On the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first reading — Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 — gives us some of the background for Jesus’ teaching in the gospel — Matthew 5:38-48. In the gospel, a further excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues his expansion of the Old Testament teachings. First, he says it is not enough to limit oneself to demanding no punishment greater than the injury one has suffered. The first reading told us not to seek revenge or hold on to grudges. Jesus tells us not to seek satisfaction for injuries at all. We are to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Then he turns to love of neighbor, which was commanded in the first reading. We are also to love our enemies as well. The first reading said we are to be holy as God is holy. Jesus tells us to be perfect as God is perfect. Of course, we are limited creatures, so our perfection can only be a limited perfection. Furthermore, we can only achieve it with God’s grace, and most of us will finally attain perfection in heaven, after God has removed our lingering imperfections in the cleansing we call Purgatory.
The second reading — 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 — reminds us that God surpasses us and all our attainments, so we have nothing of our own to be proud or self-satisfied about. What is important is that we belong to Christ and to the Father, who gives us all we have.
The Eighth Sunday gives us readings which remind us that we can and should rely on God’s unfailing love for us. In the first reading — Isaiah 49:14-15 — the prophet delivers God’s promise that his love for his people is even more reliable than a mother’s love for her child. The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 62 — expresses our confidence in God alone. Jesus, in the gospel, another passage from the Sermon on the Mount — Matthew 6:24-34 — tells us that our confidence in God’s loving care for us should remove all anxiety. The passage contains the familiar examples of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field: God cares for them. It’s not that we don’t need food, drink, and clothing. We need them and even have to expend our own efforts to provide them. God doesn’t provide them miraculously. But we shouldn’t put them at the forefront of our concern. That would amount to serving mammon rather than God. We act prudently every day, dealing with what happens secure in our knowledge that God loves us always.
In the second reading — 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 — St. Paul reminds us that God is judge of all. There are two consequences: we are not to presume to judge other people; and we need to strive to use God’s gifts to us responsibly in his service.
Note: Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday, so Ordinary Time gives way to Lent and Eastertide. Ordinary Time will resume on Monday, June 5, but the Sunday Masses of Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi will replace those of the 10th and 11th Sundays in Ordinary Time. On June 25 we will have the Mass for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
If we look for the unifying thread between the first reading and the gospel, we might call it something like “observing the Law.”
The first reading — Sirach 15:15-20 — insists that, “If you choose you can keep the commandments.” We have free will. We can’t employ the excuse, “The Devil made me do it.”This year, the weekday Mass first readings are from Genesis. We heard on Monday through Thursday of the creation on the world and of man and woman. On Friday came the story of the fall, and on Saturday, the result, with Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent. God does not accept the excuses: all three are guilty and all three suffer the consequences. Similarly, Sirach tells us, we will experience the good or evil consequences of our good or evil choices. God knows what we do.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 119 — praises those who follow the law of the Lord and prays the we will know and obey it fully.
In the gospel — Matthew 5:17-37 — Jesus affirms the Law as valid, and tells us that our observance of it must go beyond the literal minimum. We must refrain from anger as well as murder. Of course, there are instances when we react emotionally with anger at evil, but we must not stoke that anger and hold on to it. Instead, we are to forgive and be reconciled with one another. We must refrain from lust as well as adultery. Of course we are attracted by a beautiful person, but we must not let the involuntary attraction turn to lust — which St. John Paul II says occurs when we fail to regard the person as one who has the inviolable dignity of a human person and instead make her/him an object for our own pleasure. Note also that he specifies that adultery includes marrying a divorced person unless the former marriage was invalid. Finally, we must refrain from deceptive speech as well as perjury. We should be fundamentally honest, so that it will not be necessary to put us on oath to be sure we are telling the truth.
Judaism has always regarded the Law as God’s supreme gift to Israel, something not only to be studied and observed, bit something to be joyful about. The giving of the Law proves God’s love for his people. Jesus tells us that we should take it to heart, and when we do, our observance will go beyond a literalist minimum. Our attitude won’t be “How far can I go before I’ve broken a commandment?” but, “How is God asking me to live?”
St. Paul tells us in the second reading — 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 — that God’s wisdom is far above human wisdom. God’s wisdom is aimed at providing us with a glorified existence far beyond anything we could imagine. Those who love God, as witnessed by their keeping the commandments, will receive what God has prepared — in line with Sirach’s statement that keeping the commandments will save us and trust in God will bring life. Jesus also says that we must follow the Law as he explains it if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again, this post is late, but better than never I hope. This time I have a pretty good excuse I think: I was away at St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire for several days, beginning on Sunday. I’m planning to post about that also when I have time.
We continue to hear readings from the Sermon on the Mount and passages illustrating it. In the gospel passage — Matthew 5:13-16 — Jesus calls his disciples, including us, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Before exploring those characterizations, let’s note that he doesn’t say we will be salt and light to the world, but that we already are salt and light. For us, it is our baptism which gives us these qualities, which are actually our vocation. Salt enhances the flavor of things and it also preserves them. As Christians, our lives should make the world more pleasant and should inhibit decay and corruption. Light is what enables people to see what exists. We should enable people to see the reality which surrounds them — the truth about the world — even enabling them to see the reality of God, who underlies our existence and actions. Jesus realizes that we can abandon our call to be salt and light and exhorts us not to.
In the first reading —Isaiah 58:7-10 — we hear how we can be light. It is by performing works of mercy, several of which are also commanded by Jesus in his parable of the Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46). When we do so, we continue bringing the “great light” which, according the the first reading of two weeks ago, the people who walked in darkness saw with the coming of Jesus. As Jesus says in the gospel, our good works are done so that those who see them will give glory to God. The responsorial psalm — verses of Ps 112 — reinforces the message that good deeds bring light, in this case, for their practitioner.
Finally, the second reading — 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 — tells us that we don’t have to be eloquent like Bishop Sheen or Bishop Barron, we don’t have to be heroic like Mother Teresa. Just as Paul evangelized in weakness, so can we, because our success as salt and light isn’t ultimately dependent on our skill “but on the power of God.” What is required on our part is simply that we not shirk.
A very belated post briefly covering the 3rd and 4th Sundays in Ordinary Time.
On the 3rd Sunday, the focus is on the beginning for Jesus’ public ministry. We begin with a passage from Isaiah — Isaiah 8:23-9:3. The second part of it speaks of those in darkness seeing light. That is also appropriately proclaimed at Midnight Mass on Christmas. But the first part, about the people of Galilee as the ones who are being rescued prepares us for Matthew’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry — Matthew 4:12-23. This passage follows that about Jesus’ fasting and temptations, which followed his baptism, which was told of on the 3rd Sunday. Now we hear that in the region about which Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, begins to preach the kingdom of God, and as he does so he calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples. They will call people into the kingdom. In each case, their acceptance of the call is immediate. The second reading — 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 — emphasizes that there is one gospel and, regardless of who preaches it, Jesus is the redeemer.
The message is that Jesus is the focus of ur faith, regardless of who our ecclesiastical leaders are and whose presentation of the gospel we admire. We are challenged to follow Jesus as wholeheartedly as the apostles did and to do our part in leading others to him.
We could call the 4th Sunday “Humility Sunday.” In the second reading — 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 — Paul reminds his hearers, including us, that earthly status isn’t important. What matters is that God has chosen us, no matter how insignificant we may be by earthly standards. In the gospel — Matthew 5:1-12a — Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. He says that we are blessed (or happy, in some translations) when we are not attached to earthly goods, when we are grieved by the evils which beset people, when we are not self-exalting, when we want what is good before God, when we are compassionate toward others by our actions, when our hearts are not divided between God and earthly goods, when we seek to bring reconciliation of conflicts, when we endure ill-treatment for our faith. We look forward to the everlasting happiness of the life to come. When we live the Beatitudes, as Jesus did, we are the people of whom Zephaniah speaks in the first reading — Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13. We are the people who enjoy God’s favor.