Homily for Sunday, October 20, 2019
I was mistaken in saying that Pope Francis added a new solemnity to the calendar; he’s instead dedicated the day to the Word of God without changing the prayers or readings.
Fr. Bryan Howard
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 20 October 2019
Pope Francis recently added a new feast day to the calendar. On the third week of ordinary time, which occurs in late January, we’ll celebrate the Solemnity of the Word of God. The purpose of this feast is to focus our attention on the honor that is due to the Revelation of God contained in the Bible, and in particular to see the relationship between the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Eucharist. The purpose of the Bible is to tell us what we need to know to be saved, as today’s second reading says. The Bible contains many different types of writing, including history, philosophy, poetry, parables, and letters, but the purpose of all of them is the same. God gave us the Bible to help us to learn more about Him and to grow in holiness, so we can get to heaven.
So, when we read a difficult part of the Bible, like today’s first reading, we have to keep that in mind. After the Exodus, as the chosen people were still wandering about in the desert, another tribe, the Amalekites, came and waged war on the Israelites. They probably wanted to steal their flocks, kill the men, and sell the women into slavery, so Joshua lead the Israelites into battle. When we read about Moses praying to God for help and God helping them to kill the Amalekites, it’s not the kind of thing most people expect to find in the Bible. Isn’t this glorifying violence? Why not just drive them off?
In the Old Testament, the Amalekites, the Canaanites, and other enemies of Israel represent sin and sinfulness. The worship of their gods often included things like fertility rituals and human sacrifice. The Bible wants to show us that sin is completely against God’s holiness. We should treat our sin like we would treat an enemy who’s trying to kill us. We don’t tolerate it’s presence; we destroy it. That’s not what we normally do though. We become attached to our sins. Every time you say yes to temptation, whatever that temptation is, it becomes a little bit easier to fall into it the next time. For example, I have a weakness for ice cream. Some people can keep ice cream in their house and not eat it; I’m not one of those people. If I buy ice cream with the intention to just have a bowl on Sundays after dinner, it probably won’t survive the first week. In order to beat that temptation I have to not buy the ice cream in the first place. We do the same things with our sins, whether it’s gluttony, lust, unforgiveness, greed, jealousy, or any other sin. We let them have a foothold in our hearts and in our lives instead of being utterly ruthless with them, because we want to have it our way. The Bible teaches us to show mercy to people, but to close our hearts to sin and everything that leads to sin.
During the battle against the Amalekites, Moses goes up a nearby mountain to pay. As long as he has his hands raised in prayer, the Israelites win the battle, but whenever he drops his hands, they begin to lose. Remember, if it’s a spiritual battle, then we need to use spiritual weapons. Our weapons in this battle aren’t swords and guns, but Bibles and rosaries. Keep these close and use them often. A soldier on guard must have his rifle at the ready, and practice with it often. We must always be on guard against sin, so let us practice prayer. The Bible is our map or instruction manual for the spiritual life, it can teach us how to defeat sin in our lives and grow in virtue. The Rosary is our sword and shield. The prayers themselves are based on the Bible and biblical teaching, but it’s really the mysteries of the Rosary that make it such an effective prayer. The mysteries, Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious, go through the life of Christ and the truths of the faith. When you pray the Rosary, try to meditate on those mysteries while you pray the prayer. The daily Rosary, prayed while meditating on the birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, is one of the most powerful Catholic prayers.
The most powerful prayer, though, is the Mass itself. Holiness is nothing else than closeness to God, or becoming like God in our own lives and trying to imitate His holiness. In the Mass we draw closer to God than at any other time in our lives, and in the Eucharist Jesus Christ, God Himself, is truly present. The Eucharist is the spiritual food that we need to stay in the fight, or, as St. Paul puts it, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25). In this contest, we aren’t competing against other people; we’re competing against the devil who wants to make a wreck of our lives and bring us down to His level. So, let us run so as to win the prize.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.