Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE VOCATION TO LOVE BINDS US: a homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Matthew 5:17–37)

The audio for this homily is here.
Whoever tells you that the Gospel , the teaching of Christ, is all about being nice to others has never the actually read the New Testament.  Our Lord pulls no punches.  He sets a high standard and expects us to live up to it but He knows we are weak and that’s why He gave given us Himself to strengthen us through the Sacraments.  The standard remains and there’s a very good reason for it.
We know by reason that there is what philosophers call an ‘objective moral order’, a real, knowable, moral law which binds all sentient beings.  In other words, wherever one travels one can expect that people know it is wrong to take what belongs to another, to tell lies or to kill an innocent person.  These are the evidences for such a law and while revelation affirms its existence we do not need revelation to tell us it exists. 
But the knowledge of this moral order is not enough.  There is more.  Christ sent us Moses and the prophets of Israel to prepare the way for the definitive revelation that would come with His Incarnation.  Christ reveals to us that the fundamental human vocation is to love.  Unfortunately that last word is a problem.
I may have said this to you before: English is not a good language for expressing feelings or emotions, nor, more importantly, for talking about deeper concepts such as love.  English more or less applies this one term ‘love’ to a very wide variety of contexts and experiences.  I can say that I love beer, that I love my country, I love my relatives, I love my friends and that I also love God.  One word stretched so far is not very useful.  So we must be very careful about the use of that word ‘love.’ In the Gospel passage today the Lord is spelling out the real meaning of ‘love’.  Real love means giving oneself in service to another; it means treating everyone with respect however much we want to do otherwise and, above all, respecting God’s plan for us.  It also means admitting our sins and seeking to undo the harm we have done.
We must bite the bullet here.  The Lord, the true Lawgiver, now reveals to us that we must go beyond the morality of the Old Testament, beyond the demands of the objective moral order, to a deeper level.   We are called to love, to give ourselves in service of one another as a response to His love for us.  It is not natural for human beings to be in conflict.  Violence, aggression, selfishness are all monstrous distortions of what it is to be human.  Because of the Fall from grace every human being, bar Christ and His Mother, are subject to the drive to put themselves at the centre of everything and have everyone and everything orbit around themselves and subject solely to their will.  Now most of us unconscious of this, most of the time, otherwise we would be megalomaniacs.  Yet if you think about it what else is at the centre of all the moral evils in the world but human selfishness?
Christ has come to us as the remedy par excellence.  He offers us not just His helping hand but His very self as the source of our healing and the power to change, to allow, to acknowledge that God alone is at the centre of everything and only when we orbit around Him, only when we are centered on His will and plan can their be real peace and justice.  Only when we love as He loves are we truly loving.  On the Cross Christ revealed that love is total self-gift.  On the Cross He made visible His total self-gift to the Father and He offered that all-holy gift to the Father on our behalf.  As Christians, those who believe and are baptized into Christ, our vocation is to reveal to the world the true nature of love.  We are called to live love at its deepest meaning, to be people who give themselves in service of others.
That is, of course, a lot harder to say than to do.  It demands heroism and self-sacrifice.  Well, as soldiers of Christ, ask yourself, ‘what do soldiers do?’  What do they do if not sacrifice themselves for others?  To be a Christian is to be someone who suffers in order to love because God has shown His love for us in Christ.  The primary suffering we endure, common to us all, is that our fallen nature resists our efforts to love.  We say and do the very things that we condemn in others or that we would not say or do in the cold light of day.  This is the cross that we are called to carry.
It is because of this high vocation, this mission that comes from the Lord to each and every one of us that all the tough demands in today’s Gospel are addressed to us.  It means we must account not only for our actions but even for our thoughts.  We must not think or imagine anyone in a way that turns them into a thing or a means to an end.  We cannot actually do anything seriously wrong without in some way thinking or imagining it.  Accounting for our thoughts is the first step on loving as we ought. 
The Lord is calling us to heroism.  He wants us to trust that no matter how hard things may get He is always within us if we try to remain faithful and respond to His will.  He wants to discover that when we give ourselves in loving service of others we make more room for His Presence within us.  The more He dwells within us the greater will be our joy.  If you want that joy reach out in service of your neighbour, take Christ seriously and you will not lack for joy, for peace nor for eternal life. 

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