Reflections for the 20th 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 20th Week in Ordinary Time 2011.
Sunday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 14, Matthew 15: 21-28
The Gospel appointed to be read on this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 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.
Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 15, SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION
On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven as a dogma of the Catholic Faith. “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” This definition of Mary’s Assumption into heaven was not a new idea. It had been a common belief for centuries that Mary had been assumed into heaven after the course of her earthly life.
Sacred Scripture does not give any account of Mary’s assumption into heaven, but it sure comes close with many implications. The whole 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation is about the Woman and the Dragon and the Woman’s eventual victory over the Dragon. The Dragon was unable to harm her or her child. “Satan was thrown down to the earth and its angels were thrown down with it.” Good triumphs over evil – the main truth of the whole of revelation. And if Mary is completely victorious over the Devil, it is easy to imply that she was free of sin and that her body did not undergo the corruption of death.
The Gospel for today also sheds a little light on the Assumption of Mary. This Gospel contains what we now refer to as the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary sung at Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. In this Canticle we read: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. All generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” Practically speaking, the favors given to the lowly servant, Mary, and the great things done for her amount to the two great favors or privileges attributed to Mary by the Church: Her Immaculate Conception and he bodily Assumption into the glories of heaven.
Theologians went back and forth for years on this idea of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. Actually some hints of this doctrine go back as far as the 4th century. When the magnificent theologians of the 13th century got into this, they had a ball. They were on the horns of a dilemma. According to the Church all human beings had sinned and were in need of redemption. The two great privileges of Mary contradicted this idea of universal redemption until John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), the great subtle Doctor of the Franciscans, came along. Scotus concluded that Mary was indeed redeemed, but in advance, before the fact of sin, by the merits of Christ’s crucifixion yet to come. I always remember here the argument from reason given by Scotus for these privileges of Mary. His argument consists of three words, the shortest argument in theology: Potuit, Decuit, Fecit. (God was able to do these things, it was fitting for him to do them, therefore he did them.) Clever man, this Scotus.
So, this is a little on this Feast we are celebrating. Let it be a reminder to us of the greatness of Mary in the sight of our God. She is indeed blessed. Let us imitate her devotion to her Son and her humility in doing his will. Let us pray to her for her intercession and assistance in our lives.
Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for all your children.
Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 16, Mt. 19: 23-30
We have said previously that the spiritual and the eternal aspects will continue on at the time of our physical death. And here is where we will find the reward of true discipleship. Peter’s question is seeking this answer: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” And Jesus answered: “You who have followed me ….. will inherit eternal life.” This is the reward. In the words of the Preface of the Dead, life is changed, not ended. And elsewhere we read: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it entered the mind of humankind what God has prepared for those who love him”. The “hundred times more”that we will receive is more than we can even imagine. We are dealing here with the eternal, the everlasting life, life with God face to face.
My Commentary on the Scriptures ends its treatment of this Gospel with the words: “Disciples share in the glory and find judgment by the Human One, as their self-emptying for God’s realm has prepared them to receive the eternal inheritance God wills for all.” The physical, temporal possessions are gone. All that remains is life in God. How good can it get!?
Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 17, Mt. 20: 1-16
“Are you envious because I am generous?”
In this parable the landowner represents God and his generosity. God’s generosity is the same thing as his grace and we all know that that is a “freebie.” We do not earn or merit God’s grace or generosity; it is a free gift to all. God’s generosity never does any injustice because it is pure gift. There is no injustice done in this parable in the first place, which is pretty much what we all think when we first read it. The parable is about people getting what they have a right to have: All have the right to enough to eat today and in this parable this right is satisfied for all, no matter what time they came to work and what they received as a wage. They all received at least a denarius which would amount to anywhere from 2.00 dollars to .50 cents today. In any event, it was enough in those times to buy food for the day for themselves and their families.
In the Kingdom, justice means all are fed as a sign of God’s all-inclusive love. It does not mean getting what we deserve. Once again, God’s generosity is not earned or merited.
Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 18, Mt. 22: 1-14
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. This Gospel is full of allegory. The ones invited to the banquet are the Jews. The guests gathered from the highways are the Gentiles. Just because they were “outsiders” does not mean they could dress any way they wanted to for the banquet. There was a certain etiquette to be followed in these situations and all the people of that time knew them and were bound to follow them.
All are invited to God’s Kingdom, and in accepting this invitation we know we must be properly dressed in the virtues of the love of God and the love of our neighbor and gratitude to God. How loving and grateful am I to God for this invitation? How do I show it?
Friday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 19, Mt. 22:34-40
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus’ response to the above quote presents to us the Great Commandment: Love God, love your neighbor. “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Everything in our spiritual life revolves around the Great Commandment and it should be constantly before our eyes. I believe the relational paradigm is the principle model for our spiritual progress in today’s Church and world. This consists in focusing on my relationship with God and with my neighbor. What else is there?
The way the Twelve Steps of Spirituality are constructed tells me the same thing. The first three Steps inform us that we are powerless over many things and when this is the case I must be aware that only God can help me remain sound and whole. If we try and solve these cases where I am powerless alone they will break us up into unmanageability. So we must let go and let God by surrendering our wills and lives to God’s control. God is absolutely necessary for a manageable and happy life.
The next four Steps: 4,5,6, and 7, are conversion Steps. If God is so necessary for having quality life it only stands to reason that the closer I am to him, the better life will be. Therefore I seek out the things in my life, my defects and shortcomings, that are blocking this relationship. What is standing between myself and my God, what is blocking my relationship with him? When I find this out, I own my defects and do not deny their presence in my life. And then I try and make progress, with God’s help, to remove these blocks. I do the same thing with regard to my neighbor and what is blocking my relationships with them. Then I make amends in Steps 8 and 9.
The Great Commandment works the same way in my life. The more I love God and my neighbor, the happier I will be. Therefore, what is it in my life that is blocking a more intimate relationship with God and my neighbor? Once I discover these blocks, I try and make progress in removing them with God’s help. My happiness, peace and joy, the things I am ultimately seeking in my life, depend on this Greatest of the Commandments.
What is blocking my relationship with God? Lack of a prayer life? Trying to do everything alone? Rejecting his way, truth and life and doing it all my way?
What is blocking my relationship with my neighbor? My judging them? My trying to change them? My constant nagging and complaining? Gossiping about them? Criticizing them?
Lord, help me to discover what it is in my life that is blocking my relationship with you and my neighbor and please help my progress in making these super-important relationships better.
Saturday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 20, Memorial of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Today the Church honors the memory of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church. Bernard was born in Burgundy, France, in the year 1090. He went to Chitillon for college and later on for the study of theology and scripture. After the death of his mother, he joined the newly founded Cistercian Order and was professed in 1114. Soon after, he and twelve other monks were sent to form a new monastery in Clairvaux where Bernard was appointed Abbot. He was later commissioned by Pope Eugene III to preach the 3rd Crusade. This Crusade failed, Bernard said, due to the sins of the Crusaders. Bernard died on August 20, 1153, and his feast day is August 20.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.