Homily for February 19

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Regardless of what you think about climate change,
there’s no denying the heat of the contemporary political climate
and the vitriol and venom that suffuse it.

That’s the context in which we hear Jesus in the gospel
counsel us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Regardless of our political leanings, how are we supposed to do that?
Or how about the Lord enjoining us to be as perfect, as holy - as God?

I’m pretty sure everyone here probably wants to be a good person
and to be known as a good person.
But how many of us  want to be holy?
How many of us would feel comfortable
being identified, known, as a holy person?

We’re probably more comfortable with holiness
as a quality we admire in others
 (Jesus, Mother Teresa, or our grandmother
who goes to Mass and prays the Rosary every day)
but I’m not sure holiness is something we feature or strive for
or want for ourselves.

And insofar as we think of holiness as something too pious,
spiritually over the top,  even odd or quirky
to that degree, holiness might even be something we don’t want.
But here’s the Lord calling us to be as holy as God is holy -
which of, course, is almighty holy!  

Of course, in the scriptures,
holiness isn’t something odd or quirky, quaint or pious,
It’s certainly not something weak or submissive.

The holiness in these texts is challenging, demanding and strong.
It’s a holiness that calls us to make no room in our hearts for hatred.
Now, most of us probably don’t think of ourselves
as holding hatred in our hearts
but many of us do maintain in our otherwise  good hearts
a little corner reserved for our less-than-holy thoughts and feelings
about this one or that one, that group or this;
about this political party or that church authority;
about a particular person in my past (or my present);
about my ex,  my competitor, my boss or an employee
about a coworker, classmate or neighbor...

A good heart and certainly a holy heart
makes no room for such feelings -
no more than a farmer would keep a corner of his field
for growing weeds.
Weeds drain the goodness from the soil and eventually spread,
laying waste to the field and its crop.

Unloving, unholy thoughts and feelings
sap the goodness from our hearts and often multiply,
choking off our better words and deeds.

• A holy heart makes no room for weeds but rather is vigilant
lest ill-will, grudges, resentments and revenge take root
and yield a bitter, sour harvest of hate.

• A holy heart always seeks what’s good for one’s neighbor
and spends no time planning for retaliation
 (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth).

• A holy heart doesn’t oppose evil with evil
- no matter how satisfying and tempting that may be -
but rather stands tall in the face of what’s wrong,
willing to bear and suffer the consequences of fidelity to the truth
even when doing so takes a toll on my ease and comfort.

• While a good heart gives to someone in need,
a holy heart gives until the giving makes a difference
in the life of the giver
as well as in the life of the one who receives.

In other words: just being good isn’t good enough for Christians,
for followers of Jesus.

Jesus calls us to aspire to a goodness deeper
than that of the average Joe or Joan...
Even pagans and cheaters, says Jesus, love those who love them.
People of holiness have a greater, deeper, stronger love to offer:
they love those who do not or cannot or will not love in return;
they love even their enemies;
and to those who make their daily lives miserable
they open their hearts in prayer
In the gospel here Jesus calls us to love -
as God loves:
not sparingly, not grudgingly - but fully, deeply, robustly;
Jesus calls us to love as God loves:
not with strings attached and looking for something in return,
but freely, selflessly and generously;
Jesus calls us to love as God loves:
not with hidden pockets of anger and resentment
but with peace, mercy and forgiveness.

It’s interesting to note
that in the Lord’s call to us to be holy as he is holy,
to be perfect as the Father is perfect,
there’s not a mention of kneeling in prayer in a church -
as important as that is.

In fact, St. Paul reminds us today
that the temple where God dwells
is the community of our neighbors.
As important as the temple of prayer is in our lives,
holiness is nurtured, lived and shared
outside the temple as well,
in all the times and ways we cross paths with one another,
on the streets where we live, the places where we work
and on roads that stretch around the globe.

I began with a reference to global climate change.
But what of the climate in our own individual lives?
Are we in need of some warming in our hearts,
moving us from simple human goodness
to the heat of a burning holiness?

Will we be satisfied with good hearts
or will we hope and strive to have holy hearts?

God loves each of us from a heart of holiness,
the holiest of all holies  
and calls us to love one another
(even and especially our enemies)
with the same kind of heart.

It was someone with more than just a good heart
]who gave his life for us on the Cross:
the heart of Jesus is, indeed, the holiest of all hearts
whose life, whose body and blood, we share at this altar
in the bread and cup of communion.

May the sacrament we share at this table
nourish in each of us a desire to be holy,
to be holy even as the Lord is holy.


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