Catholic homily outline for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Optimism and Hope

Job

Job and his accusers

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: Confidence in God. Doctrine: Optimism and hope. Practical application: Activating hope.

To view Lectionary 74, click here.

Central idea: Confidence in God

Reading 1 Jb 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

  • Job is a man who has lost all optimism. He does not believe that good things are in his future: “I shall not see happiness again.” A slave, at least, can look forward to resting in the shade and a hireling will get paid eventually, but Job cannot rest at night, the days run swiftly, but all they lead to are his death.
  • One can endure all kinds of hardship if there is a promise of something good at the end of it. We need the virtue of optimism for life on earth and the virtue of hope for life beyond death.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.

  • The man who fears the Lord, that is, who is in a right relationship with him, has the hope that God will eventually make everything right. For the Chosen People in exile, their hope is their return to the Promised Land and its capital Jerusalem, whose ruins will be rebuilt, whose lowly, broken-hearted citizens will be healed of their physical and emotional wounds.
  • When the Psalmist says God numbers and knows the name of each star, he is not talking about astronomy but the children of Abraham, whom God promised would be as uncountable as the stars in the sky.
  • Part of making everything right is the punishment of the wicked who have oppressed the lowly.

Reading 2 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

  • Paul has a task entrusted to him by Our Lord which he is glad to carry out: the preaching of the gospel.
  • He has the right to ask the Corinthians to support him materially but he freely chooses not to.
  • He tailors his manner of speaking to the mentality of his audience. He uses what St. John Paul II would call the law of gradualness, each person’s little-by-little growth in holiness in every area of their lives with recourse to God’s mercy when they fail. This is what St. Paul means by becoming “all things to all.” This is not the erroneous notion of “the gradualness of the law,” a false teaching that asserts that the moral law can be set aside for people who find it too hard.

Gospel Mk 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

  • Our Lord says he came to “preach,” that is, to communicate something. What he came to communicate was really his very self, of which his words were an important part. Receiving Our Lord’s very self meant freedom from sin, illness, and possession. As the Gospel verse summarizes it, “Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
  • This is the ultimate object of Israel’s and our hope, God setting everything right for those who fear him.

Doctrine: The virtues of optimism and hope

  • The words optimism and hope can mean the same thing: expectation of happiness, the belief that something good is in the future.
  • For the optimistic or hopeful person, things may be hard right now, but they will surely improve.
  • Present difficulties are bearable not only when they are seen as temporary, but especially when they are necessary for the future reward, like dieting to be more healthy and attractive.
  • As virtues, it is useful to distinguish optimism from hope. Optimism can be defined as the expectation of good things in this life obtained by natural powers, as the farmer expects to harvest the wheat he has planted. Hope can be defined as the expectation of good things both on earth and in heaven by the fulfillment of God’s powerful promises. Thus, optimism is the natural counterpart to the supernatural virtue of hope.
  • Optimism is the acquired habit of expecting good things to happen. But an optimistic person is not a mere “wishful thinker.” He or she bases optimism on seeing the positive side of a challenges, being aware of the opportunity that challenge presents, knowing his or her own ability to affect the outcome, and enlisting others to help him.
    • For example, when an optimistic woman loses a job, after dealing with the blow emotionally—which can be tough—she gets up and gets to work with determination and confidence. Why? She knows she can grow professionally by going through the job search preparation process. She sees she could possibly end up with even better job. She knows he has found jobs before and has the ability to find another. And she knows her family, friends and professional network contacts will support her as she goes about seeking a new job.
  • Hope is a gift given to us by God at Baptism whereby we are sustained in the conviction that God will keep his promises, save us, and bring to the happiness of Heaven. It is the firm confidence that nothing really, truly and permanently bad can happen to us if we are children of God. Hope even makes it possible for martyrs to go to their deaths with joy.
  • At the moment Job utters the words in our first reading has neither optimism nor hope—all he sees before him is unremitted suffering and then death.
  • Even though the Psalmist is in a bad place he has hope that God will restore and save Israel. In the psalm, every follower of Christ can hear the beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4) and Mary’s song: “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Lk 1:51-53).
  • Paul’s hope is salvation for himself and those to whom he preaches. He is happy to work for his share in the Gospel.
  • While on earth, Christ perfectly possessed the virtues of optimism and hope because he knew what he was doing and why he was doing it, what obstacles he would face and how tough they were, how he would overcome them, and what the outcome would be.
  • Even more, Christ is really the object of our optimism and hope. Every good thing we want to possess and wait for here will be perfectly fulfilled in the possession of him.

Practical application: Activating hope

  • If we are baptized and have not consented to the mortal sin of despair, we have the theological virtue of hope—even if we hardly exercise it.
  • Since grace builds on nature, it is hard to see how we can exercise hope for eternal life with God if we are complete pessimists about our current lives. But optimism is a natural virtue, which any person who wants to can grow in. That is the good news about all human virtues.
  • We can even say that optimism comes naturally to children and is lost only when it is crushed out of them by how they respond to failures, disappointments, and mistreatment.
    • How many in our own day have had their sense of efficacy wounded by the divorce of their parents or the lack of a father in their lives?
  • In the Christian, optimism and hope are married together. Our practice of the supernatural virtue of hope can help heal us of our pessimism and help us increase our optimism, just as our growth in optimism can help make our hope more operative.
  • A most basic help for living as if things will be well is the conviction that it is the truth. Nothing really, truly and permanently bad can happen to us if we are children of God. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
  • We can make acts of hope in our own words or by using a traditional prayer such as the following:

“O my God, relying on Thy almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.”

  • Optimism grows out of experience of success. We act and then see the results of our action. Thank goodness that we are not Charlie Brown, who always fails at everything.
  • For adults, it helps to see that future success in the face of a challenge is complex and so can be understood and broken down. There are the positive sides of a challenge, the opportunity that challenge presents, one’s own ability to affect the outcome, and the help of others.
  • I think we need hope most of all in the face of sin and death. Ironically, with the loss of the sense of sin, it seems few people, at least in the West, are worried that God will never forgive them or what they won’t persevere in the state of grace to the end. If we add that many persons hardly ever think about God or death—they push both out of their minds—when suddenly they have to face the specter of death they could be overwhelmed with despair.
  • So, to activate the hope we already have through Baptism, the following might be helpful:
  • Make God real in your life by talking with him often in prayer, receiving his forgiveness often in the Sacrament of Penance, receiving him often in the Holy Eucharist (at least every Sunday), visiting him from time to time in a Tabernacle, and behaving in ways that please him, like obeying the moral law and serving others.
  • If it does not occur to you naturally, think about your own death from time to time. When you hear that someone has died, pray for him or her. We are always hearing of the deaths of famous people. Use these as a way of remembering to pray for and honor those you know who have died, especially your parents and forebears.
  • Memorize and pray this very humble child’s prayer, accepting death.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I accept from Your hands whatever kind of death it may please You to send me this day (night) with all its pains, penalties and sorrows; in reparation for all of my sins, for the souls in Purgatory, for all those who will die today and for Your greater glory. Amen.

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