Aug 31, 2015

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Our Gospel is often used by those who quote it in order to make the point that Jesus was focused on the interior, the heart, rather than the commandments. It’s not the rules that count. What matters is whether I am a good person or not on the inside. This line of thinking is used to justify ignoring the commandments of God and of the Church. But is that what Jesus was really saying?  In many places, Jesus reiterates the teaching of the commandments. And in that famous Sermon on the Mount he actually intensifies them rather than loosens them. Following the commandments is precisely a matter of the heart and you can’t fool God through external compliance with them. Left to our own devices, following the dictates of our hearts, if they are not formed by the Gospel, will produce exactly what Jesus tells us: “from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, [and] folly.”

Just look at the continual moral decline of our society. We have freed ourselves from the moral rigors of times past. But has it brought us peace? Are we better off as a society for having ignored the moral laws? Why is it that so few couples that prepare for marriage aren't already cohabitating? For that matter, often there is a previous marriage or the couple has been married apart from the sacramental rites of the Church. Why is it that only 24% of Catholics attend Holy Mass weekly? Why are our communion lines so long but our confessional lines so short? Because we try to live Christianity by halves, when it is in reality a whole endeavor. It is an "all-in" kind of thing.

Christianity is not a matter of being a generally good person. That will not save you. Christianity is what the name implies. Christian means follower of Christ. It means living as he lived. Honestly, lovingly, devoutly, in justice and truth, loving one’s neighbor, caring for the outcast, being in the world but not of it. Yet, so many of us trust what the world thinks and ignore the saving truth of Christ and his Church.

St. James tells us that it is not enough to hear the word, or know about it, we must do it, we must live it. But he gives a rather odd definition of religion. How many of us if asked what Catholicism is about would say “caring for orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping unstained by the world?” He doesn’t exclude from this any other group of those in need, but selects them as representative because they are most in need and unable to repay any help that they receive. All of us come here orphaned from the Garden of Eden, widowed from the first relationship that humanity enjoyed with God. We are by fallen nature lost yet by grace we have been found.

So how do we begin again in the context of our modern society? We must be converted in our hearts. We must die to ourselves and live for him who died and rose again for us. The more completely we turn our lives over to him, the more easily will the world be able to see the God who loves each human person. We prayed at the beginning of Holy Mass for God to put in our hearts the love of his name and deepen our reverence so that he may nurture in us what is good. Love of God and reverence is the source, love of our neighbor is the proof. So long as we reduce our Christianity to noble ideas, a little Church attendance, a bit of help for the poor, from time to time, no one will see a reason to accept a religion which makes us no different than those who have it not at all. You see, being good just isn’t good enough. We must become Christians. On the one hand, perhaps we can fool most people with external piety, perhaps even ourselves, for a time, but God judges the heart. And on the other hand, how will our hearts ever be converted to Christ if we think the truths and rituals of Catholicism are really rather unimportant things. After all, the last thing Jesus gave his disciples before he went to his death, was the sacrificial ritual by which we come into intimate union with him. As St. Augustine reminds us, when we consume ordinary bread, we transform the elements into ourselves but when we consume the holy bread of eternal life, he transforms us into himself. That should leave us asking ourselves whether we have been transformed, in our hearts and in our lives.

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