Homily: What I Say Unto You

We have once again celebrated Valentine’s Day in the U.S.  Children all over the country have written cute notes on construction paper hearts and handed them to their friends at school.

If only love were that simple.

Matthew moves us quickly from the nice sayings of Jesus — “blessed are the poor in spirit,” “you are the salt of the earth” — to the hard ones: “If you say ‘you fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire,” “you will never get out until you have paid the last penny”.  Ouch.  I liked the nice Jesus better.

It’s so much simpler to believe, “Hey, I’m a pretty good person.  I mean, it’s not as though I ever killed anybody.”   I agree that not having killed anybody is a pretty good thing.  So did Jesus’ hearers.  But honestly, for most people, “don’t commit murder” is a pretty low bar.  I like low bars.  The high bars, not so much.  They require me to pay attention to my hurtful words, and even my hateful anger.   Stuff nobody else can see.  Well, nobody except God.

This close to Valentine’s Day, Jesus chooses to muddle together all the way from murder, to what is going on in our hearts.  I don’t think he really is saying that over-the-top anger and nasty words are just as bad as murder, but rather that the commandment not to kill really means that we honor life in other people.  We honor it in such a way that both they and we live more fully.

Jesus’ law of love draws us into a deeper understanding of our own hearts, and a deeper appreciation of how the other person occupies space in the heart of God.     (Melissa Bane Sevier)

When Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He answers simply, “You shall love God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That was easy. And to the point.

Pope Francis has brought a new sense of excitement to the church since his election just last March. It is said that attendance at papal audiences has tripled since he has become pope. When I mention his name, people instantly smile. But, Why? He has not brought a great change to the church. In fact, in regard to major issues in the church, Francis has changed very little.

Francis has shown an example of living a simple life. He has shown himself to he a person who is happy and content with himself. And he has spoken over and over again of the Gospel of Peace, Love  and Forgiveness.

In his message on the World Day of Peace, 2014, his spoke of the impact that fraternity has in the way we see each other and the way we respond and live with each other. He said,” In the heart of every man and woman is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity that draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them, not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters , to be accepted and embraced. Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother.”

Life Implications

The ideal expressed in today’s gospel passage and in Pope Francis’ demeanor and his words remind us that external religious observance, though certainly important, will never be enough to make us authentic followers of Jesus. It’s relatively easy to observe rituals and to affirm doctrines but, unfortunately, such observance can easily co-exist with an interior attitude that is judgmental and unforgiving. As the gospel reminds us, reconciliation with the alienated people in our lives (and often families) is more important than meticulous, or even scrupulous, religious observance.

What is required then is an interior conversion in which you recognize your own shortcomings and so are prepared to allow others to be imperfect also. What is most important, however, is an attitude of loving kindness that enables us to notice how others are hurting and which gladly reaches out to them, not because they deserve our help, but simply because they are in need and our hearts are sensitive to the fact. To love in this way is to be a child of that God who certainly loves us more than we deserve. As such, we will also be true followers of Jesus as we make his love present in our world.    (Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B)

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