16 February 20206 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday of the Year - A Cycle - Matthew 5:17-37

In 1962 came the Cuban missile crisis. It was a nuclear war stand off between the US and the USSR. In the event of attack, two thousand of the most important people in the US government were to be saved in a bomb shelter dug into a Virginia mountain. One VIP was Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. When he was handed his survival pass, Warren asked, "Where is my wife's?" He was told she was not a VIP. Smiling, he handed the pass back. "In that case," he said, "you have room for one more VIP." This is the type of marriage Jesus had in mind.

Jesus in this Gospel says, "Everyone who divorces his wife forces her to commit adultery. The man who marries a divorced woman likewise commits adultery." These words do not stir us nowadays. But, when Jesus spoke them way back then, they struck the first audiences as off the wall.

Nowhere in the 5000 years of recorded history was marriage in worse shape than when Jesus came. Our own age, with its high divorce rate, would almost emerge as a golden age by comparison.

The world of Jesus witnessed marriage and family being destroyed. On the books, the Jews had a splendid view of marriage. Divorce was a no-no. God in the Book of Malachai had spoken on the question, "I hate divorce." Rabbis of course took their cue from this piece of advice. "The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth," said they piously.

But the practice for the husband was a different matter altogether. The wife had to ride in the back of the bus and had no legal rights at all. She could not break the marriage bond. Her man could divorce her and put her out on the street for the slightest pretext. Her "crimes" might be these: if she put no salt in his stew, if she appeared out of doors without a babushka, if she bad-mouthed her mother-in-law, etc. (William Barclay)

Much to their financial chagrin, attorneys were not needed. All the husband had to do was write a note of divorce on the back of his laundry list in front of two friends. The marriage was history. Young women were reluctant to marry. Could you fault them?

Incidentally, they could not be so cavalier with their husbands.

When the Nazarene said no to divorce, He became the hero of every woman in Palestine. Was Jesus a feminist? You better believe it! The great wonder is that He was not killed by men long before His thirty-third birthday. That He was able to live so long was one of His greatest miracles. The Christian Gospel was liberating women and breaking the glass ceiling two thousand years ago. This was long before the term Women's Liberation came limping into our language.

What did Jesus have in mind when He spoke of marriage? For openers, Christian marriage is the union of two good forgivers. (Unknown) While marriages may be made in heaven, they have to be worked out on earth. Each party must be capable of receiving love and giving it. Arguments will come but they must be quickly buried. Reflect on Winston Churchill's advice. "If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future." Christ reminds couples happiness is two hearts pulling at one load. If couples go through life without experiencing pain, they probably haven't been born yet. (Neil Simon)

It was once taught marriage was a 50-50 proposition. But today we testify each must give a 100%. As Neil Diamond sings, "Selfishness is the reason for the decline in the number of husbands and wives." Many men are delighted to share their working wives' income but refuse to do their share of housework and caring for the children. These are classic male chauvinists.

Couples are reminded that chances of a good marriage are improved when it becomes a triangle - man, woman, and God.

In marriage, one binds oneself not to a job definition but to a person. Success in marriage is more than finding the right person. It is becoming the right person. (Unknown)

As for the fear of making a mistake, may God help those who won't marry until they find the perfect partner. And God help them when they do. If either wants a Good Housekeeping guarantee, that person should go live with a car battery. The faults of spouses we write on the sands. Their virtues on our heart. (Erma Bombeck)

Justice and Mrs Warren would remind couples while a wedding takes a day, a marriage takes a lifetime and a bit.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Clean the Inside of the Cup First

Today's readings speak about the interior life of the committed follower of Jesus Christ.  They make it clear that God sees within our hearts.  As His people, we have to do far more than attend Mass on Sundays, receive the sacraments and say daily prayers.  As Christians, we have to be certain that our exterior actions reflect our interior attitudes.

The first reading from the Book of Sirach tells us that we are engulfed with the mercy and love of God.  He is all around us, and in us. He knows what is going on within us.  He gives us a choice: choose Him or reject Him. If we reject Him, we die. If we choose Him, we live.

We are reminded that we are not slaves. We are heirs to the Kingdom. We are sons and daughters of God. Every person has dignity.  Every one of us is chosen by God.  We cannot sacrifice the freedom we have in Jesus Christ to the evil of the world. We cannot allow ourselves to be enslaved by sin. Jesus came to free us from sin.    

But how can we avoid sin? Well, the obvious answer is to avoid occasions of sin,  be those occasions people who would lead us into sin, or places that we, people of the Light, do not belong--including the dark alleys of the internet.  

Today's readings tell us to go deeper than just avoiding occasions of sin.  They tell us that God sees what is going on within us.  We have to do all we can to be sure that we treasure His presence within us.

If there is evil in our minds, then evil actions will follow.  Let me be clear, I am not speaking about those things that flash through our minds, the things that we get rid of with a quick prayer, "Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner". Those quick nasty flashes are part of being a human. They are not the problem.

The real problem comes when we entertain evil thoughts. People, sadly, do this. People spend time plotting out how they can do this or that to or with another person. Men and women, guys and girls in high school and college, talk about people as sex objects.  They consider how they can take advantage of another person, using them for their own desires be they sexual desires, or how they can take advantage of others to get better grades, or to exploit in any way. People entertain bad thoughts when they plot out what they want to happen during or after a party.  People entertain bad thoughts when they consider how they can get back at someone.  When people are malicious, their evil flows from within them.

We cannot tolerate hypocrites. We are disgusted with hypocrites. And we are disgusted with ourselves when we are hypocrites. We cannot stand ourselves when we create an external personage that is very different than the person we really are.  We are repulsed by our thoughts when we give ourselves over to plotting sin.

Jesus speaks about this in today's Gospel. He tells us to clean up our act on the inside so that our external actions are not hypocritical but a true reflection of whom we are. It is not enough to avoid hurting another person, we cannot hate anybody. Evil actions come from hate. Recently, some in our society have given credence to hate. We need to fight against this. We Christians are people of Jesus Christ, Love Become Flesh.  Those who foster hate are anti-Christs.

How does this happen?  How does evil gain such power?  Evil gains power when people refuse to fight off hatred in their own lives.

This is what Jesus means when he says that unless our holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees we will not enter the Kingdom of God.  We need to fight off any tendency we have to evil, be that hatred, or lust, or avarice, or jealousy.  We can't be pretending we're pure when we are considering using others for sex. We cannot be making believe we love another person if we just want to have sex with him or her.  We cannot say that we are doing our best to live as Christians, when we are planning to get drunk next Friday.  We cannot say that we are followers of Jesus Christ if we foster any kind of hatred within us.

We cannot be two faced. We have to say what we mean.  My mentor and our dearly departed pastor, Fr. John LaTondress, used to say, "My life is an open book.  I have no secrets.  What you see is what you get."  We all need to say that.  This is what Jesus means when he says, "let your yes mean yes and your no mean no." We shouldn't need to take oaths to prove our righteousness. We just need to be honest with ourselves as well as with others.

God peers into the depths of our souls.  He knows where evil lurks.  He also knows how hard we are trying to destroy evil within us. Every day we pray for His help that we might fight against evil.  That is what we mean when at the end of the Lord's Prayer we say, "Deliver us from evil." For the worst evil in the world is also the one evil that we can defeat.  The worst evil in the world is the evil within us.

Deliver us, Lord, from evil.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
6 Ordinary Time
Eyes on the Prize
(February 16, 2020)

Bottom line: If we keep our eyes on the prize, it will help us see others as they really are, not as objects.

Today Jesus tell us: "You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Back in the 70's Jimmy Carter gave an interview where he tried to explain this teaching. Not wanting to appear self-righteous, he admitted that although he had never fallen into adultery, he was guilty of "adultery in my heart". As you can imagine the interview became an object of jokes. Campaigning in the Midwest a farm couple approached him. "Mr. Carter," the man said, "this is my wife but don't go lusting after her in your heart." Carter stepped back, eyed her, a portly middle age gal. With a smile he said, "I can't help it."

This humorous incident sums up the dilemma of today's Gospel. While a person may not have committed adultery, murder or perjury, who hasn't given into lust, anger and equivocation - or lies?

These lesser sins do real harm. As the MeToo movement has underscored, it's injurious to turn another person into an object. Likewise, anger - which is a form of hate - can do real damage. And lies, even small lies, weaken our relationships.

So what do we do? Jesus gave us the answer a few weeks ago. Inaugurating his public ministry, he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

If you remember, repent means to change your mind, take on a new perspective. Instead of an earth-bound and time-bound perspective, take a broader view: start to see things as they are - from the point of view of eternity.

In heaven there will be no place for lust, anger and lies. Heaven is a place of peace. Those disturbing desires will be purified and washed away.

But much more than being a place of peace, heaven is a place of super-abundance. Even our meanest desires will have a surprising fulfillment. G.K. Chesterton said, "a young man ringing the bell of a brothel is unconsciously looking for God." Our problem is not that we desire too much but that we desire too little. In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis shows how a person can create his own hell but clinging on to resentment and self-justification whereas heaven offers true freedom and joy.

Some worry that if we think too much about heaven, it will distract us from our work here on earth. St. Paul didn't see it that way. If we keep our eyes on the prize, it will help us see others as they really are, not as objects. The hope of heaven will help to curb anger and resist falsehood. Citing Isaiah, Paul says this about our future with God: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
6 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
6 Ordinary Time

There is some very difficult material in today's Gospel. 'If anyone kills he will answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.' 'You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' 'If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.'

All this makes Jesus' teaching on divorce seem quite mild. There are only twenty verses in this passage; yet, when I picked up a commentary, I found thirty-five pages trying to explain what Jesus meant.

I am a little worried at Jesus teaching about anger. That may sound a strange thing for a priest to say. But anger is an emotion and therefore is neither good nor evil. What we should do with an emotion is that it should be recognised and find an appropriate expression. If we are angry with our brother because of something he has done then we should acknowledge our feeling, confront the situation and seek reconciliation.

However, people often think that anger itself is wrong. They then either suppress it or brood over it. Suppression is unhealthy, it denies the feeling pushing it into the unconscious so as to pretend it is not there. What happens then is that much later it reappears in an inappropriate way. Brooding is just as unhealthy, when we brood we nurse the anger, we feed it and keep it to ourselves. The whole thing grows out of all proportion and leaves us feeling bitter hatred.

I think that Jesus was talking about these two inappropriate expressions of anger. As we have said, anger is an emotion and as such is neither good nor evil, it is what is done with it that brings it into the moral sphere. After all Jesus himself showed anger when he chased the money changers out of the Temple.

Perhaps what we need to do is to look at the actual words Jesus uses: 'Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.' The court meaning, presumably, the court of God. There we have it. We are answerable for our anger. This does not mean that we are in the wrong every time we are angry. It means that we are answerable, we are called to account. There are appropriate expressions of anger and inappropriate expressions of it. It is how we handle our anger that becomes moral and this can be either good or bad.

You might be asking by now: 'Why is he going on so much about anger?' I am going on about it because I think it is very important. Learning to handle anger is one of the most important lessons in life, and it has real consequences for our mental and spiritual well-being. Suppressing anger is the road to an overdeveloped sense of guilt.

I was once watching a TV soap about two American girls living in a flat in New York. The Jewish one tried to make the other one feel guilty about something. The reply came as quick as a flash. 'Don't lay that on me. I'm a Catholic, I've got more than my fair share of guilt.' There is a real truth there. We Catholics are experts when it comes to guilt. We know all about it and we can feel guilty over the most trivial thing. What did the old Confiteor say: 'I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.' We certainly knew how to rub it in. And I think that we still do.

In this Gospel passage Jesus lays it on the line. If we were to summarise what he has to say in one sentence it would be: Outward conformity to the law is insufficient, true conversion is conversion of the heart. Jesus does not just want slavish obedience to the letter of the law. He wants us to see things through his eyes, he wants us to live like he did, he wants us to do the things he did, he wants us to model our lives so closely on him that we become one with him. But most of all he wants us to be free. He does not want us to be overburdened with a heavy sense of guilt.

Everything that Jesus did was to remove guilt. He did not diminish sin, he acknowledged it, and forgave it, and thus banished guilt. He said: 'Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.' These words could never have come from someone who wanted people to feel guilty. In another place he says: 'I will set you free, and you will be free indeed.'

When we are faced with a difficult passage from the Gospel and we don't know what to make of it we remember one thing: it is the Gospel and therefore it is the Good News. Then we look at it afresh and we see the Good News in it. This passage today is not about extending the law to cover inward actions as well as outward actions. It is about seeing what is behind the law, it is about how to be free and how to live a good life.

When we are faced with strong emotions like lust and anger. We mustn't pretend that they don't exist and suppress them; battening down our emotional hatches. No, we try to give them expression in an appropriate way. We acknowledge that we are angry or strongly attracted to another and we experience the emotion. But then we ask ourselves the question: what is the right way to deal with this? And then we do what our conscience dictates. This is the way to live our lives in a way that improves our mental health and stability. This is the way to live our lives in accordance with God's law.

Two monks were on a long journey. They came to a ford in a wide river and wanted to cross. There was an exceptionally beautiful woman with a low-cut dress who also wanted to cross. One of the monks picked her up on his shoulders and waded into the river carrying her across. When they reached the other side, he put her down and the two monks continued their journey. When at long last they got to somewhere they could stay the night the other monk berated his companion.

'How are we going to explain to the Abbot the disgrace you have brought on the monastery? People would have seen you carrying that woman across the river. Had he forgotten that he was a monk? How dare he touch a woman, let alone one so provocatively dressed.' He went on and on. Finally, the first monk said: 'Brother, I left that woman on the bank of the river, you seem to have been carrying her all day.'
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