Sunday Sermon for February 23, 2014, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
In the first reading Moses relates the words spoken to him by the Lord Himself when He told Moses to instruct the people of Israel to “be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” To be holy is to be like God. So, the more one grows in likeness to God, the holier that person becomes. In order to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts or, to put it another way, to become the persons God made us to be, it is necessary that we grow in holiness.
This precept of God telling us to be holy is not just for the Chosen People, rather, it is something that is for every single person in the world because all people are made in the image and likeness of God. The Jewish people had a great advantage over everyone else because they knew God. We, now, have an even greater advantage because of our union with Jesus. In fact, in the second reading St. Paul reminds us that we are Temples of the living God and that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We know that where one Person of the Trinity is present, all three are present. So, the three Persons of the Trinity dwell within us when we are in the State of Grace. St. Paul goes on to say that the Temple of the Lord, which you are, is holy. Because of these graces our Lord calls those who know Him to greater holiness or perfection.
When we ask what this kind of holiness looks like, we see that the Church gives us some verses from Leviticus which direct us not to hate others and then instructs us to love them. The reading, however, speaks only of one’s brother, sister, and fellow citizen. This can easily lead to the idea that one only has to practice charity toward others who are among one’s own people.
In the Gospel our Lord rephrases the directive of Leviticus and says that we are to perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Here He takes things to a new level reminding us that if we do things only toward our own there is nothing special about that since pagans do the same. If we are going to be holy or, if we are going to perfect ourselves spiritually, then we must be like God. Jesus tells us that God makes the rain fall on the bad and the good, and that the sun shines on the just and the unjust. In other words, we have to practice real charity toward everyone.
Our Lord takes this so far as to tell us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors. This is certainly not natural nor is it typically the way that pagans do things. Therefore, this kind of charity is what is to set us apart as members of Christ. Our Lord told us that people will know we are His followers by our love.
With this in mind, the first thing each of us has to ask is whether or not people recognize that we are Christian people. By this I do not mean that they see that we are wearing a cross or a Miraculous Medal or that they notice our scapular creeping up. I mean, to they notice the charity with which we treat others?
By charity we mean doing what is best for others. People often get confused with thinking that is means simply being nice to others. We are, indeed, called to be kind, but we have to assess each situation, as well as the personality of the individual with whom we are dealing, and determine what will be the best way to approach the situation at hand. We must repeat, however, that it is not about choosing the approach that will work best for me to get what I want, but what is truly best for the other person.
This sounds to most of us like foolishness. Our selfishness recoils at the thought of placing others before ourselves. Those whose focus is on worldly wisdom and on Mammon will size this up quickly as utter and complete nonsense. If this is our first reaction, then the words of St. Paul from the second reading must be applied to us: “the wisdom of this world if foolishness in the eyes of God” and, “if anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.
Be wise in our choice because it will have eternal consequences. The selfishness of worldly wisdom will live forever in the netherworld. The charity and holiness of the wisdom of God will live forever in Heaven. Seen this way, we can understand that worldly wisdom is absolute foolishness.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.