by Father John P. Cush
IN THE SEMINARY, I had a professor for homiletics named Father John Burke. Father Burke was a Dominican Friar who would come to the North American College in the month of September and run an intensive pastoral workshop for the seminarians on preaching. Not only focusing in on the stylistic aspect of preaching, but also the content, Father Burke was a masterful preacher and a kind, but sharp critic.
One day, one of my classmates stood up to give the practice homily he had worked so diligently on for almost a week. It was a random Sunday in Ordinary Time’s selection of readings and, this bright and eager young man really was ready to preach. He was great. He made eye contact, he was funny, he was concise and he covered all four readings done at Mass — the Old Testament first reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the Epistle and the Gospel. We, his classmates, were stunned. It was magnificent. How would the teacher give any critique to this masterpiece?
Well, this older Dominican Friar stood up and said only one thing: “You forced all four readings to have the same theme. They don’t. In Ordinary Time, usually the first reading and Gospel go together, occasionally with the psalm. But the epistle usually has nothing to do with the other readings. It’s just a continual reading from one epistle week after week for a set number of weeks! Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole!”
This is advice that I have never ever forgotten in my own preaching as a priest.
It’s rare when all four aspects of the Sunday readings come together in the season of Ordinary Time, but on this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, they most certainly do! And that theme is obvious, I think! It’s even boldly proclaimed in the psalm refrain this Sunday: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
God does answer all of our needs, even when we are unaware of it. God’s track record is pretty darn good. Look throughout the history of salvation, as displayed in Sacred Scripture. We are created out of nothing, sustained in life by the hand, by the love of the God, who gives us life. When we commit that original sin of hubris, of pride, of failure to remember (here it comes again!) that God is God, we’re not and thank God for that, it is the loving and caring Father who gives us original justice.
Even though we go out, east of Eden, into the fallen and corrupted world, He does not abandon us to the power of death, but helps us all to seek and find Him, as the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I reminds us.
Through the captivity in Egypt, the wandering in the desert, bad king after bad king, exile and defeat, God never abandons His people. The first reading today from the prophet Isaiah reminds us that the covenant of love, made with David, the shepherd-king, is still in effect.
In the fullness of time, when all seemed lost and hopeless, the eternal Father sends us His Incarnate Word, Jesus. It is this same Jesus, the God made man, like us in all things but sin, who in today’s Gospel from the Evangelist Matthew, feeds the hungry with good things. He gives them even more than they need.
The beautiful epistle today from Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us that nothing in this world can ever separate us from the love God has for us. We are His and He is ours, in this beautiful covenant of love, fidelity and trust.
So, therefore, the questions for us today are simple — first, do we trust in the love that the Lord has for us? Do we believe that the Lord has a plan for our lives, that He truly wills our salvation? This trusting fidelity begins with self-realization of the Lord’s love for us, despite our own unworthiness and the self-realization of our place in the universe.
Second, do we know the difference between our wants and our needs? Our wants and our needs are very different — often, if we received everything we ever wanted in this life, more than likely it would not be what we truly needed.
God loves you and me. God wills the good for you and me each day. God wants to save you and me. The psalm is correct —“The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
May we have the insight each day to realize this!
Readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Responsorial Psalm 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Romans 8: 35, 37-39 Matthew 14:13-21
Father John Cush teaches English and theology at Cathedral Prep Seminary, Elmhurst, where he also serves as spiritual director and director of development and alumni affairs.