The Greatest Commandment: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 26, 2014 (Year A)

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

Central idea: The greatest commandments. Doctrine: The social teachings of the Church. Practical application: Living Catholic social teachings.

To view Lectionary 148, click here.

Central idea: The greatest commandments

Reading 1 Ex 22:20-26

Thus says the LORD:

“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

  • Moses teaches the Chosen People never to wrong, exploit, cheat, enslave, or in any other way to take advantage of an alien, a widow or an orphan—persons powerless to defend themselves and in need of mercy.
  • Charging interest to a poor person would be taking advantage of him if he borrows to have enough to eat and to feed his family. Interest would just make the poor man poorer.
  • Similarly, it would be wrong to make a deal with a poor person that would take away from him something essential, like the only cloak he has to stay warm.
  • Our own experience of borrowing money, say to buy a home or a car, is much different. We borrow not to survive but to become enriched, so a reasonable interest is permitted.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

R/ I love you, Lord, my strength.

I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.

My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.

The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.

  • One person who needs God is the man who has enemies who can harm him.
  • We all have these harmful enemies: our own sinful tendencies, bad men, the physical world, the devil.
  • If King David needed God’s kindness, how much more do we?

Reading 2 1 Thes 1:5-10

Brothers and sisters:
You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit,
so that you became a model for all the believers
in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth
not only in Macedonia and in Achaia,
but in every place your faith in God has gone forth,
so that we have no need to say anything.
For they themselves openly declare about us
what sort of reception we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols
to serve the living and true God
and to await his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

  • Paul and his companions imitated Christ, and the Thessalonians imitated them. The Thessalonians became models to be imitated. So, all the believers and those who could come to believe in Macedonia and Achaia could see Christ in the Thessalonians.
  • People around us are to see Christ in us and through us. By our example and words, we are to proclaim the word of Lord, that is, Christ. We are to become that “sort of people” among our neighbors.

Gospel Mt 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

  • The Pharisees were glad that Our Lord had silenced the Sadducees, because they were opposed to them.
  • The Pharisees stood for obedience to the law. They saw lack of fidelity to the Covenant—which on the part of Israel meant obeying the law of Moses—as the cause of the downfall of Israel time and time again.
  • They would also have liked Christ’s answer to the question of which commandment in the law is the greatest. It was fully supported by Sacred Scripture.
  • They didn’t like Jesus’ ignoring their strict interpretation of the law, but Christ’s interpretation was actually more reasonable, for he put the law in service to man, as in the principle, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
  • This general idea of putting man first can apply to many realities—work, the economy, the state, civil law, the natural world—these are made for the good of man; man is not created to serve them.

Doctrine: Social Teachings of the Church

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has highlighted seven key themes at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.
  • The Life and Dignity of the Human Person. “We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” This is why the Church defends the unborn, the poor, the sick, and the elderly. It is the motivation for the just war doctrine, and why the Church now opposes the death penalty except in extraordinary cases.
  • The Call to Family, Community, and Participation. We are social beings with marriage and the family as our central social institutions. Laws, policies, and the economy must support human dignity, not undermine it. Through the principle of subsidiarity, “people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.”
  • Rights and Responsibilities. “The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.”
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable. “A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
  • The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. “The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”
  • “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that ‘if you want peace, work for justice.’ The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.”
  • And Care for God’s Creation. “We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation . . .. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.” The universal destination of goods means that the goods of creation are for everyone alive now and those who will come after us.

Practical application: Living Catholic social teachings

  • Moses taught the Chosen People not to take advantage of aliens, widows, and orphans and Our Lord taught that the true good of human beings is how we should measure both creation and human institutions.
  • It is good for each of us to review Catholic social teachings to discover, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what thing each of us can do to promote justice and charity. It will be different based on our unique circumstances.
  • First, it is necessary to remedy anything we may be doing that is unjust.
  • Then, it would be good to ask ourselves what we might be able to do out of charity and to try to do it.
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Theological Virtues: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
– October 19, 2014 (Year A)

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

Central idea: Faith, hope, and love. Doctrine: The theological virtues. Practical application: Exercising the theological virtues more effectively.

To view Lectionary 145, click here.

Central idea: Faith, hope, and love

Reading 1 Is 45:1, 4-6

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
whose right hand I grasp,
subduing nations before him,
and making kings run in his service,
opening doors before him
and leaving the gates unbarred:
For the sake of Jacob, my servant,
of Israel, my chosen one,
I have called you by your name,
giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other.

  • Though he was a gentile, King Cyrus the Great was a messiah for the Chosen People. He conquered the known world, including Babylon, where the Chosen People were enslaved in exile. He gave permission for the Jews who wished to return to Israel to go home. He even gave men and materiel to rebuild the Temple.
  • Though Cyrus did know the Lord, the Lord chose him and gave him the means to be his instrument. This was for the sake of Israel and for all throughout the world who would learn of Israel’s God.
  • For the Chosen People in exile, Cyrus was the fulfillment of their hope.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10

R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.

For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.

Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
Bring gifts, and enter his courts.

Worship the LORD, in holy attire;
tremble before him, all the earth;
say among the nations: The LORD is king,
he governs the peoples with equity.

  • Ancient peoples mistakenly thought there were many gods, but the Chosen People were taught by God himself that there is only one. This is the faith of Israel.
  • It is right to give God glory and praise because he is the creator and benefactor of all human beings.
  • It is right for every human being on earth to worship and obey the one true God. This is why the Church is always evangelical.
  • There is only one God in existence whom we should love.

Reading 2 1 Thes 1:1-5b

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians
in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace.
We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers,
unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
before our God and Father,
knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God,
how you were chosen.
For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

  • The church of the Thessalonians is Trinitarian. It is “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” and “in the Holy Spirit.”
  • These Thessalonians are members of the Church because they are chosen and loved by God. So are we.
  • Paul also recognizes at work in them what we call the theological virtues: “your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.”

Gospel Mt 22:15-21

The Pharisees went off
and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion,
for you do not regard a person’s status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

  • These crafty Pharisees want to get Our Lord into trouble with either the Jews or the Roman authorities. They begin by deceptively flattering him, by attributing to him a goodness that they don’t believe he possesses, that “you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth”; for if they believed that, they would follow him.
  • They ask him if it is accordance with God’s law to pay the census tax, which in effect recognizes the legitimate authority of the Roman Empire.
  • Our Lord here introduces “the distinction between serving God and serving the political community” (CCC 2242). Civil government has legitimate authority when it serves the common good.
  • What do we owe to God? Many things, but chief among them as Christians are faith, hope, and, above all, love.

Doctrine: The theological virtues

  • The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love that Paul recognizes at work in the Thessalonians are gifts given to all the baptized.
  • They are called theological because they “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object—God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.” (CCC 1840)
    • They have God as their origin because God gives them to us at baptism—they are not “natural” to us.
    • They have God as their motive because they move us to act in a way pleasing to God.
    • They have God as their object or end because the make it possible for us to reach God.
  • “By faith, we believe in God and believe all that he has revealed to us and that Holy Church proposes for our belief” (CCC 1842).
  • “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it” (CCC 1843).
  • “By charity, we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God” (CCC 1844).
  • Charity is Christ’s “new commandment” (CCC 1823), the most important of the theological virtues, and superior to every moral virtue (CCC 1826).
  • Faith, hope, and charity “inform all the moral virtues and give life to them” (CCC 1841). What does it mean that these virtues “inform” the moral virtues and “give them life”? It means that as children of God, we practice every other virtue according to and for the sake of these virtues. The theological virtues give each moral virtue a direction and make it possible for us to go in that direction.
    • For example, we practice chastity because it is part of our faith (Our Lord taught that anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery). We practice chastity out of hope (recall Our Lord’s beatitude that the pure of heart will see God). We practice chastity out of love (we love God, our spouse if we are married, and other persons more than we love the enjoyment of this passion).
    • Or, we are patient with others due to faith—because Our Lord said we will get from God what we give to others, and we want God to be patient with us. We are patient due to hope—whatever irksome person or situation we have to endure is only temporary and heaven is forever. We are patient because it is a quality of love—love endures all things.

Practical application: Exercising the theological virtues more effectively

  • Faith, hope, and love are gifts of grace with which we cooperate. We don’t go out and get them the way a soldier acquires courage through his training. We have these virtues through Baptism and receive an increase in them in all the other sacraments. So, it is important to stay in a state of grace and to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Frequent Communion is also a way to increase our possession of these virtues. If we are married or in Holy Orders, we have the graces to act out of faith, hope, and love in these states of life.
  • But what can we do on our part? After all, St. Paul refers to “your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.”
    • We can ask. Like the apostles who asked Our Lord, “increase my faith” (Lk 17:5), or the father of the boy with seizures who said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24), we can ask God to increase our faith, hope, and love. This can be done in set prayers (e.g., an Act of Faith) or in our own words.
    • Our growth in faith, hope, and love are greatly assisted by mental prayer. Mental prayer is a dialogue with Our Lord. When we talk with God about what is on our minds, what is going on in our lives, and what he wants us to do, we see reality more clearly, including the acts God wants us to perform. If we pray about a problem of faith, for example, God may give us a solution, even if the solution is just to trust what the Church teaches. Or we may realize we are sad because of some setback or rejection or fear and see we need more hope, and so make an act of hope and go on. Or we see more clearly the acts of love God wants us to perform, like do that task, talk to that person, help that person, ask forgiveness, or forgive, and so on.
    • Most importantly, we grow in faith, hope, and love, by performing acts in accord with each virtue. For example, if there is a detail of Catholic belief or morals we have a hard time accepting, yet we are certain they are what the Church teaches, we accept that Catholic truth, defend it as best we can, and attempt to live it. That is a work of faith. Or if we get discouraged in any way, we keep going anyway, trusting in God’s goodness. That is our endurance in hope. We certainly have opportunities to love God and neighbor every day, all day. That is our labor of love.
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The Desirability of Salvation: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 12, 2014 (Year A)

harold-copping-parable-of-the-great-supper-400x546Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: The desirability of salvation. Doctrine: Heaven or hell. Practical application: The spiritual works of mercy.

To view Lectionary 142, click here.

 Central idea: The desirability of salvation

First Reading Is 25:6-10a

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

  • Isaiah conveys God’s promise of salvation to the Jews and to “all peoples.”
  • Salvation will come from the mountain of the Lord, Jerusalem, and the house of the Lord, the temple.
  • What is this promise?
    • The best food and drink.
    • The end to the ignorance, error, fear, suspicion, and hostility of peoples to one another: “the veil that veils all peoples.”
    • The destruction of “death forever.”
    • Consolation for past suffering.
    • The removal of any reproach so as to be held in the highest esteem.

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

R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

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.

  • As Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel reading shows, salvation can be seen as the greatest party every thrown. Salvation can also be seen as peace, in the quiet, secure life described in Psalm 23.
  • To be united to Christ, to live in his house, to be a member of the Church, is like being the sheep of the best shepherd imaginable.
  • Due to having this shepherd, the sheep enjoys rest, peace, protection, refreshment, never being lost, no fear of evil ever falling, encouragement, honor, and abundance.
  • Instead of being followed by enemies wanting to devour him, “only goodness and kindness follow” the sheep of this shepherd.

Reading 2 Phil 4:12-14, 19-20

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

  • In the Gospel reading we will hear the seeming irrationality of the king who casts the guest out of the wedding feast for not wearing a wedding garment. But the reason the king would have been justified was that the king himself supplied the garment to those admitted. In the same way, God fully supplies whatever we need to achieve our end of salvation.
  • Being fully supplied to achieve salvation does not preclude being in need, as St. Paul experienced many times.
  • The “secret” that St. Paul learned for living the gospel in all circumstances was to rely on Christ, “him who strengthens me.”
  • Christ disclosed this “secret” in his first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3).
    • Poverty of spirit means knowing your need for God. Jesus Christ himself was poor in spirit through his kenosis or self-emptying, as we just heard again in last Sunday’s second reading.
    • Being in need reminds us to turn to the Lord who is himself the Kingdom of Heaven.
    • We can imitate Christ’s poverty of spirit through detachment.
    • If we can use the things we have to love God and our neighbor, we are detached from those things and have poverty of spirit, and we do a lot of good in the process.

Gospel Mt 22:1-14

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

  • In this parable, Our Lord gives the religious leaders of Israel a stern warning to move them to listen to his gospel.
  • The king is God the Father. The son is Jesus Christ. The wedding feast is the salvation his gospel announces. The servants are the disciples of Christ. The invited guests are the chief priests and elders of the people. Their behavior is the refusal of the leaders of Israel to accept the gospel, to ignore it, and to mistreat and even kill the disciples. The punishment is the destruction of Israel and specifically Jerusalem. The “whomever you find” is the Gentiles. The wedding garment is repentance and conversion. The place outside is damnation. The wedding guest who is cast out is the follower of Christ who turns away into sin. Thus the parable ends with a warning to us disciples of Christ.
  • Our Lord also provides us an image of heaven and of hell.
    • Heaven is like the best party given by the best party-giver. People are all together, feasting, singing and dancing, wearing splendid garments. But in hell one is bound hand and foot, in the dark, alone. Instead of singing there is wailing. Instead of eating and drinking there is grinding of teeth.

Doctrine: Heaven or hell

  • Article 12 of the first part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the passage in the Creed, “I believe in life everlasting.” After this life there are only two possibilities, heaven or hell.
  • Heaven
    • In the prayer of commendation said for the dying Christian, the minister says, “May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion” (CCC 1020).
    • “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030)
    • “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness,” a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (CCC 1024).
    • “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (CCC 1027)
  • Hell
    • “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves” (CCC 1033).
    • “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (CCC 1033).
    • “The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).
    • “The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny[,] . . . an urgent call to conversion” (CCC 1036).
    • It is not God’s or his Church’s will that anyone goes to hell. For that, “a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (CCC 1037).
    • This is perhaps why the wedding guest without a wedding garment “was reduced to silence.”

Practical Application: The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • Spiritual works of mercy are acts by which we become instruments of God’s kindness to others. These are ways we cooperate with God’s grace and fulfill the petition “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • The traditional seven chief spiritual works of mercy are: To admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.
    • Pointing out to someone that he is doing moral wrong costs us something, because it can earn us his hatred and even his revenge, but this admonishment can also save his soul.
    • It is not just the unchurched that need instruction in the truths of the faith. Catholics have largely been denied doctrinal formation for the past two generations.
    • To counsel the doubtful requires the virtue of prudence, prayer, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, lest we be the “blind leading the blind” (Mt 15:13-14).
    • To comfort the sorrowful implies we have a relationship with others, are available for them, and know how to express compassion.
    • To bear wrongs patiently and to forgive all injuries give others the chance to come to their senses. Likely we have inflicted wrongs on others and injured others, either deliberately or inadvertently, and never want these to happen again. We hope the same for others.
    • All of us can petition God for others in their wants and needs when it is impossible for us to supply them ourselves. For those who have died, what more can we say than “May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion.”
  • The spiritual works of mercy obviously benefit others but they also greatly help the one who practices them. Some of them—like instructing the ignorant—may be out of our reach while others—like forgiving injuries—are always within it (New Advent).
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Justice and the People of God: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 5, 2014 (Year A)

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

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

To view Lectionary 139, click here.

Central idea: Justice and the people of God

Reading 1 Is 5:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Phil 4:6-9

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

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

Gospel Mt 21:33-43

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

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

Doctrine: The Church is sacramental

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

Practical Application: Frequent the Sacraments that can be frequented

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 136, click here.

Central idea: The attitude of Christ

Reading 1 Ez 18:25-28

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

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

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

R/ Remember your mercies, O Lord.

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Phil 2:1-11

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

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

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

Gospel Mt 21:28-32

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

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

Doctrine: “Thy will be done”

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

Practical application: Loving the will of God

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

 

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 133, click here.

Central idea: Fruitful workers

Reading 1 Is 55:6-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel Mt 20:1-16a

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

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

Doctrine: Right Conduct

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

Practical application: Stop sinning and start loving

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

 

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

the-crucifixion-in-the-isenheim-altarpiece-by-mathis-gothart-grc3bcnewald-2

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 638, click here.

Central Idea: The exaltation of Christ crucified.

Reading 1 Nm 21:4b-9

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

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

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

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

R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!

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

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Phil 2:6-11

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

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

Gospel Jn 3:13-17

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

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

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

Doctrine: Jesus died crucified for our salvation

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

 Practical application: Devotion to Christ crucified

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 127, click here.

Central Idea: Admonishing the sinner

Reading 1 Ez 33:7-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Rom 13:8-10

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

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

Gospel Mt 18:15-20

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

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

Doctrine: Fraternal correction

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

Practical Application: How to give fraternal correction

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 124, click here.

Central Idea: The Cross

Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2

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

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

Gospel Mt 16:21-27

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

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

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

Doctrine: The cross of a follower of Christ

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

Practical Application: Taking up one’s cross

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

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

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

To view Lectionary 121, click here.

Central Idea: The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven

Reading 1 Is 22:19-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading 2 Rom 11:33-36

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

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

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

Gospel Mt 16:13-20

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

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

Doctrine: The Office of Pope

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

Practical Application: Cooperating with the Pope and Our Bishop

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

 

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