Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"Called to Be Saints in Perfect Charity"
Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
February 20, 2011
Year A

The dictionary defines a ‘hero’ as a ‘remarkably brave person; somebody admired, and a really long sandwich.’ I’m sure we all have heroes in our lives – people who think are remarkably brave, someone whom we admire. We probably even had our own childhood heroes – some from cartoons, comic books, movies and so on. Our heroes quite possibly could be relatives, friends, a teacher, or even a boss. Whomever we look up to or have looked up to in our lives we know that these people are the ones who go the extra mile in life. Their heroism runs deeply within them – to their very core. They reach beyond themselves, and invite others to live charity beyond the criteria of the world. To the point where they are characterized by the way they reach out, by their actions. Is this not what we hear in our Gospel – Jesus exhorting us to be heroes?

Our Lord offers some very vivid examples of how we can be heroes. He sets the stage with the phrase: “you have heard that it was said,” introducing a quote from or an illusion to the Law – sometimes this includes the way the law was understood and applied. He follows these words with: “but I say to you” – the mark of a solemn pronouncement that brings forth a deeper meaning of the law and how it is to be lived in the kingdom. The ancient Greek translation of “I” in these statements is emphatic and thus presents this teaching with authority. With these vivid examples and the emphatic pronouncement of them, Jesus calls His disciples to a higher standard than that of the scribes and Pharisees. He brings out the true meaning of the Law – that external conformity is not enough, the law must penetrate the heart so as to live in accord with God’s will in order to become true children of God.

Thus, the must striking of these examples given is to love one’s enemies, to do good to those who persecute us, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. With its founding in the Book of Leviticus – which we read in our first reading, this was probably the most startling of all the teachings given. In first century Palestine, this saying would have had a direct reference to the tyranny of the Roman oppressors. Jesus challenges His hearers to do good to them, to pray for them, to love the very people who occupy their land, tax them heavily, and treat them with violence and hostility because whenever His disciples are able to respond to such ill treatment they take on the characteristics of Christ Himself. For as St. Gregory Nazianzen teaches – there is nothing in man more divine, more Christ-like, than his meekness and patience in doing good.

Our Lord’s repeated calls for us to live more charitably challenge us to follow His lead by finding concrete ways of helping others, by reaching out to those in need, by not being so quick to judge, or get angry, by not speaking unkindly about others – This is not so easy, especially when we find ourselves in similar situations in our modern day lives as those of people in Jesus’ era – with people who treat us poorly or with someone who rubs us the wrong way. Yet, we must remind ourselves that each and every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect because in each person we find the image of God stamped within their soul and upon their face. This is no easy task, but we know that living in charity makes us more understanding, ready to forgive, fit to live alongside one another in harmony and peace. It also does not make us naďve. We must still deal with people with prudence and justice. The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World – Gaudium et Spes – highlights this point:

“Love and courtesy of this kind should not, of course, make us indifferent to truth and goodness. Love, in fact, impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all men the truth that saves. But we must distinguish between the error – which must always be rejected – and the one who is in error, for he never loses his dignity as a person even though he flounders amid false or inadequate religious ideals.”

Today, and everyday, Jesus invites and calls us to reach beyond ourselves, to be remarkably brave, to be people who are admired for the heroic virtue that is manifested in our daily living. But we must first be reminded that this cannot be done if the only time we practice charity, the only time we practice our faith and being Christian is inside the walls of this church. We cannot box up who we are as followers of Christ into one day, for one hour because it is simply not enough. Rather, we come here to raise the bar in our standard of living, to have our spirits strengthened by the grace of Christ and to enliven our hearts with His love. Accordingly, assisted by grace, charity will impel us to devote ourselves to prayer, doing good works, and being a good example – an example of what it means to be a true Christian – not just for the people closest to us, not just for our friends, our charity should in no way be limited because, again, it is not enough. We are called to a higher standard, to allow the external practice of our faith – the teachings of Jesus to sink deeply into our hearts, we are called to be more than heroes, but rather, saints.

Therefore, as we approach the altar to receive Him in this Holy Eucharist, let us open our hearts to this grace, be transformed by God and take on the characteristics of Christ Himself in our everyday living.


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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