A Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday,February 19, 2023
Holy Ghost Church – 10:00 Mass
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
- Can you believe that Lent begins this Wednesday?! That’s right, Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of this annual season of repentance and personal transformation as we prepare to celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
- Of course there are certain practices that are required for all Catholics of certain ages during Lent, practices that help us adopt a spirit of penance and to avoid sin:
- The first is fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
- The second is abstinence from meat on all Fridays during Lent, although Bishop Stika has granted a dispensation from abstinence on St. Patrick’s day this year, which falls on a Friday.
- But perhaps even more important than the specifics of our required Lenten observances is the key we find in today’s readings that is essential to unlocking a joy-filled life, a life lived more perfectly, as God has intended for us.
- That key is that we must become holy.
- You might be thinking, what are you talking about Deacon? How can I become holy? You don’t know me and my many faults. There is no way I can become holy!
- Well, let’s take a moment to better understand what it means to be holy. Pope Benedict XVI taught, and I quote,“Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness… Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness.”
- In other words, being holy doesn’t mean we don’t sin. Holiness means possessing the habit of beginning again and again in our walk with the Lord, of establishing the habit of daily conversion.
- And what happens is that this habit of beginning again, this habit of asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness every day, eventually becomes stronger than our sinful habits themselves. As we begin again and again, the capacity of our hearts to receive God’s forgiveness and to live in friendship with Him expands. We begin to desire God more than we desire sin.
- So now that we better understand what holiness really is, it’s time to seriously consider what we are going to do differently this year during Lent to grow in holiness.
- Are we going to default to the old standby of giving up chocolate or sweets? I really don’t think that’s going to make much of a difference in our spiritual lives, do you? Honestly?
- Or are we going to strive to become more holy, to work on abandoning some behavior or thought process that might be preventing us from growing in spiritual maturity?
- Perhaps, rather than giving something up, we might think about doing something new, something that will draw us closer to God and help us to enter more deeply into the life of joy he wants to share with each of us.
- You might be thinking, do I really need to grow in holiness? I’m basically a good person, I haven’t killed anyone or committed adultery. Right? Why do I need to grow in holiness?
- The answer is simple, because God tells us to! He says to Moses in today’s first reading that we must “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”
- Think about this for a moment, God is insisting that we as his children be holy! This is not an option for us. We are created in the image an likeness of God and if we expect to live with him forever in heaven, we must do our best to act like him here in this life on earth. It’s really that simple.
- Our primary purpose in life is not just to be good or acceptable in the eyes of others. To be a “good person.” No! Our purpose in life is to be holy in God’s eyes!
- And we do this by being honest with ourselves about our sinful habits, our sinful thoughts, and by asking God to forgive them daily, resolving to do better tomorrow. This, my friends in Christ, is holiness. And there is no better time than the season of Lent to get started.
- In today’s gospel, Jesus does not water down the Father’s demand that we become holy. In fact, he repeats and amplifies it by telling us that we must “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
- What? We must not only be holy, but we must also be perfect?! This is so contrary to the idea most of us grew up with that states “I’m not perfect, I’m only human.”
- And now Jesus tells us that we must be perfect? Seriously? What gives here?
- Here’s what Jesus means when he tells us to be perfect as God is perfect. John tells us in his gospel that God is LOVE. Being made in his image and likeness, we must become like him in all things, especially in the way we love others.
- Therefore, we must become perfect in LOVE. We must love others – EVERYONE – unconditionally. We must not love others only if they love us. We must not withhold our love from those who hurt us, who strike us, who steal from us, who unjustly press us into service. We must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
- This is how God loves…he loves everyone, all of us, unconditionally, regardless of our sinfulness, regardless of the evil we have done to others. He never gives up on us and we are called to do the same with others. This is how we become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
- We must forgive those who have wronged us. We must pray for those who hate, harm or disrespect us. We must let go of any grudges we are holding toward others. They are only hurting us, not those we haven’t forgiven.
- Listen again to God’s command from today’s first reading:
- “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
- The message couldn’t be clearer. Forgiveness is not an option for us, it is mandatory for the Christian believer. It may not be easy, but it is essential if we are to grow in love. Forgiveness also removes a huge burden from our shoulders. We no longer have to carry the weight of that grudge, the burden of unforgiveness which wears us down and prevents us from growing in grace.
- So I ask you, what are you willing to do differently this Lent to become holy? What are you willing to do to become perfect in love?
- Perhaps you will give a bit more time to prayer and spiritual reading? Do you really think giving up chocolate or sweets will help you to grow in holiness? Maybe instead you could commit to praying the rosary daily or attending daily Mass?
- How will you better love your neighbor as yourself? Maybe you’ll stop criticizing others who have different ideas than you have and pray for them instead, or maybe you could reach out to someone in need, perhaps visiting them in a nursing home or the hospital? Maybe help out with a ministry to the homeless?
- Perhaps it’s time to let go of a grudge you’ve been holding on to against someone who has wronged you? Maybe even get in touch with them and let them know you have forgiven them? You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel when you do this.
- There are dozens of practical things we can do to grow in love of neighbor this Lent. Pick just one and see where it takes you.
- If we keep our need to grow in holiness and perfection at top of mind during Lent, if we’re honest with ourselves regarding our sinful thoughts and actions, or our lack of action, repenting of them daily, I guarantee you will have a very fruitful Lent.
- Pray about this in these coming days before the start of Lent and then put what God reveals to you into practice. You’ll be amazed at how God will bless your efforts.