23Feb 23 February, 2020. 07th Sunday, Year A

1st Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

God calls each believer to love his neighbour as her/himself

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13

Response: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings.

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion.

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.

As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

The Church is the body of believers and the temple of God

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and that temple you are.

Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol’los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

The ultimate ideal: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Jesus said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

BIBLE

May your words, O Lord be on my lips and in my heart. May they guide me on life’s journey and keep me near to you.


An ethic of active loving

Some like to portray God as an ever-vigilant watcher. With a warning finger raised the preachers would warn, “Wherever you are, God sees you.” They were echoing the feelings of Job who felt oppressed by the thought that God was judging his faults every moment. “Will you never take your eyes off me?” Job complained (Job 7:19). Perhaps they centred too much on warnings, with not enough practical encouragement to love our neighbour as ourselves.

“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” says the first reading. Then it adds the principle of “an eye for an eye” which was not such a totally barbaric practice as it seems at first sight. It was meant to help the people to exercise some restraint towards their defeated enemies. It became known as the Law of Retaliation and puts limits on the level of revenge that could be taken for an injury. Otherwise, unrestrained total war could spread throughout the world. If there are no limits to revenge, we could see the collapse of civilisation and everybody being killed. There is a breakdown of cohesion in some parts of our world, with the resulting instability and floods of refugees.

Even the earliest Christians could be quarrelsome, some siding with Paul and some with Apollos and so on. But those tensions, once healed, can sharpen the focus of a community. They led people back to prayer, to dialogue and a new kind of unity. “As the Lord has forgiven you,” St Paul says, “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And le the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”

Earlier thinkers before Jesus had stated the principle not to do to others what you would not have them do to you. That is perhaps the basic law underlying all manners and politeness. But Jesus puts it more positively. We must actually DO things for others.. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking for entry. When St Peter asked him why he should be let in the man answered: “my hands are clean.” “Yes,” answered Peter, “but they are empty!’ The Christian ethic is one of active loving.

Mercy is the outstanding gift of God even of the “Old Testament God” whom many imagine as predominantly harsh and punitive. Our psalm emphasises that God is not a grim judge, seeking to condemn. Rather, “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” Our Saving Lord is concerned only to remove our sins and to make us one with him.


God’s Engaged Holiness

1) Atheism, or a purely secular indifference to the reality of God, might seem to be sweeping away the world of religion as a spidery fantasy. But as soon as an atheist begins to expound his or her beliefs the weakness of the atheist outlook shows up. As soon as anyone becomes impassioned about truth and falsehood, or good and evil, or as soon as they say that life has a meaning and purpose, or that other human beings are sacred, they have already left a strict, waterproof atheism behind, since they have recognized absolute realities and put their faith in them.

But the atheist or secularist may complain that God is too nebulous a being for us to hold any particular conviction about Him (or is it Her, or It?). God is away up there in outer space and everyone has a different idea about who or what God may be. Well, that objection is an improvement on the vulgar mocking about ‘the old man with a beard in the sky’ or ‘flying spaghetti monsters.’ The apparent vagueness of God invites us to revisit Scripture and what theologians and mystics said about God through the ages (often very surprising things), consulting also the witness to God in Judaism and Islam, and the reaching out to divine mystery in Hinduism and even Buddhism.

2) We who gather in church to hear the word of Scripture know that God is not vague. We meet a God who has a strong and clear identity. Not just the sublime ‘I am’ (Exodus 3:14) but the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15). Not just the Creator, the source of all being, but the one who comes, who visits us with his grace and salvation.

If we were asked point blank, ‘What is God?,’ we might answer, ‘the holy one,’ or more concretely ‘the holy one of Israel.’ We acclaim his coming as ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’—a phrase that has unfortunately become routine. He is ‘indeed holy, the fount of all holiness’—but we need words or music to voice that more tellingly.

If one kneels in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, one knows that the holiness of God is not something nebulous. It is a warm Presence. It is not just the ‘numinous’ or the ‘sacred’ that religious historians such as Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade document and analyze. It is the holiness of a personal God, the Holy One of Israel, the one that Jacob saw in a dream: ‘there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go….’” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said… “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”’ (Genesis 28:12-17). The holy God of Scripture is always the God of individuals and of his people, the one who stands by them as their protector and shield.

Adoration lies at the heart of Irish piety. We use ‘My Lord and my God’ as an acclamation after the Consecration. I have seen posters in church saying, ‘The Mass is adoration!’ Yet there is another side to the story, which today’s readings bring home to us. Adoration is an attitude that comes from the deepest place in the human heart, and one can never have enough of it. Yet the Bible indicates something else as well, something equally deep and never to be neglected.

3) Besides loving God, with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind and our whole will, we are urged to love our neighbor as ourself. Today’s first reading is one of many places in Scripture when God’s holiness is closely linked to the sacredness of one’s human neighbour.

In Leviticus 19:2 God says to Moses: ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.’ Later, in Lv 19:17-18 God says: ‘You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.  Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.’

The bit skipped over (19:3-16) is a list of commands which are quite sensible and meaningful (unlike the legalistic lists elsewhere such as the one in the previous chapter beginning, ‘Thou shalt uncover the nakedness of…’ (father, mother, father’s wife, sister, father’s daughter, mother’s daughter, son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter, father’s wife’s daughter, father’s sister, mother’s sister, father’s brother, father’s brother’s wife, son’s wife, brother’s wife, a woman and her daughter, her son’s daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, a woman who is a rival to her sister, a woman having her period).

I think it is a pity that the full text  is not used as today’s reading, since it shows ancient Israel attempting in concrete ways to do justice to God, by proper sacrificial action, and to the neighbour by caring for the poor and refraining from calumny and unjust judgement. In both of these concerns one can feel the quiet presence of divine holiness pushing one to the good.

God is to be revered as holy, but in these commands we are taught to revere our neighbour as holy also. God is holy to us, but we are also holy to him.

4) The Sermon on the Mount is the daunting charter of Christian holiness, that ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14), with which St John Henry Newman begins his first collection of sermons. But the Sermon on the Mount, just like Leviticus, links holiness intimately with respect for one’s neighbour (for how can we respect the God we cannot see if we do not respect the neighbour whom we can see?; cf. 1 John 4:20).  To love one’s enemies is to embrace divine holiness in all its vastness. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)

Actually, the verse Newman quoted also links right relationship with our neighbour with right relations with God: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ Newman does not refer to the neighbour in that sermon, except as the object of sanctifying acts of ‘charity, self-denial, and forbearance,’ or ‘benevolence, honesty, or justice’; he puts the emphasis rather on ‘inward separation from the world’ under the influence of the Holy Spirit. A long time ago Catholics talked all the time about ‘sanctifying grace,’ which was the main point of virtuous actions and which was sometimes billed as ‘the best beauty cream.’ But the ‘beauty of holiness’ in Scripture is not just that of the individual ‘beautiful soul’; rather it is the beauty of the community united in praise: ‘Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Ps. 96:9). To create a beautiful liturgy together is to show forth divine holiness and to attract people to join us in praise.    (Joe O’Leary)

Scannail san Eaglais – ach grásta Dé freisin

Is dlisteanach agus dlite cáineadh ar laigí agus scannail san Eaglais. Ach tá an dea-scéal fós á chraobhscaoileadh ag an Eaglais do phobal Dé atá ag íarraí faoi stiúir an ghrásta maireachtáil de réir bhriathar Dé. Níor chóir go ndéanfadh aon cháineadh dearmad den méid seo. Is fiú machnamh a dhéanamh fós ar an méid a scríobh Pól chuig na Corantaigh: “Duine ar bith a mhilleann teampall Dé, millfidh Dia eisean, mar is naofa teampall Dé”, agus is sinne an teampall sin. (Máirtín Mac Conmara)

One Response

  1. Seamus Ahearne

    The Diceman:
    There is an exhibition in The Little Museum of Dublin. It is of Thom McGinty and his works. Twenty five years after his death. He was called the Diceman, The High King of Grafton Street. He was a landmark living statue. His ‘stillness’ drew attention to many causes of the time.

    Be Still:
    There is a call for stillness in the Readings. Stop. Be quiet. Think. Be holy. Love each other. No grudges. You are God’s Temple. Never forget God’s blessing. Be perfect.

    Be Perfect:
    Whatever about the stillness and the gratitude as the mind swivels backwards and forward.. Thinking present; thinking past; thinking future. That stillness is precious and essential. However ‘To be perfect’ is daunting. And is often the curse of life. Perfectionism is very dangerous and can be destructive. There has to be a gentleness in our approach. We have to stretch the elastics of our lives but must also accept the messiness of daily living. We are flawed, foolish, short-sighted and lack insight.

    Priesthood and Religious Life:

    In times past, ‘if you wish to be perfect’ (Mt 19.21) was seriously misused. It became a semi-slogan for Priesthood and Religious life. The assumption then occurred that the ‘holy state’ of Priesthood and Religious was the only ‘way of perfection.’ Any other life was less good and just about tolerated. So even the recent argument on celibacy (Amazon) could be a hint of ideas dripping from that past. It was an unholy alliance when and where ‘ordinary folk’ were really second class in the God stakes. How did the incarnation get so lost in our thinking/our culture? A major rethink is necessary.

    Be Careful:

    As always we have to be very slow in appropriating single lines and jumping to conclusions. We can easily damage our heads and distort our thinking. Holiness, Wholesomeness. The Diceman. Stop. Be still. We will find our holiness, our blessings, our wonder, our graciousness. You belong to God. There is always more. We can do better. The Spring flowers are stirring. We too must stir ourselves and taste the beauty and the call of God who wakes us up.

    As Mary Oliver said: ‘Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.’ (A programme for living life and truly being holy).

    Seamus Ahearne osa


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