Living the readings: A month of virtue

Great things are happening to us as power of God goes to work

Some may be led to think that holiness is boring. They may claim that it is monotonous in that holy people do nothing but good. They define being good as avoiding evil. To reduce goodness to doing nothing is a fallacy that the Scripture readings for this month totally debunk. In fact, this month the liturgical readings present us with an energetic four week course in spirituality.

Each of the 12 readings for the four Sundays of July highlights a step in our development in the spiritual life. As Christ comes to life within us, all sorts of exciting events take place in us that make life well worth living.  We’ll stop after each of the four Sundays to see what we’ve learned each week.

We begin with the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The Old Testament reading is from the prophet Isaiah. He is comforting the Jewish exiles in Babylon with the memory of Jerusalem. Thinking about their native city is an invitation to rejoice and be glad instead of wallowing in sadness as they were doing for years. The call to holiness is a call to experience delight. Isaiah describes the joy as the pleasure of a baby having been fed by its mother and playing on her lap. You can almost hear the child’s giggles. For more hardened hearts, Isaiah also conjures up a river of money flooding Jerusalem. You can almost hear the clinking sound of gold and silver coins getting ever closer. No matter which image relates better to you, the message is thinking of what God has in store for you is joyful, comforting and exciting.

The New Testament reading for the day comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is a message of peace and mercy. They are results of Christ’s cross, which has brought us salvation. Great things are happening in us of which we must become aware. The power of the Lord is within us clearing whatever might cause us trouble. That dynamic is alive in our souls. And, to experience it is exciting.

The Gospel for this Sunday is Luke’s telling of Jesus’ sending the 72 disciples. They left with virtually nothing but a message of the coming of the kingdom of God. They returned to Jesus rejoicing. Jesus said he saw Satan falling from the sky. Then, he tells them that the true cause for their rejoicing is “not because the spirits are subject to you but that your names are written in heaven.” That is to say our joy does not depend on factors outside us, but on our relationship with the Lord and the future to which he leads us.

Looking back at our first three lessons in the spiritual life we begin recognizing that we are responding to a call from God. Then, we free ourselves from negative thoughts as we breathe in God’s mercy and love.  And, thirdly, we dismiss the devil completely as we proceed to concentrate on the things of heaven.

The 15th Sunday starts with a reading from Deuteronomy. It tells us to heed the Lord. The basic message is that we are not on an impossible mission. We can communicate with God. If it would be exciting for you to have daily contact with the pope or the president or any person you value, how much more fulfilling would it be to be in contact with God, hearing the very voice of God speak to us. Moses is telling us that can happen to us right now.

The second reading is the first of three passages this month’s liturgy offers us from Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. Here, Paul describes the result we may expect of our talking with God. We’ll experience the power that created all things and that pre-existed all things. He is the point where everything comes together. That is, we can come to understand how everything comes together in the universe. This is a desire Einstein had but never attained. With God in us we can come to the serene realization of the essential harmony of all reality. Such a state comes not from our genius but through a divine intuition that, though wordless, provides complete satisfaction.

The Gospel from Luke is the dialogue between Jesus and the scholar who wanted to know what needs to be done to enter eternal life. Jesus asked him to give his answer first. He correctly responded it is to love God and neighbor. Jesus agreed. The man was not satisfied. He hadn’t learned anything new so far. So, he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan and asked him who was neighbor to the victim.   He wisely answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus concluded the discourse saying, “Go and do likewise.” And so, we learn the secret to eternal life: treat everyone with mercy. It is that simple and so profound.

Putting together the lessons this Sunday teaches us about the spiritual life. Our fourth lesson was to communicate daily with the supreme being. The fifth step is to open ourselves to an intuition of the harmony of God’s universe. After developing such a desire, the sixth lesson guides us to develop a mercy that reaches out to help all in need. Notice the three outward movements: one towards God, another to the universe, and the third to the people around us.

The 16th Sunday’s first reading is from Genesis. It is the story of Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers. By the end of the encounter, in which Abraham treats them royally, they give him the gift he was wanting for decades. Sarah, his wife, would have a son. Hospitality, a virtue of a good man, brings rewards.

Our second reading from Colossians contains a phrase that astounds many people, “I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the Church…” You would think that Jesus suffering was more than sufficient to do the job of reconciling us with the Father. But, there is good news here. Jesus has made it possible for us to share in his saving passion and death. Our sufferings are the sufferings of Christ because we are part of the Body of Christ. How good is that? It is good enough to make each and every ache and pain important for the salvation of the world and for each individual who is asking God for help. It also makes our entire life and death meaningful. God is with us, and nothing can be better than that.

The Gospel for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time is the classic story of Martha and Mary. Jesus visits them and their brother, Lazarus. Martha is working hard and Mary is just sitting beside the Lord listening to him. Martha wants Jesus to send Mary to help with the work of hospitality. Jesus sides with Mary, declaring that listening to him is the better part. The message to us is that it is better for us to be in conversation with Jesus than to worry and strain ourselves with busy work. The real fun of the spiritual life is to get to know Jesus better. The work will get done in due time. Jesus comes first.

Now, as we add all the ingredients of this Sunday together, we rise three steps farther in our spiritual development. In the first reading, we are taught to expect messages from God through others. We should listen carefully to good people and read inspiring spiritual literature. The reading from Colossians shows us that even our pains and problems are potential gifts we can offer to God the Father in the name of Christ. And, the ninth step is to be like Mary and contemplate in the presence of the Lord.

We now come to the fourth and last Sunday in July, the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, where we find another Abraham story from Genesis as the first reading. Here, he is bargaining with God that he spare the notoriously sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. His reason is to save his nephew Lot. We get many lessons from the story. God can be bargained with by those who are in relationship with him. God will spare evil people for the sake of the good. Our lesson is that people who are close to God enjoy the ability to provide input to God’s mind. Prayer does make a difference. Of course, God’s will and providence will always win out, yet God does involve us. That’s a powerful thought for those in such a position.  God is a great friend to have.

Next, we have our third passage from Colossians. Paul reminds us that through baptism we were brought to life. The “life” he means is the eternal life that Christ enjoys. It is a “life” that knows no death. Taking cognizance of that is to experience a joy that never ends. All the negatives have been “nailed to the cross.”

The last Gospel of the month has Jesus teaching us how to pray. After teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord comments on it. When we pray we need to be both insistent and patient. We need to expect an answer knowing that God only does good. Then, he tells us an important secret about God. He tells us to ask for the greatest gift the Father can give and will give if we ask. That gift is none other than the Holy Spirit. What an advantage that makes in our prayer life.

So, we can now consider the last three steps to a dynamic spiritual life. We enter the inner life of the Holy Trinity. We were invited to speak to God, the Father, with our prayer requests. We were reminded by Paul to contemplate our baptismal relationship with the Son. And, finally, we are invited into the fullness of the Trinity by asking for the Holy Spirit to grow in our souls.

We have reached the point beyond which there is nothing. We are at the pinnacle of the spiritual life. We have gone on a journey developing ever increasing insights from God that has led us inevitably to the infinite glory of life in the Blessed Trinity.

So, July has proven to be quite an important month spiritually. Look what God has done for us using the 12 Sunday Scripture readings. Those readings were, in a sense, a trail of delights laid out for us by God. In the beginning they were enticing and exciting. We soon became deeply engaged on the spiritual journey to unity with God. By the end of the month we found ourselves happily enraptured in the loving mystery of Father, Son and Spirit.


Sunday, July 7: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Monday, July 8: Genesis 28:10-22; Psalm 91:1-4, 14-15; Matthew 9:18-26
Tuesday, July 9: Genesis 32:23-33; Psalm 17:1-3, 6-8, 15; Matthew 9:32-38
Wednesday, July 10: Genesis 41:55-57 and 42:5-7, 17-24; Psalm 33:2-3, 10-11, 18-19; Matthew 10:1-7
Thursday, July 11: Memorial, St. Benedict, abbot, Genesis 44:18-21, 23-29 and 45:1-5; Psalm 105:16-21; Matthew 10:7-15
Friday, July 12: Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30; Psalm 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40; Matthew 10:16-23
Saturday, July 13: Genesis 49:29-32 and 50:15-26; Psalm 105:1-4, 6-7; Matthew 10:24-33
Sunday, July 14: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
Monday, July 15: Memorial, St. Bonaventure, bishop, doctor of the Church, Exodus 1:8-14, 22; Psalm 124:1-8; Matthew 10:34–11:1
Tuesday, July 16: Exodus 2:1-15; Psalm 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34; Matthew 11:20-24
Wednesday, July 17: Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12; Psalm 103:1-4, 6-7; Matthew 11:25-27
Thursday, July 18: Exodus 3:13-20; Psalm 105:1, 5, 8-9, 24-27; Matthew 11:28-30
Friday, July 19: Exodus 11:10–12:14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; Matthew 12:1-8
Saturday, July 20: Exodus 12:37-42; Psalm 136:1, 23-24, 10-15; Matthew 12:14-21
Sunday, July 21: Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15:2-5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42
Monday, July 22: Memorial, St. Mary Magdalene, Exodus 14:5-18; Exodus 15:1-6; John 20:1-2, 11-18
Tuesday, July 23: Exodus 14:21–15:1; Exodus 15:8-10, 12, 17; Matthew 12:46-50
Wednesday, July 24: Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15; Psalm 78:18-19, 23-28; Matthew 13:1-9
Thursday, July 25: Feast, St. James, apostle, 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 126:1-6; Matthew 20:20-28
Friday, July 26: Memorial, Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:8-11; Matthew 13:18-23
Saturday, July 27: Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 50:1-2, 5-6, 14-15; Matthew 13:24-30
Sunday, July 28: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Monday, July 29: Memorial, St. Martha, Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34; Psalm 106:19-23; John 11:19-27
Tuesday, July 30: Exodus 33:7-11 and 34:5-9, 28; Psalm 103:6-13; Matthew 13:36-43
Wednesday, July 31: Memorial, St. Ignatius of Loyola, priest, Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99:5-7, 9; Matthew 13:44-46
Thursday, Aug. 1: Memorial, St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop, doctor of the Church, Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38; Psalm 84:3-6, 8, 11; Matthew 13:47-53
Friday, Aug. 2: Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37; Psalm 81:3-6, 10-11; Matthew 13:54-58
Saturday, Aug. 3: Leviticus 25:1, 8-17; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 7-8; Matthew 14:1-12

Father Joseph Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg