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7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (19.02.17)
Buried under each day’s particular and varied demands are our ideals. In the course of our life we connect with particular experiences or discover epiphany moments through reading or study. Such events can coalesce, over time, resulting in an adoption of ideals that offer replenishment and revitalization when the daily drudgery wears us down.
Ideals fire the heart and the imagination. They can uplift not only our spirits but, through us, animate others. We’ve only to think of the universally recognised leadership given by Sir Ernest Shackleton the early 20th century polar explorer, Sir Edmund Hilary who on May 29, 1953 set foot on the 29,028-foot (8,848-metre) summit of Everest with a Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. More recently, Sir Mo Farah and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill will have inspired many to take up athletics. Every century provides countless more examples.
Over the centuries Christianity has provided countless individuals and groups whose heroic defence of their Faith, to the point of death in many cases, has inspired and continues to inspire upcoming Christians and would-be Christians.
Christian ideals enable us to see above and beyond the humdrum, the repetitious, and identify a goal that resonates with our highest hopes and desires. God, our Creator, calls us to be holy. This ultimately means that we are called to be caught-up in and by love. The 7th Sunday’s First Reading from the Book of Leviticus (19:1-2) sets the scene:
“The Lord said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”
How are we to live so as to be holy as God is holy? In times past believers were taught that obeying God’s laws brought holiness. Unfortunately, and at the same time understandably, people became caught up in the legal aspects of God’s Law forgetting that being law-abiding was not the ideal. The ideal is to love God and obeying God’s commandments is the means to that end, not the end in itself. A banister is an aid to climbing the stairs not the essence of the journey.
Genesis tells us that God created us in his own divine image. God is a Trinity of Love not a legal entity. That we are created in God’s image means that we have potential and the highest expression of that potential is holiness. In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 5: 38-48) Jesus uses the word ‘perfect’ instead of ‘holy’. Could it be that a major problem for humanity has been in the way we have interpreted holiness and Godlike perfection.
As human beings we naturally imitate what we admire. If our vision is limited to the here and now, to the material, tangible world, we will see what others acclaim as desirable and want it for ourselves. Satan has endlessly repeated, with great success, his devilish trick with the apple! He is a past-master at deceiving us into a false belief that the yawning emptiness at our core, a hunger always seeking satisfaction, can be satisfied materially. It impels us to look outside of ourselves. Why else do we wear our sports-team’s colours or aim for the car or clothes that express somebody else’s (but not God’s) values? Before we know it we are on the pathway to idolatry. If we think of idolatry as a pagan ritual, as ancients bowing before a totem, then we are way off beam. Every choice we make says something about what we worship.
In less than two weeks it will be Ash Wednesday! The First Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18) and the Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) for this Sunday present us with a checklist by which we can re-align the values we are currently employing day by day. If the notion of preparing for Lent is foreign to you, then this is indeed a wake-up call! “I would if I had remembered, but I didn’t … so I haven’t” is not a statement we want to be making when we come face to face with God. Who can you imagine undertaking a six-week journey – thirteen-week if you include the onward journey from Easter to Pentecost – without an itinerary let alone an objective?
An absence of forward planning could be saying that Lent is not important, something more to be ‘got through on the nod’ than lived. Too many fall back on the peripherals of ‘Ash’ on Wednesday, ‘fish’ on Fridays with ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on Good Friday as if such minor items were the essentials of Lent. People are tempted into the trap of ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. The execution of a physical act (doing), such as having blessed ash placed on our forehead, is more easily accomplished than choosing to live 24x7 (being) with truth and justice for the love of God. God commanded Moses to say: “Be holy” (First Reading) not ‘do’ things that are not in themselves holy. Matthew, in the Gospel, recalls Jesus as saying: “So be perfect …” not ‘do’ something perfectly. For example, looking reflectively for ways to, each day, being a spouse, a parent, a teacher or carer is engaging with a state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we believe that Christian ideals resonate with what is at the core of our being God’s creation. Their innate truthfulness allows us to believe in them and to find them attractive. Experience teaches that these ideals are rarely realisable while we remain pilgrims in exile. Nevertheless, the truth preached by Jesus captures our aspiration while we continue our struggle to bring is teaching into our hearts and lives
Pope Francis said: “When the Lord calls us to be saints, he does not call us to something hard or sad ... Not at all! It is an invitation to share His joy, to live and offer every moment of our lives with joy, at the same time making it a gift of love for the people around us” (Vatican Radio, 11/19/2014). Jesus showed the powerlessness of all forms of inhumanity by proving that life prevails: he rose from the dead and his cross has become a symbol of life. But as St Paul admits, Jesus’ message seems foolish to the world.
In his landmark work ‘What's Wrong with the World’ G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”