm great suffering. For example, God allows the thief to steal, and that means the thief really does deprive people of their property.
      • We can glimpse that somehow suffering and death are the consequences of sin, yet suffering existed on this earth long before the first sin was committed.
      • We can see how witnessing suffering can unleash in us compassion and care, which makes us more human.
      • Through our own suffering, we can see that we are vulnerable and need God and other human beings. Suffering can make us humble and erode our individualistic tendencies.
      • Some suffering seems fair, as when evil-doers are punished.
      • But other suffering seems totally unjust and we feel that God should not permit it, for example, the suffering and death of an innocent child or an innocent child becoming an orphan.
    • The philosopher Peter Kreeft argues that Jesus Christ “did three things to solve the problem of suffering.” In becoming man, God took on our human condition and suffered with us. Second, he transformed “the meaning of our suffering: it is now part of his work of redemption.” Third, through his suffering and death, he overcame death and opened the eternal life in heaven to us: “[H]e transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning.”

Practical application: Alleviate others’ suffering

  • Lent is a time in which we do penance. This means we take on some disciple to make up for our sins and to improve our character. This discipline makes us suffer a little. This suffering is a mortification, that is, a small death, to kill some of our bad qualities, if possible. These practices help us become humble and aware of our need for God. They may also make us more compassionate, because they help us see what others are going through.
  • The Christian response to another’s suffering is not to rejoice in it—even if that person deserves it. It is usually not right to point out to the suffering person that their suffering is just (if it is). It is also not usually right to tell another how this ordeal could be good for their character. The proper response to another’s suffering is kindness and mercy, to alleviate that suffering if we can.
  • What are some things we might be able to do to alleviate others’ suffering?
    • We can pray for them.
    • We can offer their ordeal to God for them.
    • We can be with them.
    • We can let them talk and listen to them.
    • We can do little things for them that please them.
    • We can help them in a way they want to be helped.
  • While these things seem to be sound principles, they can be applied in a thousand different ways depending on the circumstances, so the alleviation of suffering is really a kind of art we can learn by practice.
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Catholic homily outline for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B – Concupiscence

noah-and-the-rainbow-13

Central idea: Sin and its remedy. Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery. Practical application: Lenten activities.

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 23, click here.

Central idea: Sin and its remedy

Reading 1 Gn 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
God added:
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

  • One of the overarching themes of the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments—is God’s desire for friendship between him and human beings. One of the ways this friendship is offered is through covenants—solemn, unbreakable agreements. God established a covenant for humanity through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally Jesus Christ.
  • According to Genesis, God destroyed every living land creature, except those who escaped in the ark: the righteous Noah and his family and the animals. This destroying and cleansing flood was due to the earth being full of irreformable wicked persons.
  • God does not need to be reminded of anything, although we do. So, every time we see a rainbow, we should use it as a reminder that God desires friendship with humanity, so long as we remember this friendship is not a free pass for us to do evil.
  • From the beginning, the Church has seen the deluge of Genesis as a “type” or image or symbol or foreshadowing of the Sacrament of Baptism, as we will see in the second lectionary reading.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.

R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

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.
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 he teaches the humble his way.

  • “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” The first Christians called God’s New Covenant given to us by Jesus Christ the Way. Christ’s way is the way of love. It is God’s love to us and our love back to him.
  • We have to learn what love is, and this takes time—for some a whole lifetime—and so we ask God to teach us how to love and to give us time to do so.
  • God’s way is for those who do not know how to love so well yet, and who sin, but who humbly acknowledge that they need to be shown the way and to be helped on the way. This way is for humble sinners.

Reading 2 1 Pt 3:18-22

Beloved:
Christ suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
who had once been disobedient
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark,
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

  • Jesus Christ, the righteous, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for the benefit of every one of us, the unrighteous—for those of his own generation to whom Peter ministered, to all those who had already died—the “spirits in prison who had once been disobedient”—and for all future persons, including us.
  • Just as Noah and his household were “saved through water,” we are now saved through water, too, the waters of baptism.
  • Baptism is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
  • It is an appeal, that is, we ask for it, either directly or through our sponsors. It is a request for a clear conscience, that is, that our sins be forgiven and that we be given “life in the Spirit.” But it is more than just a request. It really does that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Gospel Mk 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

  • Our Lord ended his ordinary, hidden life and inaugurated his public life with his baptism by John at the Jordan. Then he endured forty days of penance as immediate preparation. Then he began his public ministry in Galilee.
  • We imitate Christ’s forty days in the desert with our forty days of Lenten discipline each year.
  • Christ completely fasted for forty days—the limit of human endurance—so his discipline was much more severe than anything we undertake.
  • Yet, unlike Christ, who was only tempted from without, we are also tempted from within, because we have concupiscence. Christ was physically hungry for food but when we give up anything our entire being seems to go into rebellion.
  • Christ’s reply to Satan—in our verse before the Gospel—when he was given the temptation to turn stones into bread—is useful to us when our mind, will, and senses demand we give up our suddenly, now-seemingly senseless, self-deprivation: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery

  • Two of the ten commandments focus on concupiscence specifically: do not covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. Covetousness is the inordinate desire to possess what you don’t have a right to. It is a sin when the desire is consented to. This is why it can be a sin even if it is only in one’s mind.
  • Concupiscence is that inordinate desire. It is our inclination to sin (CCC 1254).
  • Concupiscence comes from sin, leads to sin, is an evil, but is not itself a sin (CCC 2515).
  • It comes from sin because it is a consequence of the sin of Adam. It leads to sin because it tempts us to sin. It is an evil because it is not good for us to desire something that is wrong. And it is not itself a sin because to have a desire or impulse is not morally blameworthy without consent.
  • Concupiscence is a kind of birth defect every human being has, due to original sin. It would be like being colorblind if the most important thing in life was to be a paint salesperson or to be born with one leg shorter than the other if the most important thing in life was to be a runner.
    • A most important thing in life actually is to be just—to give God and our neighbor what we owe them—but the disordered desire of concupiscence is constantly inclining us toward injustice.
  • John the Apostle identifies three kinds of concupiscence: “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life” (CCC 2514). These refer to the “pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason” (CCC 377). Sensual pleasure is not bad but the desire to enjoy it can lead to adultery and murder (in the case of King David). Earthly goods are also not bad but the desire for them can lead to beating and robbing and nearly murdering an innocent person (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan). Being highly esteemed by others is also a good thing but it can lead to telling all kinds of lies about your exploits.
  • Concupiscence is the “movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason” (CCC 2515). You desire something so you act according to that desire, without thinking or even despite your reason telling you it is wrong. It is essentially the tyranny of one’s passions over one’s reason.
  • This is why the Christian life calls for the self-mastery that comes through growth in virtues.
  • A simple example is dieting. Using your reason you have decided to diet. Many times a day, especially at certain times, you will have the impulse to eat. Which voice will prevail over your will? The voice of reason which says to stick to your diet, or the voice of desire to eat? Of course, going on a diet is not usually a moral matter, but gluttony or a refusal to fast when the Church has required it of a Catholic is.
  • While concupiscence is an evil we have to deal with every day of our lives (CCC 2516), “it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ” (CCC 1264).

Practical Application: Lenten activities

  • Every Friday of the Year and every day of Lent except for Sundays the Church calls us to self-denial or self-discipline in order to root out sin and grow in self-mastery. This is an opportunity for our “manful” resistance to concupiscence “by the grace of Jesus Christ.”
  • Father James Shafer has a simple but very practical plan for us to get a lot out of Lent:
    • “To keep it simple this Lent, try the ‘1-1-1 Plan’: one sin, one add-in, one give-up. Concentrate or focus on one sin or fault that is getting in the way of your relationship with God and with others. Add one positive activity that will deepen your prayer and spiritual life (especially if you think you are too busy to put anything more into an impossibly busy schedule!). Deny yourself something you really like or are attached to.”
  • There are countless ways you can apply this plan and it is up to you what to do. Here are some examples:
    • Examples of sins or faults to stop: criticizing others, gossiping, looking at sexually attractive images, not doing a task immediately, constantly looking at yourself in a mirror, taking God’s name in vain or using crude language, telling “white” lies.
    • Examples of a positive activity to deepen your prayer or spiritual life: making a morning offering, attending an additional Mass during the week, saying a decade of the rosary while doing some routine activity, saying please and thank you, saying “God bless you” to people, praying for each family member by name, praying at an abortion clinic, attending a parish faith enrichment class or event, reading a Gospel for five minutes each day, saying an act of contrition at the end of each day and whenever else you need to, going to Confession each week of Lent.
    • Example of giving up something you like or are attached to: Giving up Ramen, denying yourself the snooze button, stop watching a particular genre of YouTube videos, wearing your second choice outfit, only checking email or Facebook at specific times, no cream or sugar in your coffee.
  • Undertake your Lenten activities consciously. Their purposes are to remind us of our friendship with God and to strengthen that friendship through little acts of love, despite the rebellion of our concupiscence. So, if you plan to do your chores at once, say a decade of the Rosary while getting dressed, and not text anyone during the school day, offer these things up to God over and over, asking him to help you overcome your sins and to grow in freedom to love him and your neighbor.
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