Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
February 16, 2020
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Collect

O God, who teach us that you abide
in hearts that are just and true,
grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace
as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Proper Chants

Introit

 

Be unto me a protecting God and a house of refuge, to save me; for you are my support and my refuge; and for the sake of your name you will lead me and nourish me. Ps/. In you O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice, set me free; incline your ear to me, and speedily rescue me.

Offertory

 

Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your commandments. O Lord, you are blessed, teach me your commandments. With my lips have I declared all the judgments spoken by your mouth.  Ps/. Blessed are those whose way is blameless, *who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his decrees! *With all their hearts they seek him.

Communion

 

They ate and were fully satisfied; the Lord gave them all that they desired; they were not deprived of their wants. Ps/. Give ear, my people, to my teaching; *incline your ear to the words of my mouth.  The things we have heard and understood, *the things our fathers have told us.

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading Sirach 15:15-20

If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.  He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.  He has not commanded anyone to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin.

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Gospel Matthew5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment." You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply `Yes' or `No'; anything more than this comes from evil.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What areas of “keeping the commandments and acting faithfully" are most challenging to you?
  1. How have you experienced the “searching of the Spirit” in your own depths?
  1. How might Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount apply in our polarized society? 

 Catena Nova

Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If someone is angry with you, and you show anger in return, the result is a disaster. On the other hand, if you control your anger and show its opposite - love, compassion, tolerance and patience - not only will you remain peaceful, but the other person's anger will also diminish. (St. John Chrysostom)

Let us ask ourselves, why is it that we so often wish to do right and cannot? why is it that we are so frail, feeble, languid, wayward, dim-sighted, fluctuating, perverse? why is it that we cannot "do the things that we would?" why is it that, day after day, we remain irresolute, that we serve God so poorly, that we govern ourselves so weakly and so variably, that we cannot command our thoughts, that we are so slothful, so cowardly, so discontented, so sensual, so ignorant? Why is it that we, who trust that we are not by wilful sin thrown out of grace (for of such I am all along speaking) why is it that we, who are ruled by no evil masters and bent upon no earthly ends, who are not covetous, or profligate livers, or worldly-minded, or ambitious, or envious, or proud, or unforgiving, or desirous of name,—why is it that we, in the very kingdom of grace, surrounded by Angels, and preceded by Saints, nevertheless can do so little, and instead of mounting with wings like eagles, grovel in the dust, and do but sin, and confess sin, alternately? Is it that the power of God is not within us? Is it literally that we are not able to perform God's commandments? God forbid! We are able. We have that given us which makes us  able. We are not in a state of nature. We have had the gift of grace implanted in us. We have a power within us to do what we are commanded to do. What is it we lack? The power? No; the will. What we lack is the real, simple, earnest, sincere inclination and aim to use what God has given us, and what we have in us. I say, our experience tells us this. It is no matter of mere doctrine, much less a matter of words, but of things; a very practical plain matter. (St. John Henry Newman)

We must see that there is no possible compromise between killing and being killed . . . For all violence to be destroyed, it would be sufficient for all mankind to decide to abide by this rule. If all mankind offered the other cheek, no cheek would be struck . . . If all men loved their enemies, there would be no more enemies. But if they drop away at the decisive moment, what is going to happen to the one person who does not drop away? For him the word of life will be changed into the word of death. It is absolute fidelity to the principle defined in his own preaching that condemns Jesus. There is no other cause for his death than the love of one's neighbor lived to the very end, with an infinitely intelligent grasp of the constraints it imposes. (René Girard)

Purity is the glory of the human body before God. It is  God’s glory in the human body, through which masculinity and femininity are manifested. From purity springs that extraordinary beauty which permeates every sphere of humanity’s common life and make it possible to express in its simplicity and depth, cordiality and the unrepeatable authenticity of personal trust. (Pope St. John Paul II)

Conventional religious morality (“the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees”) is about not doing external wrong: not murdering, not committing adultery, not committing divorce, not breaking sacred oaths, not getting revenge on the wrong people. But the kingdom manifesto calls us beyond and beneath this kind of morality; we must deal with greed and lust, arrogance and prejudice in the heart. And more, instead of merely not doing wrong, with a changed heart we will be motivated to do what is right. Jesus’ words on adultery fit into this pattern. Yes, he says, you can avoid technically committing adultery, but your heart can be full of lust. Just as there would be no murder without anger, there would be no adultery without lust. So, Jesus says, if you want to live in the kingdom of God, you don’t seek to stir up lust and then prevent adultery, but rather you seek to deal with the root, the source. The kingdom of God calls you to desire and seek a genuinely pure heart. (Brian McLaren)

Jesus gives a series of teachings which reveal the way in which humans are utterly constituted in violence — anger is the equivalent of killing, lust the equivalent of adultery, a quarrel with a brother the complete invalidation of an act of worship of God. Because of this, the law, which Jesus does not come to abolish, does not go far enough. Jesus is determined to teach people at the level the law cannot reach: how to be free from being bound into the other by violence: so, no retribution to the other who violates you, because if you do, you remain on the same level as that person — so instead, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile. It is only by not being stuck at the level of reacting to the violent other that we are free. Move out of reciprocally violent relationships, and into free ones. The strictures against false piety and hypocrisy are because the ones who practice those things are tied into what other people think, they are not able to act freely. They are run by the opinion, or what they hope to be the opinion of the other. Hence the tremendous importance of forgiveness, or loosing the bonds which tie one in to the violent other. For only thus can one be free, and perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. (James Alison)

[Christ] affirms that [the commandment “You shall not kill”] is violated not only by effective homicide, but also by behavior that offends the dignity of the human person, including insulting words. These certainly do not have the same gravity and culpability, such as killing, but they are in the same line, because they are its premises and reveal the same ill-will. Jesus invites us not to establish a graded list of offenses, but to consider all of them harmful, inasmuch as moved by the intent to do evil to one’s neighbor. (Pope Francis)

Homily

 SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)

            Readings: Sir. 15:15-20; 1 Cor. 2:6-10; Mt. 5:20-22,27-28,33-34,37 [Short ver­sion])

Sweat the Small Stuff

            I really don’t know what the point of a sermon is having just heard part of the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount.  Why preach a sermon on top of a sermon?  We should just sit down as those first listeners did there on the mountain and allow its words to sink in, challenge us, and who knows, even make us disciples.  Though I suspect it wouldn’t be long before a whole slew of inner objections started to surface as they probably did in that first congregation to hear those words, thinking to ourselves, “He must be kidding.”  The President of the United States said as much recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, of all places, when he announced his disagreement with the words of Jesus in today’s gospel --- while his fawning Evangelical supporters listened in compliant silence.

            Yes, it’s true the standards set by our Lord seem so lofty as to be out of touch with reali­ty.  The ideals of Christian conduct portrayed by Jesus appear so remote from normal human behavior that it’s tempting to think, “That’s all very nice, but not very practical!  If a Christian should never get angry, look twice at an attractive person, or tell a little fib, then no one will enter into the kingdom of heaven (G).  Surely Jesus must be overstating his case, better to make his point, so he shouldn’t be taken literally.  So, thank goodness, “I’m off the hook.”

            Well, maybe not.  Just because Jewish rabbis in Jesus’ time were known to exaggerate here and there in order to make an impression on their disciples doesn’t mean the Lord was merely trying to raise the ethical bar a few inches among his followers.  It seems while the first Moses ascended a mountain to come back with “the biggies” -- murder, adultery, perjury, things like that -- the new Moses won’t settle for making light of “the small stuff.” No, I think Jesus understood human nature well enough to know that fudging with the least of the commandments soon leads to fiddling with the greatest (cf. G; Long version).

            For the little things we sometimes think aren’t so important can do great damage, if for no other reason than their tendency to escalate.  Look more closely at the behaviors Jesus addresses in today’s gospel.  Take anger.  It’s no secret this country is simmering with hostilities that are ready to boil over at any moment, made worse by the impeachment of the President.  I sometimes think the United States is already engaged in a cold civil war. And you can be sure the war began, like all wars, with those “little” fits of anger against people who serve as convenient scapegoats on whom to project one’s imagined grievances – usually people who look, think, act or worship differently than we do.  At the moment, Muslims, immigrants and one’s political opponents are the easy targets.  But you can be sure these animosities -- which have moved up the scale ever so steadily from anger to rage to hatred -- began with those “little” losses of temper, those “small” infractions of calling someone else Raqa, which means something like “Idiot,” or saying to someone else, “You fool” (cf. G; Long version).

            Then there’s looking at another person with lust (G).  Which, by the way, has nothing to do with normal sexual attraction but with viewing another person as an object, as a means to an end, often with only your own plea­sure or benefit in mind.  Is it any secret that such desire is ignited by the smallest of sparks?  A “little” wink here, an “innocent” flirtation there, a peek at porn?  And before you know it a marriage is in ruins, or the porn habit becomes a full-blown addiction, or several kinds of STDs reach epidemic proportion  – and I don’t mean Doctors of Sacred Theology!

            And then there’s those “little” stretches of the truth, when we fail to, Let our ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ mean ‘No’ (cf. G).  Where does shaving a few corners from the truth lead?  Well, look at the damage done to the economy for starters in the last decade: the Great Recession began, I’m sure, with bankers and brokers thinking a “little” toxic loan here, a “little” dishonest dealing with mortgages there, would never amount to all that much.  Doesn’t financial ruin come to a country when a “little” cheating on your taxes here, a “little” fraudulent claim there, begin to add up?  And before you know it such habits of dishonesty lead to a country awash in fake news, alternative facts and oaths taken with fingers crossed.

            Even so, I fear the Sermon on the Mount might still get lost in the clouds of ethical ideals ill-suited to the so-called real world. And we’ll settle for the righteous­ness…of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. G) -- meaning a self-righteousness blind to one’s own complicity in “the way things are.”

            To really grasp the Sermon’s relevance for everyday life, I suppose we need what Paul calls wisdom for those who are mature. . .not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age. . .Rather  ... God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden. . .which none of the rulers of this age [know].  The wisdom God has revealed to us in the Spirit (cf. II).  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, forever and ever.  Amen.

 

 

 

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