after Pentecost—23 June A.D. 2013
On True Justice
“Unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and
Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
This morning's Gospel is part of our
Lord's larger teaching, known as His Sermon on the Mount. It is part of an
overall program of meekness and humility; necessary to enter the kingdom of
heaven. We would all do well do read it over ourselves, when we have a few
moments to ponder it, and really understand its significance. The Sermon
begins with Matthew v, and goes on for the next chapter or two.
When you read it, you may find
things that violate the “traditional wisdom” of our culture—particularly
with regard to forgiving our enemies, and to practicing humility.
But there is nothing new here. It
was similarly new to the Jewish people when they first heard it 2,000 years
ago. If not new, it seems to violate the life-style we all like to live, in
which we “look out for #1” at the expense of others.
Our Lord is simply stating that we
must undergo a conversion of life—simply a change of attitude. Not only
must we avoid sinful actions, but we must also avoid the planning, and the
thinking, and the emotional outbursts which normally accompany our sins.
He is reminding us that the primary
aspect of sin is the rebellion of the will, and not just the serious
physical actions which accompany that rebellion. (Otherwise the angels
could not have sinned.) Certainly we must avoid murder, and adultery, and
theft, and so on—but we must also avoid anger, and lust, and greed; the
emotional analogs of these actions.
He tells us that not only must we
not murder; but likewise we must not hate, nor argue, nor call names.
Not only must we not lie about our
enemies; but likewise we must not even tell the truth about them if telling
the truth will hurt them unnecessarily.
Not only must we tell the truth
under oath; but it should not even be necessary to be sworn it—our speech
should be unfailingly honest.
Not only must we refrain from
adultery; but also we must refrain from lust, and suggestive conversation,
and any other form of immodest behavior.
There was a great deal of
controversy in the secular media about this last one a number of years ago
when the late Pope John Paul II made a comment about a man lusting after his
wife. The newspapers couldn't believe that there was anything that a man
shouldn't do with his wife—they missed altogether the point that our actions
as well as our thoughts must be directed toward their natural ends, in
conformity with the will of God.
A few will complain that what our
Lord is asking us to do is very difficult—that it is at least as hard to
control our thoughts and our passions as it is to control our outward
actions. And, of course, they are right! It is hard! In the last verse of
today's chapter, our Lord sums it up in these words: “Be therefore perfect,
as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfection is, indeed, a difficult
thing to achieve. Perhaps it is impossible, or at least unlikely, that each
of us will achieve perfection like God our Father in heaven. But is that a
reason not to try? Of course not—no more than it would be reasonable to
quit work because we know we will never make a million dollars, or to give
up a favorite sport because we will never win the Olympic gold, or to
neglect our appearance because we will never look like a movie star.
Like all of these things, perfection
is worth coming close to, even if we never quite arrive there. And, just as
a few people do become Olympic champions, or movie stars, or millionaires,
there is even a chance that we might achieve spiritual perfection if we work
at it hard enough.
And, don't forget that we are not
left alone to do the job. Our movement toward perfection is grounded
largely in the graces given to us by the Lord Himself. Without Him, we can
do nothing. And if we wish to begin the route to perfection, we need to do
little more than acquire His sanctifying graces regularly through devout
reception of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. If we are
genuine in our dispositions as we receive these Sacraments, we will be a
long way along the road to perfection.
Then too, we have the intercession
of the angels and the saints on which to count:
Virgin Mary—given to us to be our mother at the foot of the Cross.
Joseph—Foster father of Jesus, and protector of all who unite themselves to
Jesus and Mary.
Angel—given to us for our protection and direction from the moment of our
All of the
other angels and saints—given us as patrons, and models, and intercessors,
on the various paths of life.
We are, then, called to bring our
own wills into conformity with the will of God. Called to bring not only
our actions, but also our thoughts and desires into line with the divine
In a word, we are called to be
perfect—and we can expect the help of God and His angels and His saints in
achieving that perfection—or at least coming close.
S aint Peter says it so nicely: “Be
like minded in prayer, compassionate, lovers of the brethren, merciful,
reserved, humble; not rendering evil for evil... but contrariwise, blessing
[for blessing]. Hallow the Lord Christ in your hearts”!