Reflections for the 15th Week in Ordinary Time 2011/2020**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
They refer to the daily readings for the 15th Week in Ordinary Time 2011.
Sunday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13: 1-23
Today’s Gospel is commonly referred to as the Parable of the Sower. The Sower, of course, is Jesus who comes to sow his word among us. And the fruitfulness of that word, that seed, how much good it does, is going to be dependent on you and me and our openness and willingness to receive it and put it into practice. This parable acknowledges the free will that God gave us all when he created us. I can accept his Word or not. If I accept it, I will bear fruit. If I do not accept it, I will not bear fruit but will remain stagnant and very human. It is as simple as that.
The parable goes on to give four different ways the word of God can be received by us. I suspect that as we progress through our lives, we all experience at one time or another all four of these ways. The fourth way is where we belong as followers of Christ and let us hope we end up there with Jesus’ help.
The first possibility is for the word of God to fall on a path where people have walked. The ground has been packed down by many feet walking on it and the seed sown was unable to penetrate the soil to grow. It just laid there and died. For us, this sounds to me like head-trip activity. We receive the word into our minds that have been walked on and made impervious by many things, and the word of Jesus gets no further. We receive the word into our minds but do nothing to act on it. We do not let it into our hearts and it is useless. It lies there and dies within us.
The second possibility is for the word of God to fall on rocky ground. Again there is little soil. Only that which is interspersed between the rocks. The word finds some of this soil but it is not able to develop roots and eventually it will die. This happens to us when we are enthusiastic on hearing the word of God but then realize that to put it into action is going to take more work and effort than we are willing to put forth. The word then is given up and falls by the wayside.
The third possibility given by the parable is for the word to fall among thorns. In our experience this happens when once again we receive the word into our minds but then the materialistic values of the world weigh against the word and win. As the Gospel puts it, worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.
The fourth and final possibility is the one we all hope to have happen in our own lives; that we will be truly open and receptive to God’s word, focus on it, concentrate on it, get it into our lives and practice and totally accept its values. Then we bear fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold, as the Gospel says. Then we will reap the rewards of the word of God in the form of joy, happiness and peace in our lives.
It took me many years to even get close to experiencing this fourth possibility and I regret the many years I spent trying to do it my way. Now I am truly grateful to God for finally at least making me aware of and leading me in his way, truth and life. I pray that he will give me the grace to progress yet further in his way and come to completely receive his word that I may bear the fruit he desires of me. But I still have a long way to go.
Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Mt. 10: 34 –11:1
Our Gospel for today brings us to the end of Jesus’ instructions for all who are to follow him in proclaiming the “good news.” The tenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel ends with a number of unrelated sayings, some of which sound mighty strange to us. The words of his coming to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, or that we are to love Jesus more than we love our own families sound rather strange at first reading. We find ourselves saying to ourselves: Jesus doesn’t really mean all of this literally. There must be some other explanation. And, of course, there is.
All of the sayings in verses 37-39 underline the great attachment demanded of the followers of Jesus for Jesus. This reminds me of a little ejaculation we were reminded to say every day in grade school: All for thee, O Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is the surrender that we have spoken of so often. And surrender of my will and life to Jesus means I will love my father, mother, and all the other members of my family to the utmost. The love of Jesus includes the love of our family: Whatever we do for him, we also do for one another. A follower of Jesus who does not love his or her own family and who does not recognize God’s love in those near at hand, will not be able to share that love with others.
Disciples, especially those called away from home on their mission, are to subordinate their love for the family and even their own life for the sake of Jesus and his will for them. The reward for all of this and the sacrifices we make for others is a rich life of happiness, joy and peace. This is the paradox of being a follower of Jesus and loving him above all things.
Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Mt. 11: 20-24
Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew points out to us the consequences of rejecting Jesus’ message. His deeds and words should urge us on to action and to reform our lives.
It is hard for me to even imagine what life would be like morally or ethically if I didn’t have the values of Jesus in front of me all the time. Sometimes I come close to finding out when I disregard his values and choose to go my own way. Things get all bent out of shape and life becomes a mess. My life as a drinking alcoholic gave me this perspective. I thought I was having a great time but deep down inside I was miserable and knew I wasn’t happy and at peace with myself. I was just kidding myself, rationalizing doing things that in no way brought happiness to my life. Only when I saw the folly of my ways and returned to the ways of Jesus did I find what I truly wanted and valued in life.
So, at least we get a hint of what life without Jesus is like from our sinfulness. I don’t believe any of us like that at all. Let’s stop kidding ourselves and get back to seeing true joy and happiness through following Jesus’ way.
Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Mt. 11: 25-27
On July 14, 1957, in St. Mark’s Church on the Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy, I was ordained to the priesthood. I am extremely grateful to Almighty God for his call to serve him and his people as a priest.
Our Gospel for today can be construed as being about the difference between knowing about God and about really knowing God. The difference is huge! I think the first 17 years of my priesthood I knew about God. Knowledge of God for me during that period was a head trip. That’s what it means to know about God. I didn’t really begin to know God, to know him in my heart, until I quit playing games with alcohol and settled down to really living the life of a priest and coming to know God.
I believe all of us, each in his or her own way, go through the transition of knowing God with our head and then finally knowing him and loving him with our hearts. When we love him with our hearts, we believe what we know about him and try our best to put it into practice. That is when we begin to find happiness, joy and peace in our lives. I believe I have now found these things and I am very grateful to God for his many graces that led me on the right path.
Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
July 14, Memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Blessed Kateri (Katherine) Tekakwitha (she who pushes with her hands) was born along the banks of the Mohawk River in upstate New York in 1656. She was to live 24 years and died in 1680. When she was four years old, she contracted smallpox which left her almost blind and her face pock-marked. As her childhood passed, her eyesight improved and she became very skilled in Indian embroidery, beading and woodcarving.
She used to pray and talk with the Jesuit missionaries who worked among the Indians and when she was eighteen she announced she wanted to become a Christian. On Easter Sunday, 1676, she was baptized with the name Katherine. Her family was furious at all of this and they treated her very cruelly. She escaped across the St. Lawrence River to Canada where she received her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677. She carried water, cooked, sewed and attended daily Mass. She spent her time in the love and service of the Lord.
Her private penances and work often left her ill. She suffered greatly during the winter of 1680 and on April 17 of that year she died. She is called the “Lily of the Mohawks” and was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first Native American to be declared a Blessed by the Church. She is the patroness of the environment and ecology.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
July 15, Memorial of St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure, known as the “Seraphic Doctor,” was born in Bagnorea, Tuscany, in 1221. At age 22, Bonaventure entered the Franciscan Order. Later he was sent to Paris to complete his studies under Alexander of Hales. There he became a close friend of St. Thomas Aquinas. Together they received the degree of Doctor of Theology.
At the age of 35 Bonaventure was chosen as General of the Franciscan Order and restored the peace and calm that had been disturbed by dissension. Bonaventure died while assisting at the Second Council of Lyons on July 15, 1274. He was 53 years old at the time of his death.
St. Bonaventure, pray for us.
Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Mt. 12: 14-21
Our Gospel for today passes over the second controversy of Jesus curing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. Rather it picks up right after the second controversy where the Pharisees “went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.”
Matthew then gives a long quotation from the prophesy of Isaiah (42: 1-4) to show Jesus as the One chosen and approved by the Father, even as the human authorities reject him and seek to put him to death to get him out of their hair. Jesus, Isaiah tells us, will be meek and gentle through all of this, “a bruised reed he will not break.” Jesus has the Spirit of God.
In the difficult times of life, let us try to imitate the meek and gentle Jesus by turning our lives over to him.
Jesus, help us turn to you.