Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 16 February 2020
Today’s Gospel is from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, right after the Beatitudes, and it represents a summary of our Lord’s teaching. When we study theology we usually separate moral theology, or ethics, and spiritual theology, or prayer and holiness, but, in reality, you can’t separate them because they’re just different aspects of the same thing. One of the most important insights of the Bible is that God is the source of both truth and goodness. I remember talking to someone studying to be a rabbi, and she told me that Judaism doesn’t have a Creed that you have to believe to be Jewish, they have laws that you have to follow. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is taking an insight from the Old Testament, that God is the source of Wisdom, and taking it to the next level. It isn’t enough to follow the Law of God, God wants to send His Holy Spirit into our souls and write the Law of God in our hearts.
The Lord starts off by telling them, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We have the idea of good and gentle Jesus who relaxes all the strict rules of the Old Testament. We imagine Jesus telling us, “You do you. As long as you don’t intentionally hurt anyone it’s all okay.” Jesus does relax the ritual laws of the Old Testament, like the prohibition against eating shell fish and pork or wearing clothes made from two types of cloth. He doesn’t relax the moral laws; in fact, he’s even more strict. He has a higher standard of holiness than the Old Testament, but He doesn’t require anything that He hasn’t already done, and He’ll never ask us to do something without giving us the grace to do it.
The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” To feel angry isn’t a sin, because you can’t always control what emotion you feel. The sin is to nurse anger in your heart. When we feed that anger and let it start to control us, then we’re guilty of the sin of wrath. We can fight that by bringing it to God in prayer and asking for His help. We sometimes want to hold on to our anger and let it begin to define us, and that’s exactly when we need to surrender it to God. Don’t be afraid to take a step back or go find a place to cool off. It’s better than saying something that you’ll come to regret but can’t take back.
The Lord also said, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We should recognize that every person has dignity in their own right and is a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. When we use another person for our own satisfaction we fail to recognize their dignity as children of God and put our own good ahead of theirs. It’s one thing to appreciate someone’s beauty, but it’s another thing to nurse lust for someone in our hearts, that’s where we start to sin.
I sometimes hear people say that priests and religious take a vow of chastity, but that’s wrong. We take a vow of celibacy, meaning that we vow to not get married so that we can dedicate our lives entirely to God and the Church. That’s not something that the Church forces us to do; we choose to be celibate. As one of my teachers in seminary used to tell us, “We’re not training you to be consecrated bachelors, so don’t live like bachelors.” We are committed, not to one person or family, but to the entire Church. Chastity, on the other hand, is for everyone, whether you’re married, celibate, or single. Chastity looks different for people in different states of life. For example, it’s not appropriate for a celibate person to go on dates, but it’s normal for a single person. However, chastity means always treating everyone around us with dignity and respect.
Ultimately, what we’re called to is love, and to love one another like God loves us. We’re called to love our families, strangers, and even our enemies. We’re called to love no matter what state of life we’re in, what economic class we’re in, or what age we are. The undying and unwavering dedication of celibate clergy and religious to the Church, of husbands and wives for one another, of parents for their children, of Christians for their neighbors reflects the love that God has for us and that the Son of God showed for us on the Cross, when He willingly gave His life for our salvation. Since we just has St. Valentine’s Day, I think it’s appropriate to end with a quote from the most popular reading at weddings, which shows that love is not merely an emotion or passion that comes and goes depending on how we feel about someone, but is a firm commitment to act for someone's good regardless of how we feel about them. St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not see its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endured all things. Love never fails.”
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.