The Cross and good works– Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

To work with uprightness means to work justly. I give what I owe. If I am a mechanic, I fix your car properly for a fair price so as not to cheat you in any way.

Central idea: The cross is a saving obstacle. Doctrine: Good works show faith. Practical application: Faithful fulfillment of our earthly tasks.

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.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directoryissued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014).

To view Lectionary 131, click here.

Central idea: The cross is a saving obstacle

Reading 1 Is 50:5-9a

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

  • When we are on God’s side (because God has spoken and we have listened with docility and begun to act accordingly), then unjust persecution can ensue. It happened to the prophets. It happened preeminently to Christ. It happens to us, his followers.
  • Unjust persecution is what we Christians have learned to call a cross. It seems to be an obstacle to happiness. Since we cannot remove it and so must endure it, we need fortitude.
  • Christ perfectly lived the virtue of fortitude, which is courage in the face of fear and toughness in the face of pain.
  • We also can and must develop and live by the supernatural virtue of fortitude, which is to face fear and pain in order to serve God, inspired by and assisted by his grace. We can set our faces like flint while our hearts remain kind.
  • Persecution (or any other cross) seems to be an obstacle to our happiness but it is a way to grow closer to God: “I shall not be put to shame.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

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

I love the LORD because he has heard
my voice in supplication,
Because he has inclined his ear to me
the day I called.

The cords of death encompassed me;
the snares of the netherworld seized upon me;
I fell into distress and sorrow,
And I called upon the name of the LORD,
“O LORD, save my life!”

Gracious is the LORD and just;
yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD keeps the little ones;
I was brought low, and he saved me.

For he has freed my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

  • We love the Lord because he is good in himself. He is the supreme goodness, beauty, and truth.
  • We also love him because he is good to us. God shows his goodness to us enough in this life for us to be confident in his promise that he will save from death and eternal suffering his little ones who call upon him.
  • Who among us is so great that he does not need to call upon the Lord? Can you not honestly say in your heart, “I am a little one”?
  • Suffering and death seem to be the greatest obstacles to our happiness but actually the only real obstacle is sin.

Reading 2 Jas 2:14-18

What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ”
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.

Indeed someone might say,
“You have faith and I have works.”
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

  • James’ words are so commonsensical and practical.
  • What has to be inside us is faith in Christ.
  • One dimension of this faith is the decision to imitate Christ.
  • This decision requires it be lived by our actions.
  • Those actions are our good works.
  • In this way, we are like Christ who went about doing good (Acts 10:38).
  • These good works will often cost us a little or a lot, even, in some cases, our physical life.
  • That “cost” is a cross. But it is an obstacle that associates us with Christ’s cross.

Alleluia Gal 6:14

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord
through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.

Gospel Mk 8:27-35

Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“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
and that of the gospel will save it.”

  • At this point in his public life, Our Lord openly reveals to his apostles his mission. Peter, speaking for the apostles, realizes that Jesus is “the Christ,” or the Messiah, the one who will deliver the Chosen People. Peter realizes that Jesus is the Messiah but not what Jesus is to do.
    • The Messiah’s mission is to be rejected by the religious authorities of Israel, to suffer greatly, to be put to death, and then to rise from the dead on the third day.
    • Though it is his mission, it is still extremely humanly hard for Our Lord to face it. This explains Jesus’ strong words to Peter, calling him Satan, meaning adversary or tempter.
    • Christ is true man and no human being wants to suffer greatly and die, yet for Christ, this is God’s plan. This plan requires self-denial, even on Our Lord’s part.
    • Our Lord then shines a light on God’s way of thinking:

“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
and that of the gospel will save it.”

  • Whatever obstacle stands between us, on the one hand, and Christ and his gospel, on the other, is the cross we must take up. That obstacle is something we must deny or embrace.
    • That obstacle is either something we want but God does not want for us, or something we don’t want but God does want for us.
      • For example, a man might want a woman who is not his wife but God does not want that man to commit adultery, so that man must deny his desire.
      • In Our Lord’s case in Gethsemane, Our Lord, as man, did not want to suffer his Passion, but as God, he did want to suffer it. So Christ embraced it.
    • This is a person’s way to salvation, the way to “rise after three days” or to “save his life.” This is why the cross is an obstacle that saves.

Doctrine: Good works show faith

  • We can intuit that there is something deeply wrong with faith without works. What are some actual reasons faith without actions is a problem?
    • One reason the Catechism articulates is that “In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians” (CCC 2044). If people don’t see the Gospel lived by Christians they will assume it has no actual power. If Christians do live it, then people will be able to see that “the message of salvation” is true and beautiful and has a power to change lives.
    • Another reason good works are necessary is because the good moral lives of the members build up the Church. This edification happens because the holiness of one member benefits the others. (CCC 2045) Again, people will be able to see that “the message of salvation” is true and beautiful and has a power to change lives.
    • Good works are also necessary because these works are the faithful fulfillment of the believers’ earthly tasks, which then “hasten the coming of the Reign of God” which is “a kingdom of justice, love, and peace”(CCC 2046). Thus, our good works, which are nothing but our duties, when faithfully carried out, make the kingdom of God more visible even now.

Practical application: Faithful fulfillment of our earthly tasks

  • We are called to live a Christian life, which includes doing good works “with a supernatural spirit” (CCC 2044).
  • Further, as the Catechism puts it, Christians, do not “abandon their earthly tasks; faithful to their master, they fulfill them with uprightness, patience, and love” (CCC 2046).
  • In other words, we must embrace our earthly tasks. We must do our ordinary work but in a new way, “with a supernatural spirit.” What does this mean?
  • The Catechism identifies three criteria for fulfilling our ordinary work: “uprightness, patience, and love.”
    • With uprightness means justly. I give what I owe. If I am a mechanic, I fix your car properly for a fair price so as not to cheat you in any way.
    • With patience includes all the virtues necessary to carry out my tasks without getting angry, resentful, anxious, or sad. Patience would also include enduring the tedium that work can bring.
    • With love because charity means willing the true good of the other, even if it calls for a sacrifice on my part. In my ordinary work, I am always providing some kind of service to others. The one sure motive for performing my tasks with love is that I love God and want to please him. This is my supernatural motive or spirit that informs my good works, in fact, what makes them good or perfect.
  • The most normal way for us to show faith in action is to fulfill our ordinary duties and responsibilities. As soon as we start to do that we are faced with little crosses. Laziness, the desire to cheat or to take shortcuts, impatience, selfishness—these and other vices are obstacles that stand in our way and which can be overcome with uprightness, patience and love.
  • The Second Vatican Council fathers characterized the “breach between faith and daily life” as “one of the more serious errors of our time” (GS 43).  They noted: “Let there be no false opposition between professional and social activity and the life of religion.  The Christian who neglects his temporal duties neglects God and risks his eternal salvation” (GS 43).  We must follow the example of Christ who engaged in the secular work of carpentry in order to “fuse all human effort, domestic, professional, scientific and technical in a vital synthesis with religious values, which co-ordinate everything in the highest way to God’s glory” (GS 43).

The Homiletic Directory offers these Catechism points and themes for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 713-716: the path of the Messiah traced out in the “Servant Songs”
  • CCC 440, 571-572, 601: Jesus suffered and died for our salvation
  • CCC 618: our participation in Christ’s sacrifice
  • CCC 2044-2046: good works manifest faith






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