Friday, February 18, 2011

Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18, Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13, 1 Cor 3:16-23
Gospel:  Mathew Chapter 5, verses 38 to 48 (inclusive)

Hate is a strong word.

Websters (online) defines it as, "(An) intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury" and, "Extreme dislike or antipathy: Loathing."

In todays Gospel, We hear Jesus who speaks about hate.

“You have heard that it was said,
 You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
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..."

I grew up in a very large household.  There were nine of us, ten including my grandmother "Nana", who lived with us for a time.  Have you ever heard of sibling rivalry?  I never did until I studied psychology as a young student.  Sibling rivalry is a complex phrase which essentially means jealously.  Jealousy is never good.  Jealousy can ruin relationships.

When we grew up my Mom was a devout Catholic,  She has passed on since.  But back then she loved her devotional prayer.  She prayed for the dead, she always insisted on us saying grace before dinner, (led by our Father) and all her children asked permission before leaving the table when we were finished eating her mostly delectable foods.  She always implored us to pray to St. Anthony for most everything while she prayed her novena to St. Jude.

I am the sixth of seven children, the youngest boy.  The "baby" is my little sister, in fact I still refer to her this way.  She is 44 and a mother of her own now with three little ones, and a good wife to a good husband for many years.

When we were very young, we were like peas in a pod.  She and I would always be playing together, sometimes much to my chagrin.  In fact, I can never remember wanting to play with her when she had friends over but she always was inserting herself into my "play dates."

In fact once, my Jewish friend Robert was over playing and he crashed his big wheel into her mini plastic ATV and she cried.  Dad heard the wails and screams and that was the end of the play date, he sent Robert home.  She could really cry well.  Unfortunately Robert never made it back to our home.  That said, Dad was right; my baby sister could have been hurt.

I remember too, that as the baby of the family she got all the attention.  This I didn't like at all.  So I figured out a way to counter this.  I simply ignored her when she wanted something from me.  And it worked, until one day she found the magic words, "I hate you Dennis."  That hurt.  It hurt bad, and, it probably got the desired result as far as she was concerned.

Today we heard the end of this great and eternal homily of our Lord, the Sermon on the Mount.  Great because in one short passage he gives us so much to think about, to pray about and to practice for our lives.  Eternal because he is eternal, with no beginning, no end; the Word made Flesh (Jn 1:1f).  Lastly, eternal because this scripture resonates with us today as much or more than two thousand years ago on the mount of Beatitudes by the Sea of Galilee.  These things that Jesus gives us are crucial to our happiness.  True happiness is grace; pure consolation from God.

Jesus is speaking about hate, to teach us how to love.  Jesus mentions hate so that we learn how to love like God.  Perfect love.  Jesus teaches us about hate so that we can learn how to forgive, even the greatest of sins, trespasses and personal affronts.

A word about forgiveness.  Forgiving never means forgetting.  Sometimes the sin is too great to forget, but we must always forgive.  This means that we cannot hate the one who affronted us, even the most terrible unjustified actions that are waged against us.  We remember what hurt us so that we can avoid future encounters with the pain, and perhaps even the source of our pain.  God never equals pain.

An old wise priest once told me how he treats his "enemies".  First he informs whoever they are that they made it on to his "list".  I am not sure how long the list is but I can tell you that I am very glad that I am not one of this priest's enemies.  However, when you are on his list he promises you three things:
1.  His prayers
2.  His favor(s)
3.  His awareness (he will keep an eye out for you)

I think this is a good practice.  I can honestly say I have tried this once and so far it has worked out.  It is not easy, this wisdom passed on from the old wise priest.  But lots of times the right thing to do does not come easy.

[Note to self:(pray for _________.)]

Ultimately though, for now we are trapped here in our mortal, earthly bodies.  We are called to the perfect kingdom, despite our weaknesses,  where there will be no crying, no despair, no sadness: only perfect bliss, beyond all imagining, where all our questions will be answered and our truest desires satisfied (Rev 21:4f). 

If we want living models to follow we need only turn to the saints.  A great introduction to learning how to follow the saints is Jesuit Father James Martin's book, My Life with the Saints.  Simply put, the Saints are people who learned how to do ordinary things in an extra-ordinary way.  Things like charity, good works and unselfishness.  Saints understand love, Divine love, and the best part about the saints is they want to be our friends, here and now, to help us on our way home to heaven.

God comes to us as a person: Jesus.  He who once walked the earth as man is teaching us through scripture, teaching us through the great wisdom and tradition of our Catholic faith, handed down for 50 generations.  My friends our Church too is eternal, like Christ, in fact we are His bride His spouse.  Want some evidence?  There is no institution in the world beside our Church that was here 50 generations ago.  The Holy Temple of Jerusalem is gone.  The Roman Empire, the greatest of "civilizations" is gone.  We cannot even be assured that our great country will stand in the end.

Jesus promises us in scripture that our Church will exist until the end of time, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us (Mathew 16:18).

It is important to know and accept that Jesus is also God.  He is not just a man who once walked the earth saying and doing marvelous things.  That description fits St. Francis of Assisi and scores and scores of Saints, known and unknown.  Jesus is God.  God is Jesus. Francis was a man who became a saint, but he is not God.

Finally, we hear again today Jesus correct Moses' teaching by telling us we must move beyond the minimum.  Moses says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  This is just partially right  To understand this completely, our Lord wants us to concentrate on the first part of today's reading from Leviticus: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy."

Holiness.  Why?  Because God who is holiness perfected, can only Love.  God is Love.  Love is God.  God cannot turn away from us, even the worst of us.  In fact only the opposite can be possible, because as our Psalmist says, "The Lord is kind and merciful."  Our God is a god of infinite mercies, He is Love.

And He is just...
and He is faithful...
and He is.....perfect Love....

I love my sisters, all of them.  Although I remember to this day that terrible insult so long ago, I forgave my "baby sister" many, many times over. And later when we were young adults, I poked my nose into her business in a very nasty way, far surpassing her verbal insults of me as a child.  Both our trespesses, her to mine and mine to hers were ultimately driven by jealousy, the source of all disunity.  I know in my heart that she too has forgiven me of my trespasses.  In fact we are very close today, she, as a wife and mother is one of my true heroes, I love her beyond words...

71/2 years ago she asked me to be Godfather to her youngest Son.  He is amazing.  He is her third child and he is the baby.  And when I spend time with him it is never enough.  I always try to give him whatever he needs, being careful to try not to give him everything that he wants.   But I fail probably more than I succeed which is OK, because he is in very capable hands with my Sister and her husband and his older brother and sister.  Ultimately he, that little baby boy, is with Christ.  This is because he was Baptized 7 years ago....what else could a child want, but a share of Christ's kingdom in heaven?  I am sure there are lots of big wheels there.  And they never crash into little plastic ATVs.

I hope you never hear the "H" word in your households and I know the sister I love with all my heart and soul never really meant it.

Thanks be to God.......who is the Father of all unity, of communion and the reconciler of all sin (jealousy) and division.....great and small like.  The God who gives us His Son in the Eucharist, today and forever.

{Copyright 2011 D.A. Suglia, all rights reserved}

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