How often, after making a mistake, does someone say, “Nobody’s perfect”? Or perhaps, “I’m no saint”? As true as these statements may be, we cannot be complacent with our lack of perfection or holiness. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Through Moses, God says in our First Reading, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” These are commands from the highest authority—God himself—and they cannot be ignored.
Aside from the fact that all human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26)—Saint Paul, in today’s Second Reading, gives us another basis for these imperatives: “You are the temple of God, and…the Spirit of God dwells in you…the temple of God, which you are, is holy”! This flows directly from our baptism into Christ.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm praises the kindness and mercy of God. Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel takes us beyond the demands of “retributive justice”: the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This occurs three times in the Old Testament: in Exodus 21:24-25; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. This is known as the lex talionis or the law of retaliation. In theory it is meant to limit retaliation for an injury by keeping it proportionate to the crime. However, when will the violence end? The newly-inflicted injury, even if it is a payback, invites another violent response. On the contrary Jesus’ teaching seeks to put an end to retaliation by calling for mercy and forgiveness instead of returning insult for injury. He calls us to live in a way that sets us apart from those who are “pagans”: to be good even to those who may not be good to us. The word of God today forces us to ask ourselves, “Can we, who have been forgiven much evil by a kind and merciful God, fail to forgive those who hurt us?” When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”—that “as” means “just as” or “to the extent that.” When we read it that way—“Forgive us our trespasses to the extent that we forgive those who trespass against us”—we see the obligation that asking for God’s forgiveness places upon us.
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, February 26. The regulations for fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent are found elsewhere in the bulletin as well as the schedule of Masses and services for both parishes. Students in the earlier religious education program will attend the service at 4:15 at St. Charles. Students in the later religious education program will attend the 7:00 Mass at Notre Dame. Of course everyone is welcome to any of these Masses.
While fasting and abstinence are good Lenten penances that enhance our self-discipline, they go hand in hand with works of charity or almsgiving. The children of our diocese traditionally have their “mite boxes” in which they may put a daily offering. These proceeds now go to the Missionary Childhood Association, a papal missionary society. We have something similar for adults called Operation Rice Bowl. The idea is that what we save by fasting or “giving something up for Lent” we can use to feed the poor. So this weekend and on Ash Wednesday you are invited to take home a “rice bowl” into which you can put these daily savings or, as I do, just write out a check at the end of Lent. These proceeds go to Catholic Relief Services, an agency of the United States Catholic Bishops. So let’s all—child or adult—make a difference as we strive to grow in holiness and charity this Lent.
Pray the Rosary this week for people who suffer from the cold of winter due to a lack of sufficient food, clothing and shelter; for all who are suffering with illness or infirmity; and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.