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02/16/20 Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Each of the lessons taught in today's Gospel passage could be expanded into an entire book. 

The core of them all, however, is in the heart. Certainly, our exterior behavior must follow God's will. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law…” But Jesus is trying to tell us that exterior behavior, that appearances, are not enough.  For a true, faithful citizen of Christ's Kingdom, the attitudes and desires of the heart must also be in harmony with God's plan for our lives. This is what Jesus means when he says: “I have come… to fulfill…” - to bring the Old Testament Law to its fulfillment. 

Friendship with God (which is what Jesus offers) requires a union of hearts. 

Christ is explaining the Law from this perspective when he explains the true meaning of sinful anger, lust, and lying.  If God “wills all men to be saved” (1Timothy 2:4), how can our friendship with him be complete when we harbor resentment or contempt towards some people, or tarnish their good name by spreading rumors about them or speaking ill of them?  How can I live in intimacy with a God who loves every man and woman as a father loves his children, when in my heart I desire to use some of them only as an object of pleasure and self-indulgence?  How can I be a true friend of God, when I make promises that I don't intend to keep? (Some Jews of Jesus' time had developed the habit of swearing oaths in the name of God if they meant to keep them, and swearing on something else if they meant to break them.) 

Other people may be satisfied with merely exterior success, with a hefty “bottom line”; Christ, however, is interested in every line: he looks all the way in to our hearts.

If we live our faith superficially, looking like a Catholic on the outside only, our lives will never have the meaning or the power that they are meant to have. We will end up just following the latest trends and fashions, never really having the stability or making the progress in life that Jesus wants us to. But if we live our faith from the inside out, keeping Christ alive in our hearts, we will be able to help set the trends, not just follow them.It's like the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.

A thermometer merely tells what the temperature is in a particular area. If your thermometer reads seventy degrees and you place that thermometer in a room that is currently eighty degrees, the thermometer will change to register whatever the room temperature is. It won’t be long before the thermometer reads eighty degrees.It always changes according to its environment.

The thermostat, however, does just the contrary. Instead of changing in accord with its environment, it actually changes the environment in accord with itself. It adjusts the room temperature. If the thermostat is set at seventy degrees and the room is eighty degrees, the temperature of the room will gradually change to conform to whatever the thermostat is reading. The room will become seventy degrees.

Thermometers passively reflect what’s around them; thermostats actively affect what’s around them.

If our hearts are truly Catholic, truly Christian, if they are filled with knowledge of God and with this grace, then we will be like thermostats.

But if our faith only goes skin deep, if we are only going through the motions of friendship with Christ, we'll just be like thermometers.

Jesus is very practical about what can corrupt our hearts. He identifies anger, lust, and dishonesty as hidden viruses capable of damaging, and even destroying, our integrity, our very souls. But if we are honest with ourselves, all of us will have to admit that we struggle with temptation in each of these areas. So what are we to do? Are we simply doomed? When Jesus looks at our hearts, does he look away in disgust?

No! He comes with the medicine of his grace to cure us.

We just have to give him the chance.

And today's First Reading tells us how: "If you choose," the Book of Sirach tells us, "you can keep the commandments; they will save you." Every day of our lives, we remain free to choose which thoughts and actions we will commit to, godly ones, or selfish ones. When a lustful thought flashes through our minds, we don't have to accept it - we can reject it and turn to Jesus and Mary instead. When selfish anger boils up in our hearts, we don't have to let it rule our lives - we can turn to Christ on the cross and learn from him how to turn the other cheek. When we are tempted to get ahead by compromising the truth, we can hold our tongues  and cling to Sirach's promise: "Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him."

Jesus wants us to choose life, a fulfilling life here on earth and eternal life with him in Heaven, by choosing to reject temptation and follow him.

During this Mass, he will give us the grace we need to make that choice, every day.

Let’s thank him for that, and put his grace to good use. 

 

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