The Resurrection of the Lord: Doctrinal Homily Outline for Easter Sunday (Year A)

Signorelli_Resurrection_detail_1500Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for Easter Sunday (Year A), April 20, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central Idea and Doctrine: The Resurrection of Christ and of us. Practical application: Joy.

To view the Lectionary 42 readings, click here.

Reading 1 Acts 10:34a, 37-43

Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

  • In Acts, St. Peter announced the Gospel to the god-fearing Cornelius and his household after God showed Peter the Gospel was for Gentiles, too.
  • Peter summarized Christ’s public life. Our focus, of course, is on his Resurrection:
    • “This man,” this Divine-human man, we would say, “God raised on the third day,” or rather, he raised his own body from the dead through his Divine power.
    • “[A]nd granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us,” the Apostles and disciples, some five hundred in all.
    • “[T]he witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Our Lord ate and drank with them both as the sign of human fellowship but also to show his body was really alive, that he was not a ghost or apparition of some kind.
    • “He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” This was the Apostles’ commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
    • Peter concludes, “To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” That is the key: Through faith in the person of the Risen Christ, we will be forgiven of our sins. Of course, there is much more goodness we can receive through the Risen Lord, but forgiveness is the first step, the basis of the divine life the Blessed Trinity can build on if we want to cooperate.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R/ This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

“The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.”

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.

  • The “builders” or leaders of men rejected Christ: The Chief Priest, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, Herod, and Pilate.
  • But Christ has become the cornerstone of another building, the Church, the assembly of all who are in a right relationship with the Blessed Trinity, sharing God’s life.
  • Why does Christ’s Resurrection matter to us? It matters for a very personal reason. Christ’s Resurrection matters to us because his Resurrection makes possible not only the forgiveness of our sins but also our own resurrection: Each of us can rejoice and say with the Psalmist, “I shall not die, but live,” and as a consequence, I will be able to “declare the works of the LORD.”

Reading 2 Col 3:1-4

Brothers and sisters:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

  • What can St. Paul mean when he says both “you have died” with Christ and “you were raised with Christ”?
  • St. Paul seems to be saying that when we were baptized, both our death and our resurrection from death were hidden inside it.
  • Baptism is a death to our fallen nature and sins. We are no longer to seek happiness in futility, where it cannot be found.
  • Baptism is also our own resurrection in Christ. What is above is our Master, who is our guide and model. Our glorious resurrected bodies are not visible now because the one who will give them to us is in heaven, which we can’t yet see.

Gospel Jn 20:1-9

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

  • This passage from the Gospel of St. John is the discovery of the empty tomb of Christ by the good women and Peter and John on Easter morning.
  • Mary of Magdala understandably assumed the Roman or Jewish authorities had taken Jesus’ body away. St. John says that they did not yet understand that the Old Testament Scriptures predicted that the Messiah would not only suffer death but that he would rise from the dead. St. John is saying that when he saw the empty tomb he believed Christ had risen from the dead. Soon this Resurrection would be confirmed to their five senses when Christ appeared to them, and even ate and drank with them, as he taught them over the next forty days.

Doctrine: The Resurrection of Christ and of Us

  • In the Creed we recite, “I believe . . . he rose again on the third day” and “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
  • What was resurrected on the third day? Jesus’ body. Death is a separation of the body from the soul. Jesus’ human soul remained united to the divinity of Christ. The Son of God reanimated and transformed his earthly body into a glorified body that morning.
  • The Resurrection is a real, historical event, “attested to by the disciples, who really encountered the Risen One” (CCC 656). It is also a “transcendent event: “[T]his event is mysteriously transcendent insofar as it is the entry of Christ’s humanity into the glory of God” (CCC 656). Calling it transcendent does not mean it was “unreal,” or “mystical,” or, worst of all, “a delusion.” This real event was transcendent in that it went beyond any natural human or material power in creation. It was a work of God giving Christ’s body supernatural power and glory.
  • When we look for our own resurrection, what are we anticipating? Again, bodies die, not souls. We anticipate the resurrection of our bodies, as we recite in the Creed. This is why Christ’s Resurrection means the world to us.
  • “Christ, ‘the first-born from the dead’ (Col 1:18), is the principle of our own resurrection, even now by the justification of our souls (cf. Rom 6:4), and one day by the new life he will impart to our bodies (cf. Rom 8:11)” (CCC 658).
  • If we are faithful we will live in glorified bodies united to our redeemed souls, possessing everything good we are capable of, securely, forever.

 Practical Application: Joy

  • Christ’s Resurrection is a joyful event. Our own resurrection will be the best “day” of our life.
  • But how much joy is in our lives now? How can we get joy? Can we grow in it?
  • These questions may seem pointless to ask because natural joy usually comes unbidden, sometimes totally unexpectedly. It may arrive at the end of a long hard road, when one has either suffered, or worked, or both, and the goal is reached or the evil is vanquished. Joy can also arrive when a sudden good turn happens. It is always more of a gift than an effect of something we cause.
  • We Christians can cultivate joy by being close to the risen Christ. Because he is God he is every happiness and joy. In fact, every human happiness is some reflection of the happiness which he possesses to an infinite degree. Just as God revealed his name, “I AM,” to Moses, meaning God is the being who is existence itself, we can also say not only is God loving, God IS love. God is not just beautiful, but God IS beauty. God IS truth. God IS joy.
  • Our source of joy now is twofold.
    • One is that we are redeemed from our sins and given the promise of eternal life, not just life without end but the fullness of life, love, and happiness.
    • Our other source of joy is closely related to this promise and it is a reality now. It is that we have become children of God, sharers in his nature. We have the noble task of living as prophets, priests, and kings in this temporal world, which it is our task to reform and perfect. Hope, optimism, and cheerfulness ought to characterize us and they are all within our everyday grasp.
  • Malcolm Muggeridge, that eminent British journalist who made a late-in-life conversion to Catholicism, wrote, “All I can claim to have learnt from the years I have spend in this world is that the only happiness is love, which is attained by giving, not receiving: and that the world itself only becomes the dear and habitable dwelling place it is when we who inhabit it know we are migrants, due when the time comes to fly away to other more commodious skies.” In other words, earthly happiness is the result of self-giving love in this place we will only occupy briefly and so love all the more.
  • And right now the way to proceed is by Muggeridge’s insight: “the only happiness is love, which is attained by giving.” We only find fulfillment now through that gift of self.
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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Doctrinal Homily Outline (Year A)

Entry into JerusalemDue to the unique length of today’s readings, this outline will be limited to a few points about the meaning of the texts.

To view the Lectionary 35 and 38 readings, click here.

At the Procession with Palms – Gospel Mt 21:1-11

  • As CCC 559 observes:
    • Christ chooses the time and details of his messianic entry into Jerusalem, the city of “his father David.”
    • The people acclaim Jesus the Savior: “Hosanna means ‘Save!’ or ‘Give salvation!’”
    • Jesus conquers Jerusalem “by the humility that bears witness to the truth.”
    • “[T]he subjects of his kingdom on that day are children and God’s poor.”

At the Mass – Reading 1 Is 50:4-7

  • As the prophet foresaw, Jesus the Messiah suffered a violent death willingly and in accord with God’s plan, and yet those who caused the suffering were responsible for their actions (CCC 599).
  • To all who are “weary,” that is, to those who have been in need for a long time, Christ’s passion can give solace. We, too, can offer our own sufferings in union with Christ. We can accept what we cannot change, and so, not rebel. We can endure the difficulty as Christ did.

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

  • The prophet foresaw what violent men, filled with fury, would do to the one in their power who was innocent of evil and had done only good.
  • God is completely opposed to evil, and does no evil, yet he respects the freedom of one person to do evil to another person. This is why it can seem like God abandons his beloved.

Reading 2 Phil 2:6-11

  • Jesus was “in the form of God” because he is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, equal to the Father. Yet he did not meet us as God but humbled himself in the Incarnation, meeting us as a human being. He was obedient even to the point of death on the cross. So God the Father exalted him as our universal Lord.
  • We are “in the form of God,” not because we are one of the persons of the Trinity but because we are made in the image of God. Yet we rebel and try to grasp “equality with God” by not accepting the moral law.
    • We want to decide what is good and evil. We say the evil we do is good. We say the person who does good is wrong.

Gospel Mt 26:14-27:66

  • “The apostolic faith” means what the apostles believed. What the apostles believed is essential because they were the first followers of Christ, chosen specifically by Christ, and entrusted by Christ with teaching the Gospel.
  • According to the Catechism, “St. Peter [formulates] the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way:”
    • “‘You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers . . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.’”
  • The Catechism continues:
    • “Man’s sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death. By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God ‘made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’” (CCC 602)
  • Christ went about doing good (Acts 10:38) and continued to be innocent goodness, despite what men did to him.
  • Christ took the suffering, which his enemies sinfully inflicted upon him, and made it the means by which they can be forgiven and healed.
  • The people rightly acclaimed that Jesus was “the one who brings salvation (Hosanna means ‘Save!’ or ‘Give salvation!’”). He did not bring salvation in they way they expected but in the way the Scriptures had announced.
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Resurrection from the Dead: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A).

carav_opw_lazarus_grtWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A), April 6, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Resurrection from the dead. Doctrine: Death and hope in our own resurrection. Practical application: A proper awareness of death.  

To view the Lectionary 34 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Resurrection from the Dead  

Reading 1 Ez 37:12-14

Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

  • This passage foreshadows the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which God revealed to his people little by little (CCC 992).
  • According to the Catechism, the Chosen People’s hope in the resurrection of the dead was a consequence of two things. One was faith in “God as creator of the whole man, soul and body.” The other was faith that God would maintain his “covenant with Abraham and his posterity” (CCC 992). This is why the Maccabean martyrs confessed:

The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. (2 Mac 7:9.14, quoted in CCC 992)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

R/ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.

If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.

I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the LORD.

For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

  • It is sometimes hard to see the connection between sin, suffering, and death. The ultimate human suffering is death. The solution to sin is the Redemption, which includes both the forgiveness of sins and the elevation of human beings to life with God.
  • This psalm can be read in many ways with its plea from “out of the depths” and its waiting in darkness “for the dawn.” Four such ways are the prayer of any person aware of his or her sins; the plea of any person on the brink of death; any soul in Purgatory; and Lazarus between his death and his resurrection by Christ.

Reading 2 Rom 8:8-11

Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit dwelling in you.

  • The spirit, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ mean the sanctifying grace we received in Baptism through which we share in God’s life. The flesh means our condition before Baptism.
  • Through the Sacraments, beginning with Baptism, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead, dwells in us.
  • This is why we hope in our own resurrection from the dead.
  • Our spirit, however, can become dead because of mortal sin committed after Baptism. Christ gave his Church a sacrament for that: Penance or Reconciliation.

Gospel Jn 11:1-45

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany,
the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair;
it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
So the sisters sent word to him saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”
The disciples said to him,
“Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you,
and you want to go back there?”
Jesus answered,
“Are there not twelve hours in a day?
If one walks during the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.
But if one walks at night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him.”
He said this, and then told them,
“Our friend Lazarus is asleep,
but I am going to awaken him.”
So the disciples said to him,
“Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.”
But Jesus was talking about his death,
while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly,
“Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples,
“Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this,
she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying,
“The teacher is here and is asking for you.”
As soon as she heard this,
she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village,
but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her
saw Mary get up quickly and go out,
they followed her,
presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
she fell at his feet and said to him,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

  • The death of Lazarus was an evil that deprived him of life, grieved his sisters, and robbed the world of the good he could have done. Christ restores to him the human good that is lacking: life itself.
    • This is an example of how God perfectly opposes evil, yet draws good out of it, thereby giving glory to God by benefiting man.
  • Jesus’ love was so palpable that everyone who experienced it saw it as unique to him or her. This is why Mary can send word, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
  • Why did Jesus wait to go to Bethany? Perhaps for two reasons. One was he had people to serve right in front of him where he was. Another was he wanted there to be no doubt that Lazarus was really dead.
  • Jesus did not cold-bloodedly “use” Lazarus’ death to teach a lesson. He felt the mourning of the sisters deeply and was angered by the spectacle of death: “he became perturbed and deeply troubled.” He was himself overcome in grief: “Jesus wept.”

Doctrine: Death and hope in our own resurrection

  • Death is not natural to human beings. “As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer ‘bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’” (GS § 18) (CCC 1018).
  •  “By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.” (CCC 1016)
    • In the raising of Lazarus, Christ reunited this poor man’s body and soul and regenerated whatever corruption his natural body had suffered. Lazarus was restored to corruptible life, the natural life we live now.
  • “‘We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess’ (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). [In death,] we sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but [Christ] raises up an incorruptible body, a ‘spiritual body’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44). (CCC 1017)
    • “Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: ‘I am the Resurrection and the life.’ It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him . . .. Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life, announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order.” (CCC 994)
      • Lazarus was restored to natural life but he would have to die again. His “natural” resurrection is a sign of the Resurrection of another order, the order of being incapable of dying again. Christ’s Resurrection is of this other order. We are promised to share in this new order through Jesus Christ.

Practical application: A proper awareness of death

  • We are on our earthly pilgrimage. This is our “time of grace and mercy” in which we work out our “earthly life in keeping with the divine plan . . . and decide [our] ultimate destiny” (CCC 1013). With Gods’ helping and healing graces, our work is to do good and avoid evil. Our work is to love God and neighbor properly. We prepare for heaven by doing good. We prepare for hell by sinning.
  • “The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death, the end of this pilgrimage. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord’; [she encourages us] to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and [she encourages us] to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.’” (CCC 1014)

As Thomas a Kempis wrote:

Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience …. Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow …. (The Imitation of Christ, 1, 23, 1) (CCC 1014)

And as St. Francis put it:

Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe on those who will die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they who will be found
in your most holy will,
for the second death will not harm them. (Canticle of the Creatures) (CCC 1014)

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Lights of the World: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

15-03-02/28Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A), March 30, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Christ is the light of the world. Doctrine: Light of the world. Practical application: How we are to be lights of the world.

To view the Lectionary 31 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Christ is the light of the world

Reading 1 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

  • The words “christ” and “messiah” mean anointed. The messiah is the one anointed with oil because he is chosen by God.
  • God chose David to be “my king” not because of his appearance—which was very impressive—but because of David’s heart.
  • In Christ the Messiah, God the Father chooses every one of us for a destiny greater than the earthly destiny of King David. He chooses us to share in his eternal life.
  • According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

David is par excellence the king “after God’s own heart,” the shepherd who prays for his people and prays in their name. His submission to the will of God, his praise, and his repentance, will be a model for the prayer of the people. His prayer, the prayer of God’s Anointed, is a faithful adherence to the divine promise and expresses a loving and joyful trust in God, the only King and Lord.In the Psalms David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the first prophet of Jewish and Christian prayer. The prayer of Christ, the true Messiah and Son of David, will reveal and fulfill the meaning of this prayer. (CCC 2579)

  • The light of Christ shines through God’s anointed son, David, as he can shine through us. One of the best ways to pray the Psalms is to see them as being spoken by Christ himself. They can also be our own words to the Father. In this way, they are a kind of chorus chanted to the Father: by Christ, by David and all the Jews, and by the Church and each of us individually.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

  • A sheep is always on the move in search of pasture. Green grass and gently flowing water his only wants. He fulfills them by following the paths his shepherd leads him along.
  • What normally follows a flock of sheep? Wolves and jackals, not goodness and kindness.
  • Even if such enemies lurk within eyesight, this sheep can eat and drink and sleep without fear, protected by the shepherd and his weapons: his rod and staff.
  • Our condition in the world is often to be in need, to be afraid of harmful enemies, and to become lost and confused.
  • Through the Redemption, the LORD promises to be our good shepherd, but we need to follow his lead.

Reading 2 Eph 5:8-14

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

  • Darkness is a symbol of sin. Sleep is a metaphor for death. Light overcomes darkness and awakens one from the death of sleep. This light is a symbol for Christ our Redeemer.
  • When we sin we produce “fruitless works” that we perform in secret, away from the light.
    • We live today in a specially perverse time, in which people perform shameful acts in public and demand that everyone approve of them, or else.
  • By virtue of the light Christ gives us, we are able to produce works of “goodness and righteousness and truth.” This light is the truth he reveals and the grace he imparts. These gifts are why we can “live as children of light.”
  • According to the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (“Joy and Hope”): “Christ . . . makes man fully manifest to man himself and brings to light his exalted vocation” (quoted in CCC 1710).
    • We have lived in darkness and death and can now live in light, producing good works and awakening to eternal life.

Gospel Jn 9:1-41

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is,“
but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”
So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He replied,
“The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’
So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
And they said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
“He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said,
“This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
“What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?”
His parents answered and said,
“We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid
of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
“He is of age; question him.”

So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, “Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner.”
He replied,
“If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
So they said to him,
“What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?”
He answered them,
“I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They ridiculed him and said,
“You are that man’s disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from.”
The man answered and said to them,
“This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he.”
He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
“I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

  • Jesus’ disciples assume that either the man who was born blind or his parents had sinned and so the blindness is a punishment from God. The Jewish authorities agree with this view: They condemn the man, saying, “You were born totally in sin.”
  • Instead, Jesus says his condition “is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
  • What are these “works of God” to be “made visible”?
    • Jesus is doing the works that Paul exhorts us to do: St. Paul said, “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
  • Our Lord declares, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
  • What does the man born blind “see” when Christ gives him light by restoring his sight? Besides seeing the physical world, he can also see the truth of things: He says of Christ what the Jewish authorities cannot: “He is a prophet.” And a little later, when Christ gives him more light, he recognizes Christ as the “Son of Man” and so “he worshiped him.”
  • If we are open and honest and ask, God will give us light to see the truth and grace to live according to it. But we can deliberately close ourselves to the truth. We claim we see but we are really self-blinded. Then we do works of darkness.

Doctrine: Light of the World

  • Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” What did he mean?
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest” (CCC 2466). The person of Christ is the full revelation of God to mankind. In other words, everything God wants man to know and to be like can be seen in the Incarnate Son.
  • “’Full of grace and truth,’ he came as the ‘light of the world,’ he is the Truth” (CCC 2466). To be the light of the world means to be the truth that can be seen. This light is for our benefit: “Whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (CCC 2466).
  • “The disciple of Jesus continues in his word so as to know ‘the truth [that] will make you free’ and that sanctifies” (CCC 2466). By learning from Christ and imitating Christ the disciple of Christ becomes transformed by Christ. This “discipline” of a disciple makes that follower free and holy.
  • Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus’ light is now accessible to his disciples through the Holy Spirit. “To follow Jesus is to live in ‘the Spirit of truth,’ whom the Father sends in his name and who leads ‘into all the truth’” (CCC 2466).
  • To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes or No’” (CCC 2466).

Practical application: How we are to be lights of the world

  • The Church has the duty of showing forth “the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies” (CCC 2105).
  • She does this through her living members: “Christians are called to be the light of the world” (CCC 2105). Recall that Jesus said, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.”
  • How do we do these “works” so as to be light for others? We do it by evangelization.
    • First, we Christians must ourselves be evangelized and formed:
      • “By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them ‘to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which [they] live’” (CCC 2105).
      • Second is the evangelization of others:
        • “The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church.” (CCC 2105)
  • Thus, the light we bring, the light of Christ, includes whatever is true and good, and these are intrinsically attractive to everyone.
    • In other words, Christ and his Church want us to become living experts or “artists” in living truth and goodness. This is what the saints are.
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Living Water: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (6th Century)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
(6th Century)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A), March 23, 2013, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Living water. Doctrine: Free acceptance of the Gospel. Practical application: Conforming our hearts to God’s will.

To view the Lectionary 28 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Living water

Reading 1 Ex 17:3-7

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

  • One of the ways we Catholics read the Old Testament is typologically or allegorically. An event, a person, or statement in the Old Testament can be seen in a new way in light of the New Testament. This event, person, or statement in the Old Testament is a “type” or symbol of an event, person, or statement in the New Testament. Thus, in reading the Bible, the Catechism says,

Christians … read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament …. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.(CCC 129)

  • In the desert, Moses struck a rock with his staff and so provided water so the Chosen People could live and reach the Promised Land.
  • In his Passion, Jesus Christ himself is “struck” and so provided the waters of Baptism so everyone could live forever in heaven.

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

R/ (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

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

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

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

  • God’s will for his Chosen People was for them to leave their familiar and even somewhat comfortable slavery in Egypt to live in freedom in the Promised Land, passing through hardship in the desert first. Many of them lost heart, forgetting that if the LORD could safely lead them out of Egypt, he could also protect them from thirst and hunger in the desert.
  • One meaning of “harden your heart” is to refuse to think about, let alone to do, what God wants. A person can think that God wants to take away from him some great good or even everything good. He then rebels against God’s will.
  • Some important questions each of us can ask ourselves are these: Is this true for me? Do I think God wants me to give up some “good” that in some way will harm or even ruin me? What is that “good”? Is it really “good”? Will giving it up really harm me? Does God really want me to give it up?
  • A similar set of questions can be asked about something we think God wants us to do.

Reading 2 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

  • The Psalmist’s plea is, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
  • We followers of Christ have no reason to harden our hearts against the voice or will of God. The reason is that we know God is good because his love is poured into our hearts. He has proven his love for us by dying for us “while we were still sinners.”
  • Christ has justified us, that is, restored us to original justice or friendship with God. Some of the tangible signs are our inner experience of peace, grace, hope, and love.

Gospel Jn 4:5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

  • As embodied spirits or enfleshed souls, we need and long for both physical and spiritual goods. Jesus was tired and thirsty and hungry. Yet he moderated, that is, controlled or ruled over, his physical needs to feed his spiritual need of evangelization. He was fed with joy by converting the Samaritan woman: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
  • The woman came to the well because she needed water. Her five husbands and the current man in her life perhaps speak to her unfulfilled spiritual hunger for love. Christ fulfilled this need she had and she became a kind of evangelist to her own Samaritan townsfolk, bringing them to Jesus so that many of them could soon say, “we know that this is truly the savior” not only of the Jews but of them, too.
  • Objectively, the Samaritan religion was imperfect, but there was also something missing in the Jewish religion, even though “Salvation is from the Jews.”
  • What was missing, and what Christ provides, is the ability to worship the Father in Spirit and truth. We can do this through the Sacrament of Baptism, which makes us children of God. It is the living water that Christ speaks of to the Samaritan woman and which is foreshadowed in the rock Moses struck in the desert to give drink to the Chosen People.

Doctrine: Free acceptance of the Gospel

  • We have the power to harden our hearts as well as the power, with God’s help, to freely follow his will.
  • According to the Catechism,

To be human, “man’s response to God by faith must be free, and . . . therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.”“God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth. Consequently they are bound to him in conscience, but not coerced . . .. This fact received its fullest manifestation in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, Christ invited people to faith and conversion, but never coerced them. “For he bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke against it. His kingdom . . . grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws men to himself.”(CCC 160)

  • These readings, then, all invite us to conform our lives to God freely, without coercion, so we can worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth.”
  • How is this done on our part? The answer is very practical: “We have to guide, to moderate, our heart and feelings, by means of reason enlightened by faith” (http://www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=57343).
  • Our passions and emotions can lead us to desire all kinds of things, things contrary to what ought to be their true guide: “reason enlightened by faith.”
  • To moderate our heart and feelings does not mean to feel less, to desire less, to enjoy less. It means that “reason enlightened by faith” tells the heart and feelings when to say yes and when to say no to those desires.

Practical Application: Conforming our hearts to God’s will

  • St. Ignatius of Loyola has given us a prayer which can help us have an inner experience of peace, grace, hope, and love even when our hearts and emotions rebel against “reason enlightened by faith.” It has inspired heroic deeds in so many of his Jesuit sons.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

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The Problem of the Gift of Self

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley – a bit of paradise

Gift of Self

Every person’s most fundamental vocation, moral responsibility, and source of fulfillment is authentic self-giving. I think this claim can be discovered by reason and experience. I also believe it permeates Sacred Scriptures and the life of the Church.

It has been beautifully articulated in Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes §24. Here is the passage:

God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who “from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself . . .. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20).  . . .

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one . . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself (cf. Lk 17:33).

I would summarize the passage in this way. God wills that humanity should be one family in which everyone is treated as a brother. We fulfill this will by love of neighbor. When God’s children are united in truth and love, they are similar to God in his inner life of three divine persons. Man cannot be fulfilled without making himself a gift.

I would like to zero in on the final sentence which I bolded above: “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

In this passage, likeness refers to the assertion that when people are united in truth and charity, they are like the persons of the Blessed Trinity who are united in mutual self-giving love. Imbedded here is both the truth about the inner life of God—that it is a Trinitarian communion of love—and a signal that the ultimate vocation of human beings is to live and love the way God does. This is a vista “closed to human reason” because the inner life God had to be revealed by God.

The only creature God willed for itself means we are the only beings on earth willed for our own sake because we are the only persons. The other creatures on earth are all for something else. Human beings are for ourselves. Being for ourselves means we are ends in ourselves. We have this exalted status because we are persons.

To fully find himself means to discover the ultimate truth, to find that truth to be good, to be in full possession of all one’s faculties, to be perfectly happy or fulfilled, and to be of maximal importance and value to others.

A sincere gift of self means to give from your heart. It is not a feeling without effect but a giving which really gives something.

A footnote in the text at the end of this sentence refers to Luke 17:33, which reads, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” This reveals that the sincere gift of self can look like a loss of life (“except”) but it is actually a preservation of life and a finding of self (“fully find himself”).

Is it possible that life is nothing but a search for oneself in which serving others is the map? And if it is, why not just do it? Why is it so difficult?

A Photo and Three Transparencies

I think there are three conditions we experience all at once in this life. They are our expectation to be in a state of original justice, the reality that we are in a state of original sin, and our grace-assisted call to salvation. I also think every person experiences this, regardless of whether he is baptized.

An image of this might be that of a photograph with three transparencies laid over it. The photo is your life. The transparencies are these three conditions.

Original Justice

First, the condition of original justice is the way God intended things to be for us. In God’s original design, all human needs and wants were to be met through the giving of gifts. These gifts were to be given by God, angels, the natural world, and, especially, human beings, one to one another. Under original justice we were to have an exalted status. We were each to be of maximal importance and to have maximal glory. We would matter so much to one other because each would be and have to offer something others wanted or needed, and each would freely give and gratefully receive.

We can get a glimpse of original justice in these three relationships (imagining they are ideal): between father or mother and son or daughter; between husband and wife; and between friend and friend.

Or, for a more fanciful example, imagine a master fromager in Normandy who loves his work and freely offers his cheeses to anyone who wants them, especially a person who has an aptitude for enjoying them, like you. Imagine if your gift is to grow the most fantastic apples in Washington State. You develop this skill for the love of it and to please those who have the capacity to enjoy these fruits, like the cheese maker in Normandy. The fromanger esteems you and your gift which he receives with gratitude and you esteem the cheese maker and his gift which you receive with thanks.

This almost sounds like a Marxist dream. But Marxism was a colossal lie based on a profound truth about original justice. The lie was that in our world, socialism could make the conditions possible that the goods of this earth would come “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme). The truth is that this was exactly the reality that would obtain under original justice for all goods, material and spiritual. Not just Camembert cheese and Mackintosh apples, but all social life, the arts, and the sciences as well.

Under original justice, we each would be prince and good servant. The prince is the one to whom everything is due. The good servant is the one who provides everything willingly.

No one who thinks like a Catholic thinks we live in the condition of original justice, so what is the point of imagining what it would have been like?

The state of original justice is relevant to recall today because we still expect it.

For example, as a child awakens to consciousness, she expects everything to come to her as a good gift from the people and things around her, and ultimately from God. She expects everyone to see her as the most important person in the world, whose every thought and experience matter tremendously. She is pleased but not at all surprised when people treat her with importance, take care of her, give her gifts, and tell her she is beautiful.

In other words, we enter conscious life hoping everything.

Original Sin

The second state we experience is original sin. It is the condition in which our minds are full of errors; our wills are drawn to things that may or may not be actually good, and that often we (futilely) desire but cannot have; and we can sin, do suffer, and eventually will die.

Under original sin, we view any form of suffering, including the denial of a desire, with surprise and as an unjust outrage. Any baby would tell you that if he could talk. The sad truth that a child learns about his actual importance to others is that others don’t care about him to the extent he feels they should. A child might also realize later that he doesn’t care that much about others or that his care is very selective, limited to his family, or his friends, or his tribe, or school, or some other group.

People learn to live in a compromised way under original sin. Without any conscious planning, children and youth develop understandable but destructive coping strategies. We find some physic “place” to protect ourselves and to maximize our importance.

These “physic places” people can put themselves in to protect themselves can be any apparent or real good or some combination of apparent or real goods. What are some of these “places”?

To name just a few:

Being good or acting out; physical beauty or looking bizarre; the intellectual life or being anti-intellectual; reading or writing books; playing games; athletics or being a fan; friendships or hating enemies; business or crime; acquiring wealth or having sex; having a family.

All these have in common the attempt to recreate for ourselves a state of original justice.

Self-giving in the state of original sin is difficult. Almost everyone withholds his gifts to some extent to protect himself from those who take but do not give. We are naturally suspicious and fearful in the state of original sin because other persons and the physical world can hurt us in countless ways. And what is bizarre is the veneer of normalcy everyone has. We live as if everything is perfectly normal. In reality, everything is falling apart and we are hurtling toward death.

Redemption

The third condition or “transparency” is the state of redeemed humanity due to the grace of Jesus Christ. The state of being redeemed is that in God’s eyes we are in the condition that original justice expects. We are children of God and reconciled to one another. In this redeemed condition, God expects us to live as children of God and in a state of brotherhood, just as Gaudium et spes described.

This expectation of God is possible to meet because of sanctifying and actual graces. The Holy Spirit gives us the theological virtue of charity so we can live (or give) self-giving love.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to live in this condition. One reason is that we still carry the wounds of original sin and so resist grace. Another is that others are not trying to live in this new way or are doing so very imperfectly. And so are we.

A surprising thing is that this third condition does not pertain only to baptized Christians. To some extent it applies to every human being in all times and places, because in a way hidden to us, the Holy Spirit offers his graces to each human being (CCC 1260).

To summarize, I’m making the claim that our normal human experience is actually very abnormal! We experience all at once (1) the expectation that the original just order should exist for us, (2) the reality of existing in a wounded world, and (3) the divine vocation and ability to live original justice.

An Integration of the Gift of Self with the Three Conditions

We began by looking at the gift of self in the Vatican II pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes. The key statement we examined was “This likeness [“between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity”] reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” The sincere gift of self or authentic self-giving means loving, and so serving, other persons despite any tendency to selfishness we possess. When we do this we are like God in his inner Trinitarian life and we find fulfillment.

The three conditions we simultaneously find ourselves in are original justice, in which we expect to receive everything good as a gift, original sin in which we do not, and redemption, in which we are expected to give everything good as a gift.

Original justice

The sincere gift of self relates to the condition of original justice because the gift corresponds to the way things should be from original justice. Under original justice each man is both the prince to whom every good thing is due and the good servant who provides everything to the master joyfully.

Redemption

The gift of self relates to the condition of redemption because it is possible for us to give this gift through grace. It is interesting that at the Last Supper, Christ the Master donned an apron and humbly washed the feet of his disciples. After he said,

Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (Jn 13:12-15)

Original sin

The gift of self relates to the condition of original sin in that our condition under original sin makes this self-giving very difficult in some cases. We are usually happy to receive others’ self-giving, although we can also easily take it for granted or judge it not adequate. In our current state in the world, we almost all withhold our gifts to some extent to protect ourselves from those who take but do not give.

Notable exceptions to the withholding of gifts are the saints, totally available persons like Bl. Mother Teresa or St. Josemaria Escriva.

That said, there are plenty of circumstances in which, even in the condition of original sin, gift giving is easy and natural. A mother caring for her cuddly newborn baby is one. Being in love is another. Christmas and birthday giving and helping a friend are others. On the other hand, the baby can cry for the first six months of his life. The beloved can become irritating. The gift may disappoint. The friend might make fun of us behind our back.

So, even through human beings are designed to give themselves to others, it is hard. Due to original sin, we have adopted a defense of selfishness to compensate for the fact that others have not been for us the gift they ought to have been. That selfishness means we are not the gift for others we ought to be. But we can begin to overcome our selfishness and become more self-giving through our correspondence with God’s grace.

As David Isaacs puts it, “A generous person acts unselfishly and cheerfully for the benefit of others, conscious of the value of his help and despite the fact that it may cost him an effort” (Character Building—a guide for parents and teachers. Kildare, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1976).

Serving others may mean giving something we don’t want to give, which makes it a mortification. But even though it seems like a death, it is really a kind of getting life and fulfillment. “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33).

The Meaning of this Life

For as long as we are in the world, the meaning of life is fully finding ourselves through the sincere gift of ourselves.

We are born not knowing who we are and what we are to do. These must be discovered by experience and reflection. We are very fortunate if someone guides us. We eventually learn we cannot expect others to give to us the way we want. We are very fortunate if some do. However, with God’s grace, we can try to give to others the way they want. When we correspond and grow in the virtue of generosity, this giving can become a joy.

Christ’s invitation to the rich young man can be seen to refer to this gift of self. He told him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). The Master’s words are not just an invitation, then, to some to dedicate themselves as apostles, or today for some to enter the priesthood or religious life. Rather, it applies to everyone. It is a continual giving of everything we have. It is a giving to the poor, which means everyone, because everyone is spiritually or materially poor in some way. When we do this we are following Christ.

And what about after “this life”? In heaven we will be in the condition we were born for but have been denied. Everyone will be a gift to everyone else and receive everything.

Summary

In this life, we experience three simultaneous conditions:

  1. Original justice—how things were supposed to be;
  2. Original sin—how things are because of the Fall;
  3. Redemption—how things can be because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The gift of self relates to these conditions in these ways:

  1. Under original justice—The gift of self would have been easy and automatic.
  2. Under original sin—The gift of self is difficult because people are trying to protect themselves from others who won’t treat them as they should.
  3. Under Redemption—The gift of self is our vocation, and so, is possible. Because of grace we are able to make a complete gift of self but it is still difficult because of the lasting effects of original sin, which make responding to grace harder.

We can make life better for those around us by making a sincere gift of ourselves, without expecting others to do the same.

  • Our level of success reflects how much we correspond to God’s grace.
  • Hope for every good thing, disappointing and compromised reality, and noble vocation to love mix to create the conflict at the heart of life.

This essay was first published in three parts at The Catholic Imagination.

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The Promise of Eternal Life: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Second Sunday of Lent (Year A).

Titian's Transfiguration (detail)

Titian’s Transfiguration (detail)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Second Sunday of Lent (Year A), March 16, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The promise of eternal life. Doctrine: Grace. Practical application: Our response to grace.

To view the Lectionary 25 readings, click here.

Central Idea: The promise of eternal life

Reading 1 Gn 12:1-4a

The LORD said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

Abram went as the LORD directed him.

  • God chose Abraham to be the origin and father of the Jewish people, and Abraham said yes: He “went as the LORD directed him.”
  • Through Abraham and his descendants, God has given us the progressive revelation of who God is and who we are. This revelation has been completed in Abraham’s descendant, the God-man, Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, “all the communities of the earth” have found “blessing in you.”
  • We Catholics are especially blessed because our community of the earth, the Church, is the Body of Christ; we are the community of the people of God.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

R/ Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.

See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.

Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.

  • We hope in God’s promises for temporal goods and for eternal happiness.
  • We fear him because we could lose the promise of eternal life due to our sins, yet he helps us overcome our own weaknesses.
  • God loves justice and right and he is kind. His eyes are on us as we wait for his promises to be fulfilled.

Reading 2 2 Tim 1:8b-10

Beloved:
Bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began,
but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,
who destroyed death and brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel.

  • God’s plan for our life is based on the destruction of death and the gift of immortal divine life.
  • Jesus Christ assigns us a difficult goal, but it is attainable with his grace: holiness of life now and forever.
  • To live now “according to his own design” requires some “hardship,” but with the burden comes God’s gift of “strength” or grace.

Gospel Mt 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

  • According to the Catechism, Christ wanted to strengthen the apostles’ faith in the face of the coming Passion (CCC 568).
  • In addition, Christ’s glory, briefly revealed on the mountain, shows the hidden glory that his Body the Church contains and “radiates in the sacraments” (CCC 568).
  • When we receive the sacraments of the Church, we participate in the Transfiguration. They saw the radiance of the Son of God. In the sacraments, we receive that radiance. With the apostles, we have “the hope of glory” (CCC 568).
  • If we listen to the beloved Son, one day we will hear that Son say to us, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And we will hear the Father say to us, “This is my beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” That will be our beginning of being raised from the dead.

Doctrine: Grace

  • St. Paul writes of the grace bestowed on us in Jesus Christ.
  • The Catechism tells us, “Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.” (CCC 2021)
    • As St. Paul points out, God’s design is not the same as our “works,” what many people work toward or even earn. His plan is that we should become “his adopted sons” sharing in “the intimacy of the Trinitarian life,” as the Catechism puts it. That is our divine vocation. Is anything more obvious, then, that this is impossible without God’s help? That help is grace.
  • The Catechism goes on to say, “The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom.” (CCC 2022)
    • What does freedom yearn for? Doesn’t it want to choose perfect happiness forever? Yet we know from experience from our fallen human nature that our freedom is not that free. It needs to be healed and helped. That is why God’s grace does not replace our freedom or overpower our freedom. Instead, it does something else. Grace surrounds and guides our freedom, if we say yes to the grace. Grace is there before we make a choice, gets us ready to make that choice, and draws that choice out of us.

 Practical application: Our response to grace

  • Recall St. Paul’s advice: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
  • In our ordinary life this very week we will undoubtedly experience some hardship without looking for it. And we will bear some additional hardship if we are faithful to our Lenten resolutions.
  • Let us be very aware that we have the strength that comes from God to bear these difficulties in the sacraments we have received: Baptism, Confirmation (if we have received it), Matrimony (if we are married), Holy Orders [in the case of this priest or deacon]. Let is be specially aware and thankful for the Holy Eucharist, which we can receive every day this week if we want, and Confession, if we need it.
  • Our lives will be conformed to the will of God this week if we bear the small hardships that come from living the demands of the Gospel by cooperating with the strength that comes from God in the sacraments.
  • For a little while, we are under a kind of dark cloud, but the end is to be gloriously transformed forever, like Christ on the mountain.

 

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God is merciful to sinners: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the First Sunday of Lent

Icon of the Crucifixion from the Modovita Monastery (16th C.)

Icon of the Crucifixion from the Modovita Monastery (16th C.)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the First Sunday of Lent (Year A), March 9, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: God is merciful to sinners. Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery. Practical application: Lenten activities.

To view the Lectionary 22 readings, click here.

Central Idea: God is merciful to sinners

Reading 1 Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and placed there the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow
that were delightful to look at and good for food,
with the tree of life in the middle of the garden
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.

  • Satan compromised Adam’s filial attitude toward God (CCC 538). That is, Satan exposed Adams’s relationship to God to danger. Satan introduced into Adam’s mind a doubt about God being a good father who was worthy of Adam’s trust. The serpent said to Eve that what God told Adam was “certainly” not true and he implied that God wanted to keep Adam in the dark about “knowing what is good and what is evil” to prevent them from being “like gods.” Eve believed the serpent’s lie that she could gain wisdom through this act of disobedience.
  • Adam and Eve had no reason to distrust God who made them and supplied them with everything they needed. And being children of God they were already “like gods.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17

R/ Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

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.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

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.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

  • What knowledge of good and evil do we gain by sinning?
    • When we realize we have done evil we see a stain on ourselves which we want completely removed, but we cannot remove it.
    • We see the difference between the goodness of God and our ugly transgression.
    • We see that only God can restore us to his friendship by removing the sin and healing the wound the sin caused.

Reading 2 Rom 5:12-19

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one, the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.

  • Contrary to the serpent’s lie “You certainly will not die!” death did enter the world through Adam’s sin. As St. Paul says, through Adam’s disobedience “sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.”
  • But one came who was obedient even to the point of death and this “one righteous act” has brought “acquittal” from sin and eternal life.

Gospel Mt 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God
.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone
.”
Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve
.”

Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.

  • According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in these three temptations Satan seeks to compromise Christ’s “filial attitude toward God” which “recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and Israel in the desert” (CCC 538).
  • Adam was the son of God (Lk 3:38). Israel as a whole is God’s “first-born son” (Ex 4: 22). Now Satan says three times to our Lord, “If you are the Son of God . . ..” The devil attempts to tempt Jesus by saying, in effect, ‘This God you fancy is your father will not provide for your material needs, will not protect you from death, will not give you everything’. Adam fell from trust in God his father. Israel fell countless times in trust in God in the desert. But Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God the Son, could not fall, even though he could suffer great hunger, face an evitable painful death, and be rejected by those who owed him everything.

 Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery

  • An important consequence of original sin is concupiscence or an inclination to sin. This inclination to do evil is also called the fomes peccati or “tinder for 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.
  • St. John 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).
  • Concupiscence is the “movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason.” 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).
  • The body is not bad. It is often the right time to do what the body wants: to play, to sleep, to eat or drink, to enjoy sexual pleasure, and so on. But often it is not the right time for them.
  • We grow in virtue or self-mastery by submitting to “the saving action of the Holy Spirit.” This is why St. Paul wrote, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (CCC 2516)

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.
  • 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 three sets of examples:
    • Stop criticizing others—make a morning offering—deny yourself a serving of starch at dinner.
    • Stop gossiping—attend the noon Mass every Wednesday during Lent—deny yourself the snooze button on the alarm clock; instead get up exactly at a set time.
    • Stop looking at sexually attractive images—say a Hail Mary each time you find yourself tempted to do so—Give up watching YouTube mixed martial arts videos.
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God Actually Loves Us: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Love by Judith Campion, “The special bonding that occurs between mother and baby is a unique and powerful love. This painting was to show the confidence that grows in an infant when it feels protected and loved.”  https://www.lds.org/ensign/1995/03/a-joyful-mother-of-children?lang=eng

Judith Campion
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
https://www.lds.org/ensign/1995/03/a-joyful-mother-of-children?lang=eng

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), March 2, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: God actually loves us. Doctrine: The dignity and vocation of the human being. Practical application: Greater respect for others.

To view the Lectionary 82 readings, click here.

Central Idea: God actually loves us

Reading 1 Is 49:14-15

Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

  • Where did human beings ever get the idea that God exists, loves them, and will take care of them? We both wish for these to be true and God has revealed it to be so.
  • The infant needs his mother and it is unnatural for her not to love him. We need God and it is impossible for him not to love us.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

R/ Rest in God alone, my soul.

Only in God is my soul at rest;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.

Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.

With God is my safety and my glory,
he is the rock of my strength; my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him.

  • A stronghold is a fortress built on rock out of rock. A stronghold is necessary to protect a people from enemies who would kill or enslave them, take away all their goods, and destroy the rest. Within a stronghold, one can rest at night, trusting in the strength of its walls and gates.
  • We still build strongholds today, and rightly so: the military to protect a nation, various police forces to protect against criminals, locks and gates on our homes, and weapons for self-defense.
  • But our only truly secure fortress is God. He is to us what a tender mother is toward her infant. In him we can rest and pour out our hearts, even to the point of crying like a baby.

Reading 2 1 Cor 4:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.

It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.

Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.

  • Christ is our king and a king has servants—stewards—who are entrusted with responsibilities, which is why they must be “found trustworthy.”
  • Paul and the other apostles are such stewards, servants with responsibility to safeguard and to share out “the mysteries of God,” that is, the Gospel.
  • We, too, share in this responsible service. We, too, are entrusted with the “mysteries of God.” The kingdom of God will not grow without us taking up our responsibilities.

Gospel Mt 6:24-34

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

  • Mammon is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property. Some have speculated that it comes from a word that means “That on which man trusts” or “that which brings man into safety.”[1] Why do the pagans seek wealth or property or anything that will keep them safe? Because they want to be safe! This world is an unsafe place. It is why the infant seeks his mother’s arms, the citizen his fortress, the pagan mammon. (If we are honest, we Christians act like pagans sometimes.)
  • Our Lord sets up an either/or situation for us. Either we will find our security in God or in some created good. Since we are really radically insecure—we will die and nothing in the world can prevent that—we had better find our security in God’s goodness and love.
  • Christ is giving us very practical advice day-to-day living: Deal with what you have to deal with today and don’t create imaginary worries about the future.
    • Our Lord is not saying don’t be prudent and make plans. He is saying (1) do not place your trust in some created good because it will fail you and (2) do not create imaginary worries that make your today worse than it is.
  • At the same time, Our Lord is saying he will take care of us now. If he provides a way for plants and animals to live, even more will he provide a way for us.
  • Countless self-help books have been written promising how we can get some kind of security for ourselves. Our Lord, however, has provided for us a one-sentence self-help book. He advises us to take a stand and to trust in the outcome:
    • “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
      and all these things will be given you besides.”

Doctrine: The dignity and vocation of the human being

  • Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sets out how we are to live as followers of Christ. This way of living in rooted in our dignity, our social nature, the moral law, and God’s grace. Point 1700 summarizes the dignity of the human person, which the Catechism then develops in detail in eight articles.
    • The source of our dignity that we are created in the image of God.
    • Our summit of our dignity is our call to divine beatitude, happiness with God, the perfection of charity.
    • Our dignity requires that we freely direct ourselves to this goal.
    • We direct ourselves by our freely chosen actions that either do or do not conform to the God-given moral law we read in our consciences.
    • Our dignity requires we contribute to our interior growth. Everything we do forms our interior life.
    • Despite our dignity we are wounded, and so God gives us grace to grow in virtue, avoid sin, and repent from sin.
    • This is how we finally “share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life” (CCC 356), which is “the perfection of charity.” (CCC 1700)

 Practical application: Greater respect for others

  • In God’s eyes, every person we encounter is, as it were, a prince or princess. This is true despite all the other details of his or her life, even those we might (rightly) detest.
  • This underlying dignity calls us to treat each person we encounter as a good neighbor and not an enemy—as much as this is possible.
  • Due to original sin, we have a strong tendency to make rash judgments, that is, to interpret others’ thoughts, words, and deeds in an unfavorable way (CCC 2478).
  • St. Ignatius of Loyola says something very important along these lines:

“Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.” (Spiritual Exercises 22, quoted in CCC 2478)

  • This can be applied to another’s actions, as well.

A good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s action than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands that action. And if the latter understands it badly, correct him with love. If that is not enough, try all suitable ways show how the action was wrong so he may be saved.

  • This kind of advice does not apply to egregious evils that a person or society must defend against but to our normal interactions with our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
    • Our own words and actions can be wrong, be misunderstood, or cause friction. Just as we want others to be understanding to us and very gently correct us if we are wrong, we should extend the same respect to others.
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Universal Call to Holiness: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Peanuts love neighborWritten as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), February 23, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Everyone love everyone, like God. Doctrine: The universal call to holiness. Practical application: Loving where we have withheld love.

For Lectionary 79, click here.

Central idea: Everyone love everyone, like God

Reading 1 Lv 19:1-2, 17-18

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

  • The Lord’s command to “be holy” is for “the whole Israelite community.” Every Jew is called to holiness. In Christ, every human being is.
  • “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” We should be holy because God is holy. We should be like God.
    • This means there is something in God’s nature that is also in human nature. God would not demand we be like him if that were not possible. (Imagine if Einstein said to a squirrel, “Be mathematical for I am mathematical.”) Here then is another dimension of being made in the image and likeness of God: the potential for holiness.
  • Part of holiness is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This means to reprove evil-doing as necessary, but never to bear a grudge, to hate, or to take revenge, because these would be sins.
  • In God’s gradual revelation, he first taught the Chosen People that the object of this love was one’s fellow Jew (“brother or sister,” “fellow citizen,” “your people,” “your neighbor”).
  • Later, in Christ, he taught that the “neighbor” is every human being. So the call to holiness is universal: everyone is to love everyone. (The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a perfect illustration of this doctrine.)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13

R/ The Lord is kind and merciful.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.

  • To fear God means to look at displeasing him the way a good son or daughter looks at displeasing a good father or mother. Much more than the fear of punishment is the fear of displeasing someone so good.
  • God has revealed his kindness and mercy fully through the redemption which he has won for us in his victory over the devil, sin, and death.
  • In Christ, God forgives our sins and promises us healing of all our ills, eternal life, and complete happiness.
  • It is a huge error to think that the Lord looks at us the way we look at our enemies, with suspicion, ready to pay back their evil to us. Rather, he looks at us with the compassion of a good father, forgetting our sins and offering us only good things. (The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a perfect illustration of this psalm.)
  • This Psalm us see the measure of perfection Christ asks us to bring to our relationships.

Reading 2 1 Cor 3:16-23

Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Let no one deceive himself.
If any one among you considers himself wise in this age,
let him become a fool, so as to become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God,
for it is written:
God catches the wise in their own ruses,
and again:
The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are vain.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

  • Paradise is the secure possession of everything good. All human beings desire this. To the Corinthians, St. Paul makes the outrageous claim that “everything belongs to you.”
  • The “wisdom of this world” is to attempt to create and to hold on to one’s own paradise, which is futile.
  • To make yourself a gift to others looks like foolishness to “wise” and powerful human beings. “How can you possibly gain by giving?” the ‘wise’ wonder.”
  • Both the paradise we desire and the holiness we are called to are gifts God gives us.

Gospel Mt 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

  • In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus again confirms, corrects, and expands the Ten Commandments.
  • Underneath the commandments, just as underneath the natural moral law, is justice: everyone giving everyone what is due. In particular, in the Ten Commandments, the first three pertain to us giving God what we owe him, and the final seven regard us giving other human beings what we owe them.
  • Jesus is saying that when it comes to other human beings, we owe to everyone perfect justice.
    • By “everyone” he really means everyone, including enemies.
    • By perfect justice he means generous self-giving love, not tit-for-tat.
  • In the order of the Redemption, because we have everything and cannot lose it (so long as we stay in friendship with God), we no longer have to defend ourselves against every slight, real or imagined, no longer have to hold resentments, no longer have to keep score, but can really make a gift of ourselves to others. This is what our Heavenly Father does for us.
  • The Lord encourages us in the truth that we shall be perfect. Through the intervention of God’s justice, which is the Redemption, we will love with God’s own love, which does not diminish itself in response to the threat of evil.
    • God does not love less because that love may not be or is not returned.
    • That is our model. “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”
    • Love of enemy is how God loves.

 Doctrine: The universal call to holiness

  • God calls everyone to holiness: Everyone is to love everyone the way God loves everyone.
    • Holiness means to possess divine grace and to practice virtues.[1]
    • We have a sure means to grace in the Sacraments of the Church.
    • To live the virtues in this world takes also a struggle on our part.

 Practical application: Loving where we have withheld love

  • Who is someone about whom you have made this calculation: “Because he has done this to me, I will only go this far for him”? This person might be right next to you or far away in space and time.
  • Abandon this measure and consider how really loving him now would look.
  • Love him in this way now. At the very least, you can pray for him even if he is far away and even dead.
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