Homily for February 23

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

• In your heart of hearts,
have you ever had the thought that maybe, just maybe,
God asks too much of us?
that God is actually sort of unreasonable in what he expects of us?

• The scriptures we just heard
might prompt us to have just those thoughts.
These scriptures are chock full of “hard sayings,”
words that are as difficult to hear as they are to fulfill.

• You heard them:
In Leviticus, the Lord told us:

- Don’t carry in your heart any hatred towards your neighbor
which means, don’t carry in your heart any ill will,
old grudges or resentments towards your neighbor…

- Take care to love your neighbor,
to care for your neighbor, as tenderly and generously
as you care for yourself…

- And who is my neighbor?  EVERYONE!

And the scriptures admit of no exceptions to this rule,
so that means my neighbor goes by the name of:
Trump, Weld, Bloomberg, Biden, Warren, Buttigieg,
Sanders, Klobuchar and Patrick…

Indeed, it does seem that some times God asks too much of us!

• And more hard sayings in the gospel, where Jesus told us:

- If someone asks you to do a favor,
do twice as much as you were asked to do…

- Love.  Your. Enemies.
- Pray for those who persecute you, which means pray for those:
who annoy you         
who anger you                                                                                             
who cheat you          
who gossip  about you
who forget you         
who disappoint you
who betray you        
who steal from you
who lie to you                       
who abandon you    
who deny you           
who disagree with you
who hurt you            
and who take advantage of you …
I know the names and faces I remember and think of
when I hear that list.

What names and faces come to your mind and heart?
Jesus calls us to pray for those who, in all these ways, persecute us.
• And the hardest hard saying of them all?
 “Be holy! Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
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 usually more comfortable with holiness
as a quality we admire in others
 (Jesus, Mother Teresa, or our grandmother
who goes to Mass every day and prays the Rosary)
- 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 holy as God is holy -
which 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 -
we do keep 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...

• We keep a corner, a closet, a kitchen-draw in our hearts
where we collect and hold our grudges and resentments.
But 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 the harvest of our better words and deeds.

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

• A good heart, a holy heart, doesn’t seek retaliation or retribution
but rather always seeks what’s good, what’s best, for one’s neighbor

• A good heart, 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 its 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...

As Jesus says: even pagans love those who love them.

Holy people
(and every single one of us is called to strive for holiness)
holy people have a greater, deeper, stronger love to offer.

They love even those, they love especially those
who do not or can not or will not love them in return.

Good and holy people love even their enemies
and they pray for those who persecute them,
who make their lives miserable.
• 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 or 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.

• God loves each of us from a heart of holiness,
and calls each of us to strive to love one another
 (even and especially our enemies)
with the same generosity of heart.

And just so we don’t forget… Who are those “enemies?”
Who are those who “persecute us?”

They are those who
who annoy us                                   
anger us
cheat us                    
gossip about us
forget us
disappoint us
betray us       
steal from us
lie to us                      
abandon us
deny us
disagree with us
hurt us
and take advantage of us…

• This week we begin the season of Lent,
40 days set apart for us to examine our hearts
in light of the hard sayings we found in today’s scriptures.
Lent is a time to turn our hearts around,
to weed out what doesn’t belong in our hearts
and to cultivate what does.

• It was someone with more than just a good heart
who gave his life for us on the Cross:
the heart of Jesus
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 our Father in heaven is holy.


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