15 February 2011

From the Heart

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
            In case there are any guys out there who are not otherwise prepared and have not gotten flowers or made reservations for dinner, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day that we focus, in one sense on love, but in another sense, on the heart.  From the very earliest days that we celebrate this holiday in school, hearts are important to this day.  We make hearts out of red paper and doilies.  We might give those little card-stock Valentine’s Day cards that say, “You’re My Valentine” with little hearts on it.  We might even give out Sweethearts candy with cute sayings like, “Be mine” or “True Love.” 
            The heart is also important in our Gospel today.  This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, the same place where Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, like “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  At this point, Jesus gives us a law, not new, but the fulfillment of the Law that God gave to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.  This fulfillment of the law does not abolish the old, but as Jesus says, fulfills it.
            And this law has a lot to do with the heart.  Whereas in the Law given on Mount Sinai, certain acts were condemned, like murder and adultery, Jesus tells us that those acts stem from something much deeper.  They stem from the heart.
            Because long before the act of murder takes place, there is a hatred that stems from the heart.  And so, in the Kingdom of God, where all people live as God desires, not only murder must not happen, but even unrighteous anger, so that one person no longer says to another, “raqa,” which means in Aramaic, “empty-headed”; we might translate it colloquially as, “moron.”  If we are harboring a grudge against another who has wronged us, or even if someone has done nothing to us but we still harbor hatred towards them, then we are not living according to the Kingdom, and we might even be endangering our place in that kingdom. 
            The same goes for adultery.  Long before a person has sex with a person who is married to another, the desire to do so is in the heart.  So, Jesus tells us, using a man as an example (ladies, don’t feel that you’re off the hook when it comes to looking at men), when a man looks at a woman with lust, he “‘has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”  The objectifying of another person as an object of sexual pleasure starts the person down a path which could lead to the sin of adultery, and begins not when the couple “hooks up,” but when the desires are unchecked in the heart.  Again, this is not what God intended for the human heart, and already shows a departure from the way that life is supposed to be in the Kingdom.  The human person is never an object to fulfill a need, but is a subject with inestimable dignity because he or she was created in the image and likeness of God.  This is why, as shocking as the teaching is, soon-to-be-Blessed Pope John Paul II could say that the sin of lust could occur even with a married couple, if one or both of the spouses was simply looking at or using the other spouse as an object of pleasure.
            This can seem really hard.  The bar is certainly set very high for us.  But, by the grace of God, this is possible.  And the payoff is literally “out of this world!”  As our first reading tells us, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; [God] has set before you fire and water…life and death, good and evil, whichever [a person] chooses shall be given him.” 
            By ourselves we cannot keep the fulfillment of the Law that Jesus gives us.  There are too many times when we are drawn to anger: when someone cuts us off while driving; when a co-worker gossips about us; when a professor gives us a lower grade than we believe we deserve on an exam, paper, or project.  It is in these moments, and all those when we feel the onset of deep anger and hatred that we need to turn to the Lawgiver Himself, Jesus, and ask for his grace that we might be able to have His peace and cast out that hatred from our hearts so that it does not poison us and lead to other hateful acts.
            There are too many times in our very sensual culture when we are exposed to images of a human person with barely a fig-leaf on; when a salacious add pops up on the computer; when internet pornography is just a click away; when a movie adds a steamy sex scene.  It is in these moments that we need to turn to Jesus to ask Him for His grace to keep our hearts and minds pure so that we do not dwell on those thoughts and passions, and then have those passions develop into actions with others or by oneself. 
            The great news, too, is that if we should fall in a major way with anger or with lust, we have a loving God who will welcome us back if we are truly sorry and will forgive our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  That even if we break the fulfillment of the Law that Jesus gives us, because of His death and resurrection, we can come back into a good relationship with the Lawgiver, against whom we have sinned. 
Part of the way we express our hearts at the Mass is by how we greet each other.  In November, the greeting dialogues will change a little, but will remain, as they are now, a way of expressing the peace that we need to have before offering our gift at the altar of God.  As the priest, the person who acts in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the Head, I offer you in the name of Christ, God, in whose name Jesus came, as I will say, “The Lord be with you.”  No change there.  Or, from time to time, expanding on what I am giving you as I greet you in the name of Christ, I might say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” expressing the gift of the Trinity, based upon 2 Corinthians 13:13.  Not much different.  But, your response will change slightly, reflecting the words of 2 Timothy 4:22, and will be, “And with your spirit.”  All of this is simply to prepare our hearts to receive the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Christ has set the bar very high.  He has commanded us examine our hearts to see where our love truly is.  But if our hearts are configured to Jesus’ heart, then we know that we have eternal life waiting for us.  Let us lift up our hearts to the Lord, that our hearts will lead us to act justly and lovingly towards others, and so fulfill the Law that Christ has given us.