6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes
Something Christians may not realize is that the Pharisees and scribes were admired in Israel. Many Jews looked up to them for their religiosity and learning in a culture which celebrated their shared religion. But Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for caring more about outward appearances than the heart of true devotion. “All their works are performed to be seen,” Jesus said, “They preach but they do not practice. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” That is why Jesus told his own disciples: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus wills us to be holy both outside and in.
He cites the ancient commandments: “You have heard that it was said… ‘Thou shall not kill,’ ‘Thou shall not commit adultery,’ ‘Thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’’ But then, Jesus commands more. We may never have sworn a false oath, but do we secretly conceive lies? Jesus declares, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” We may never have had an affair, but do we entertain lust after others in our minds? Jesus declares, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And we may never have murdered anyone, but do we hold contempt for others in our hearts? Jesus declares, “Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Even the Ten Commandments themselves called for interior holiness. Acts of adultery or theft (forbidden by the 6th and 7th commandments) are usually preceded by coveting, by desiring what is not ours (which is against the 9th and 10th commandments).
Consider this: in Heaven, no one will be allowed to hate anyone, or to exploit anyone, or to lie to anyone. That is something beautiful for us to look forward to, but it is also a call to thorough conversion. Our secret sins matter and our hearts must be made pure. Jesus says that from within, from our “hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, [and] folly.” He teaches that “a good person produces good from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil from the treasury of an evil heart.” What is going on in our hearts is very important. So when temptation comes, let us as St. Paul said, “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”
The season of Lent is near. It begins on Ash Wednesday, the week after next. Catholics often take on external sacrifices and penances during Lent, and that is a good thing. But I suggest that for this Lent you would aim to conquer a habitual sin or secret vice with Christ. Which fault should be your focus? If you do not know that already, the Seven Deadly Sins may suggest it to you; they are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, are sloth. You may respond to each of these Deadly Sins by embracing the corresponding Lively Virtue.
For pride, there is humility.
For greed, generosity.
For lust, chastity.
For envy, gratitude.
For gluttony, temperance.
For anger, patience.
And for sloth, diligence.
Forming a personal resolution is key. Rather than just passively hoping things change, actively renounce what is evil in your life. Your will must be engaged. However, your weak human nature needs God’s strengthening grace. And God, respecting your freedom, waits for your consenting “Yes.”
Connect more to Jesus Christ this year. Encounter him in his sacraments. Beyond Sunday Mass, there is thirty-minute weekday Mass. When I began attending weekday Mass in college it drew me closer to Jesus and improved my life. Beyond celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice a year, gain new graces with forgiveness through more frequent Confession. This gives us accountability and a truer perspective on ourselves. I do not believe that even monthly confession is too frequent for someone serious about growing in holiness. And beyond praying at church on Sundays, or before meals, or during times of urgent need, commit to times of daily personal prayer. For instance, gift or consecrate your day to Jesus in the morning. Ask him, your angel, and your favorite saints to aid you throughout the day. And do an Examination of Conscience in the evening asking the Holy Spirit to show you both your victories and defeats.
In conclusion, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do not listen these ideas and think, “I can’t do all of that,” and wind up doing nothing. Between now and Easter, commit to good steps to conquer a habitual sin or a secret vice with Christ. Jesus wills to help you be more loving and devout, inside and out.
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