Fr. Bryan Howard
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 9 February 2020
My Maw Maw, Dad, and Uncle David all love to keep vegetable gardens, and they’re good at it. Uncle David even created a new plant. He planted the cucumbers and squash next to each other and the cross pollinated, so we got squash-cumbers. I, on the other hand, take after my Mom. One year for the science fair I did an experiment where I planted four plants and watered each one with something different, water, coca cola, Kool-Aid, and orange juice. They all died, because plants need a balance of factors to live, and I obviously missed something. Have you ever had one of the plants, like a sunflower, that turns to follow the sun across the sky? You can’t see it moving, but the difference is very noticeable each time you come back to it throughout the day. It’s not choosing to follow the sun, it’s just evolved that way because the sun gives it the energy it needs to live. Of course, they also need rain and nutrients from the soil to live and grow. In order to have a healthy and growing spiritual life, we also need three things, light, food, and water, all of which are provided by Jesus Christ: moral guidelines, the Eucharist, and grace. In our second reading St. Paul says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” because Jesus gives us everything that we need.
Our Gospel today says that we are the “light of the world.” Why? Because Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, and we are Christians, so we reflect His Light. The response for our psalm today was “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Christ is the only truly Just Man, and He shows us how to walk upright lives by being gracious, merciful, just, and generous, or as the first reading says, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Morality, or following the law of God is one of the three parts of the spiritual life. The Bible makes it very clear that all of our prayers and offerings to God are useless unless we’re also living a good life. Most of the time what is good and what is bad are very clear to us, but we live in a complicated world at a complicated time, and there are a lot of different people telling us what to do. Jesus Christ is the light to show us which way to go and an example for our own lives, and we can always ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation? What is Jesus telling me to do right now?”
How do we know what Jesus would do or what He’s calling us to do? That’s where the second part of the spiritual life comes it: prayer. Just as a plant needs water to live, so we need God’s grace. St. Theresa of Avila compared our spiritual lives to a garden where we’re trying to grow all manner plants and flowers, which are good works. They need grace from the Holy Spirit to grow. We call down that grace like rain by praying. At times, prayer seems to be very difficult, and it’s like we have to go down to the well and get water one bucket at a time, with a lot of work and sweat. Sometimes, though, it’s as if our prayers come quickly and easily, like God’s letting His grace come down like rain.
Prayer is as simple as having a conversation with Jesus, talking to Him and listening to Him. Through the Rosary, praying with the Bible, having conversations with God, and so many Catholic devotions we slowly come to know Jesus better and better and can thus follow His guidance in our lives, even as the Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need to follow through with our good intentions.
Finally, we also need spiritual nourishment from the Eucharist. If the spiritual life is all about growing closer to our Lord in prayer, so that we can better follow Him in our lives, then the climax of the spiritual life is to receive His very life in Holy Communion. The goal of the spiritual life is to be united with God in heaven, but God knows that we need help along the way. He gave us the Eucharist as a little taste of what’s waiting for us. The Eucharist contains everything that we’ll have in heaven, but it’s hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. Can I be a good person without the Eucharist? Yes. Can I pray without the Eucharist? Yes. However, if I understand that the goal of life is to get to heaven to be united with God for eternity and that God is present right here in the Eucharist. Then, to knowingly and deliberately deny the Eucharist is to deny Christ, but putting the Eucharist at the center of your life is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your life.
Since today is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, we should look to the Blessed Mother as our best example, she who is called the solitary boast of our fallen human nature. The Blessed Virgin was always with Christ during His life, from His birth, to His public ministry, to the foot of the Cross, to the Upper Room at His Resurrection, she always pondered His words and the things that He did, and she is still by His side now in heaven. Holy Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us to stay by Christ’s side now, during our lives, that we may always be with Him in the next life.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.