Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Easter

Sermon on the Mount. Fra Angelico, c. 1440.

July 2017

But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee;

Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Mt 5:22-24

Startled, is the only reaction we can have to Our Lord’s words today.   We fully understand how murder deserves the penalty of hell fire, but hatred?  Yet His words could not be more clear.  The Savior further shocks us by declaring that anger, even harsh words, warrant the fires of Gehanna.  If we are taken aback by Our Lord’s unvarnished condemnation, what of the effete ears of sentimentalized Catholics.  They have been weaned on the “flower child” Christ, who smiles blankly and leaves each to his own “thing”.  Those Catholics truly believe that “who am I to judge?” are the actual words of the Son of God.  Pity. 

These ill-informed Catholics roam through life trapped in the dreamy conviction that the entire Catholic creed is “live and let live”.  Nothing more.  If they actually took time to read any of the Gospels their hair would go up in flames.  This etiolated and wan Christianity calls to mind Chesterton’s scorching verdict: “There is more logical consistency in reacting to Jesus by rending one’s robes with a cry of blasphemy and in trying to seize Him as a maniac, than in calming saying with contemporary rationalist that Jesus was a wise and holy man.”

Equal caution should be taken toward those secularized Catholics who breezily instruct us that Modern Man requires a fresh interpretation of the Savior’s words.  They tweak, parse and trim Christ’s word’s until they no longer mean what they say.  Take Fr. James Martin, S.J., for instance.  He recently wrote in in his latest run-away best seller, Building Bridges, that the Church’s teaching that same sex inclination is intrinsically disordered” is much too unwelcoming.  Fr. Martin insists that the Church change that construal to “intrinsically different.”  Well, that seemingly slight alteration overturns the whole body of Our Savior’s teaching on morality.  Fr. Martin, and his vaunted academic colleagues, argue that his suggestion is closer to the “spirit of Christianity”.  Ah, to that Chesterton’s prescient warning:  “Beware of those who speak of the spirit of Christianity; they are really talking about the ghost of Christianity.”

More troubling is Our Lord’s warning about approaching the altar.  Stay away, He warns, if any kind of hatred lives in our hearts.  Why does this teaching of the Son of God sit so uncomfortably upon our ears?  For all that Our Lord asks of us, forgiveness is one of the most agonizing.  Setting aside undeserved wounds created by another is a sacrifice so great that the most virtuous Catholic finds it sometimes insurmountable.  Pride coils its tentacles around us. Fallen man is convinced that he is entitled to his anger.  Letting down the bridge of forgiveness is a bridge too far.  We are willing to stop stealing, lying or even sexual immorality.  But to stop hating?  To forfeit the silent treatment that works so efficiently in meting out our just punishment? No, not after what he said.  After what she has done?  Never.  Pride stands so securely in each of us, that few but real saints can defy it.

Loving those who love us is absolutely without merit.  Our Lord teaches us that (Lk 6:32).  But loving those who do not love us.  There is sanctity.  There is merit.  There is the path to Paradise.  It is no wonder that we are always haunted by the words of St. John of the Cross:  “In the twilight of our lives, we shall be judged on love.”

Unsettling, isn’t it?

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