Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"True Righteousness: Beyond the Exterior to the Depths of the Heart"
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
February 13, 2011
Year A

On February 3rd 1959, at 35,000ft above the Atlantic, Captain Lynch took a last look at the flight panel of the Boeing 707. The co-pilot was studying a map. Captain Lynch decided to stretch his legs, thinking that the worst was over. Shortly after leaving Paris they had run into a very strong headwind. But by now they had climbed above the storm. The captain made his way down the aisle between the rows of seats. All the passengers still had the seatbelts fastened. At the back a baby was crying in its mother’s arms and the captain reassured her saying, “It will be better now. Your baby will be able to sleep.” Just then Captain felt the right wing tip and he was thrown against the seats on the right hand side. At the same moment all the lights in the plane went out. Next he found himself lying on the floor. At least he thought it was the floor. But then he realized it was the ceiling. The Boeing had flipped and was dropping like a stone. When he made it back to the cockpit, he found the co-pilot had been knocked unconscious. He came to again and he and the captain managed to bring the Boeing back to normal. The aircraft dropped 29,000ft but finally at 6,000ft Captain Lynch regained control of the aircraft. A few more seconds and the plane would have crashed into the Atlantic. The whole incident lasted four minutes. What caused it? While the co-pilot was studying the map he did not notice the blue light on the indicator panel warning that the automatic pilot had become disengaged.

God has given us an indicator panel to guide us through life and prevent us from getting turned upside down and crashing. That indicator panel is the Commandments. The Commandments are a gift from God to help us enjoy life by not getting lost along the way. Which is why Jesus challenges our notion of righteousness.

The notion of righteousness in Scripture is essentially religious. A person who is righteous is one who sincerely strives to do the will of God, which is discovered in the commandments, in the duties of a person’s state in life and of course, through personal prayer. A person who is righteous follows the path that God has set forth, with fidelity to the Law of Moses centered on the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ comment about righteousness in today’s Gospel would have been quite harsh to the scribes and Pharisees of His time. He is pointing to the fact they had a distorted vision and practice of the Law – putting the whole emphasis on the external, ritual observance. For them, exact and hyper-detailed but external fulfillment of the Law was a guarantee of a person’s salvation. It is as if they were on autopilot, saying: “if I simply do this, I am a holy person and God is duty-bound to save me.” For a person with this attitude, sanctification does not come from God but rather that person “saves himself” through these external practices. The problem is that the scribes and Pharisees have not let the practice of the Law sink into their hearts. Their intention is not to do the will of God, not follow His path but to do what they have to in order to fulfill the Law.

Jesus therefore challenges them – and us – to go beyond the external, to move past simply going through the motions and sink deeply in our hearts. To let this happen we begin with something that we already have – faith. Pope Benedict teaches us that the New Testament concept of righteousness is faith. For faith is walking with Christ, having Him by our side – in whom the entire Law is fulfilled. Our faith in Christ unites us to His own righteousness – to His holiness. But the challenge that He issues us is that we have to choose it. Everyday we are faced with many choices and challenges, temptations and trials of all sorts – things that may or not test our faith, our fidelity to Christ. The question that we must ask ourselves, however, is that these challenges, these choices that we face each day, if they do test our faith and our fidelity to Christ, then what is our attitude towards them? Do we have the same attitude as that of the scribes and Pharisees – the very people Jesus rebukes in today’s Gospel – our is that of the exhortation found in our first reading – where we are encouraged to choose to keep the commandments of God, encouraged to trust in Him and live in His grace. This is what Jesus means when He says: “your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.” As if to say: holiness in this life and salvation come from God, are gift of His grace and we are called to choose to cooperate with that grace, with God’s favor by following Him with sincere hearts, living our lives in fidelity to His commandments, by communicating with Him through personal prayer and reception of the Sacraments – to walk with Christ in faith, everyday of our lives. If we but trust Him a little more each day, if we choose to be faithful, if we let the practices of our faith sink deeply into our hearts and overcome the temptation to just go through the motions, to reduce our faith to external practice only. If we choose this path we will discover, as St. Paul mentions in our second reading, the wisdom of God. We will find, not so surprisingly, that this is the path that leads to our interior freedom – a freedom of the heart and true righteousness, true holiness.

As we enter into a deep, personal dialogue with God during the celebration of this Mass, let us ask Him that we may the grace to turn off the autopilot and move beyond the external practices of our faith and choose to follow the commandments, to walk with Christ everyday, so that our hearts may be united to His.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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