Reflections for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time 2011**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
They refer to the daily readings for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time 2011.
Sunday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time
July 31, Matthew 14: 13-21
Today’s Gospel selection gives us Matthew’s version of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels. I have read many different themes coming from this miracle story: that it prefigures the Eucharist, that it gives us the image of the reign of God as a banquet, that it presents us with the idea of God’s providence and care for his people, and that it shows the compassion of God for the Israelites in the Old Testament in feeding them manna in the desert.
Recently I read another interpretation that really interested me: the miracle of the loaves and fishes signifies the building of community through the sharing of what we have with others. This is really how community is formed when you stop to think about it. We could even go so far as to say that this occasion of the miracle of the loaves and fishes was the beginning of the community we now call the Church. It was sharing that led to this miracle and the beginning of this community of hungry, loving people. The young boy (John 10: 9) who had the five barley loaves and the two fish gave them to the disciples, shared what he had with all, and Jesus did the rest.
And so it is with any other community I can think of. Nations, States, families, religious orders and congregations, parishes, schools, AA groups, Altar and Rosary Societies, nursing homes, the Boy Scouts, and any other group of people joined together for a specific purpose may be called communities. And all of them depend on the sharing of the individuals, the members of the community, to be a viable group. We can all see this in our families. All the members, from the youngest to the oldest, contribute their gifts, talents, work and cooperation for the good, happiness and support of everyone else in the family. All are gifted in a special, unique way and all are needed by all the others to obtain the purpose of the whole. And the same thing is true in our dioceses, parishes, the whole Church, all the other communities we mentioned and more.
Let us realize today that regardless of how little we may think we are, how unimportant we are, we are all vital parts of the communities to which we belong. The whole depends on the sum of all its parts. The Gospel parable for today offers us all the opportunity to reflect on and ask ourselves whether we are doing our part and contributing our share, with God’s help, in the communities to which we belong.
Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 1, Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori
St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose Memorial is celebrated today, has quite a resume, including Bishop, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Redemptorist Congregation. Alphonsus was born near Naples, Italy, in 1696, and died on August 1, 1787, at age 91. He was educated at the University of Naples and received his doctorate at age 16. While visiting a hospital of incurables in 1723, he had a vision and decided to dedicate his life solely to God.
St. Alphonsus Liguori was ordained a priest in 1726 and founded his religious congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1732. He practiced a rigorous lifestyle and suffered much from the pain of rheumatism. Alphonsus died peacefully on August 1 near Naples in 1787. His writings, particularly those on Moral Theology, have survived through the years. In religious art he is sometimes pictured as being bent over with rheumatism.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us.
Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 2, Mt. 14: 22-36
After he fed the crowd, Jesus dismissed the people, and finally took time for himself to go up the mountain and pray. The disciples had previously gotten into their boat and headed for the other side of the lake. Later, during the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went looking for them. The fourth watch of the night was the last lap of the night watches going from 3:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the morning, right before the dawn.
Presumably, the disciples had been trying to cross the lake all night long. It was just evening when they started out. A storm had come up and they had rowed to the point of exhaustion and still got nowhere. Why did Jesus wait so long to help them? For that matter, why does he sometimes seem to take forever to help us when we need him? Why does he make us struggle, why isn’t he Johnny on the spot?
Perhaps he allows us to struggle to humble us, to show us that by ourselves we will get nowhere. Struggling bolsters our faith, shows us the necessity of trusting our situation to the care of God. Maybe the struggling helps us to see that Jesus really is the Son of God. After the sea was calmed by Jesus, they exclaimed, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
In any event, we have all struggled and waited patiently or impatiently for the Lord to act. What have I learned about Jesus from these struggles?
Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 3, Mt. 15: 21-28
The Gospel appointed to be read on this day is a Gospel that shows Jesus coming not to do away with the Old Law but rather to fulfill it with a new interpretation. The Pharisaic interpretation of the law was their holier-than-thou attitude that the Messiah had come for the Jewish people alone and not for the Gentiles. Jews referred to anyone who was not a Jew as “dogs or swine,” as we see in the remark made by Jesus in the Gospel, “It is not right to take the food of the children [the Jews] and throw it to the dogs [the Gentiles].”
Matthew had just finished narrating Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees as being blind people leading blind people with both falling into a pit (Mt. 15: 14). He follows this with today’s Gospel of the Canaanite woman’s faith in which faith alone was necessary for her to come to Christ. Her nationality made no difference. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And Jesus healed this foreigner’s daughter.
There are many passages in Scripture that show Jesus’ rejection of this holier-than-thou attitude both then and now when it shows up in us. Take for example the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector in Luke 18: 9-14: “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax-collector …… beat his breast and said, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former.”
God doesn’t think the way we do. We all have our bit of the holier-than-thou attitude. I pray more than he does – I help my neighbor more than she does – I go to Mass every morning and they don’t even go on Sunday…and on and on and on. And our prejudices based on race, religion, education, color of your hair, etc., are innumerable. When are we going to learn that we are all God’s children and none of the rest of this stuff we get ourselves into makes any difference to Jesus at all?
I found a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu which sums up this whole thing very well. I would like to quote it here: “Many years ago…we (blacks) were thought to be human, but not quite as human as white people, for we lacked what seemed indispensable to that humanity – a particular skin color. We have a wonderful country with truly magnificent people, if only we could be allowed to be human together.”
Let’s see what we can do by allowing each other, whoever or whatever we are, to be human together. Jesus, please help us in this effort.
Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 4, Mt. 16: 13-23
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
This is a recurring question all through the Scriptures. The answer we give is part of the reason why we read and reread the Scriptures over and over, day in and day out. Who is this man, Jesus?
To arrive at the answer, however, requires more than just reading and learning, more than the proverbial head-trip. To arrive at the answer requires a leap, or maybe several leaps, of faith; to let go and let God and see the results, to let go and let God and see that God is really there in Jesus. This is why surrender is so important, for it is mainly in surrendering that we will encounter God and it is only in encountering him and meeting him that we move from the head to the heart.
Surrendering produces not one, but many, heart-trips. And only when this happens can we answer the question Jesus asks us all: “Who do you say that I am?”
Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 5, Mt. 16: 24-28
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 each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.
Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Aug. 6, The Transfiguration of the Lord
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration in their Gospels. And all three of them report a bright cloud casting a shadow over them and from the cloud came the voice of God saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Jesus himself many times in the Scriptures tells us that we have ears but we do not hear. We have ears but do not listen to what he is saying. This seems to be one of the most heard divine pleas in Scripture to God’s people: Listen!
We too are transfigured and changed and this happens from our listening to the word of God. As I have stated before many times, there are two main places in Sacred Scripture responsible for my own conversion from the disease of alcoholism in my life: “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “Without me, you can do nothing.” When I really accepted, listened to these words of Jesus, I was transformed toward being a new person. But many times I still catch myself doing things my way again. I still am not listening when I do that. I am afraid we are all like this many times every day.
Lord, be patient with us as we try and do our best today to listen to your words.