“[I]f you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” — Matthew 5:23-24
This weekend is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The themes focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. The message is tough in that in it goes much deeper than mere externalities; it gets to the core of our soul and all of the baggage that comes with an ego and with being human. It is easy for me to “follow the law” of not murdering or not committing adultery. But when the message gets to the underlying motivations for these actions (anger, jealousy, lust) my soul is woefully deficient. I am guilty of these things and more.
Today’s reflection comes from “down under” and the warmer climate of Australia by Fr. Paul Mullins, S.J. of St. Ignatius Parish in Norwood, South Australia. The following is a homily Fr. Mullins gave in February 2011 on today’s readings:
One has only to read the popular press to recognize that the Church is alive and active. Ironically, in some cases it is the controversial aspects of belief and practice which indicate the vibrancy of Christianity. The scripture passages set for this Sunday – the 6th in Ordinary Time (A) – remind us that human beings have the capacity to choose. Indeed freedom is an essential characteristic of our human nature. Without true freedom we cannot be held responsible for our choices, nor would we have the capacity to love. The recent devastation of human life and property by water and fire has provoked some fierce comment in the letter sections of daily newspapers. As expected some extremely contrasting views are expressed. A fundamentalist has stated that the devastation is God’s judgement, while others have claimed that such devastation indicates that there is no God, or at the very least no Christian God who is promoted as a God of love.
As believing Christians we have to have some response to both sides of this discussion. Firstly the idea that God somehow punishes people with rain and fire creates an image of an unloving and indeed vengeful God. Such an image is incompatible with the image of God as reflected in the life, message and death of Jesus Christ. How then do we as believers understand what are termed ‘natural disasters’?
One explanation and one which is fully compatible with our Christian faith was enunciated by the Jesuit palaeontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is an article of Christian faith that God is the source of all creation. Simply put, God created the world. The two accounts of creation in the first chapters of Genesis are the basis for this teaching. But these are mythical explanations of creation. A myth, of course, is not a fairy story; rather, a myth is a story which contains an essential truth. The truth for us is that God is the source of all. For Teilhard de Chardin the creation process is not complete. We are moving toward the fulfilment of God’s creation both for us as fully human beings and in the natural world. Saint Paul speaks about the world ‘groaning’ as it were toward freedom. (Romans 8:22-23) Thus we are not yet perfect; neither is our world. Natural disasters are just that – a natural part of the evolutionary process begun by God. God could have created a complete world from the start. However, had he done this, then to avoid all evil he would also have had to create human beings without free will, in other words without the power to choose. It was human freedom which caused sin to come into the world. It is the capacity of human beings to reject love which allows evil to continue. The problem of reconciling a loving God and evil in the world has challenged both the faithful and the non-believer alike since the beginning of time. Believers trust in a loving God whom they cannot fully understand, yet one who has experienced all that we experience through Jesus his Son. The challenge for the non-believer is to explain the love and goodness in the world despite the evil they see. If God had created a world free from evil there would have been no provision for human choice and no capacity for love.
This Sunday’s readings remind us of the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. His religious world comprised strict outward observance. Jesus concentrated on the heart. Jesus demands much more than external conformity. He asks that we choose right actions; that we interpret the law of God and then put it into action. In the final analysis each of us will have to give an account of him or herself. In other words we will have to take final responsibility for our actions and choices. We will be judged on how true we have been to our own informed consciences.
Lord, this week I ask for the grace to continue the process of integrating my ego (with all of its shadow desires of power, attention, lust, hatred, etc.) with my greater self, with others and ultimately with Christ.