23 February 20207 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
7 Ordinary Time
Seventh Sunday of the Year - A Cycle - Matthew 5:38-48

A murderer was gassed. The warden left the death chamber and walked through the jail. A convict shouted, "Who's the murderer now?"

An ABC News Poll says that almost 80% of Americans support capital punishment. 42% of that number say that they seek revenge for deeds done by the criminals. Let us run those numbers by Jesus in this Gospel. Let's see what the computer printout reads. The most ancient law we know of teaches a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. Its author is Hammurabi. He lived 4300 years ago. (William Barclay)

Hammurabi's law of tit for tat was not as gruesome as it sounds. His object was to limit revenge.

Before Hammurabi, if you wronged one tribe member, his buddies would murder your entire clan. We talk about Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

Hammurabi says, "No way." The only one to be punished is the perpetrator. His punishment is to be no heavier than the wrong he committed. Nor could the victim play the jury. A judge had to decide. It was understood he was not to become a hanging judge.

Hammurabi sounds like a Christian waiting to happen, doesn't he? Sorry if you said yes, for Jesus deep-sixed the law of tit for tat. According to Him, if you are serious about being Christian, revenge is a no-no across the board.

Besides, if you keep knocking out teeth and blinding eyes, you will have a toothless and blind world.

People advise, "Don't get angry. Get even." Uglies shout, "Get angry and get even." The Founder of our Firm says, "To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is divine." He wants us to be divine. He reminds us anger is but one letter short of DANGER. He tells us the best way to get even is to forgive as we have been forgiven. He wants us "always to keep a cool head and a warm heart."

An old woman cursed aloud as she passed the car slowing her down. The young man blew her a kiss. He follows Jesus.

Jesus practiced what He preached. He both forgave people who crucified Him and made excuses for them. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Christ is not finished. He says His people must think not of their rights but of their duties as His followers. They must be concerned not with benefits but responsibilities.

Is it any wonder that attorneys of the time wanted the Christ off the scene? He put them out of business. Have you ever wondered why Jesus had no defense attorney before Governor Pilate? I wager He could not find one to take His case.

While attorneys might not support our Leader, psychiatrists would. We do have a psychic need to forgive and somehow love our enemies. Love possesses healing balm. Should we stay angry, we will become sick. Thus we will wind up in a psychiatrist's office as a paying customer.

The word love appears in Scripture 500 times.

Be careful with your tongue. It is in a wet place and can easily slip. Remember the man who killed his best friend: "We argued and I killed him when we ran out of words." (Unknown)

Don't tremble at that word love. It is not the love you bear your family. That is love from the heart. I speak of love that emerges from the will. Such love reminds us the glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness. (William Blake) Such love is only possible with God's help. Here help is a synonym for grace.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it. (Martin Luther King, Jr)

Jesus stands before us with Amy Vanderbilt's tome on good manners and says, "Forgiveness is but the first step of the never ending journey for my followers." The Christian message is upbeat. Looking at us, Christ is an optimist. He says we can break through the envelope, run through pain, and leave behind the ordinary human condition. We are told He sees us not as we are but as we can be. In a word, saints.

Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence, says St Basil.

If you forgive and forget but sometimes fail, do not despair. Jesus tells you, "I call you to serve, not to solve."

Anybody wondering how the Master feels on the question of capital punishment? Remember Christ is the world's most celebrated victim of capital punishment.

Those who defeat their anger overcome a formidable foe. Two cannot quarrel when one will not. (Unknown)

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
7 Ordinary Time
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: And Jesus said: "Love Your Enemies"

Hatred kills. 

There is nothing earth shaking about that statement. Wars demonstrate this.  There are people who hate other people and who do everything they can to eliminate the other people. There are atrocities taking place every day.  The innocent, particularly children, die. I've been to London three times, and all three times a bomb went off. This is the result of centuries of hatred between the English and the Irish.   But we don't have to go so far to find hatred.  People are being attacked on our American highways, in the cities and even in the suburbs all due to hatred. The Klu Klux Klan, Skinheads, and other Fascist orientated groups feed on hatred.

Hatred kills.

There two victims of hatred: the person who is physically hurt and the person who hates.   The foremost victim of hatred is the person who hates.  Hatred transforms a person from a compassionate human being, to a person whose main concern is to seek vengeance on someone who the person feels has wronged them.  Life is consumed with the desire for retaliation and reprisal. Maybe this vengeance will not be seen in a physical attack.  It very well may result in a verbal attack or a destruction of another person's reputation. The fact is that the person who hates has transformed his or her life.   This person cannot be the loving person Christ called him or her to be.

Hatred kills.

If God is love, than how can a Christian hate?  The Christian who hates is sacrificing Christianity for the sake of the hate.  Again, the Christian who hates is the first victim of hate.

Hatred kills.

"But, Father", you say, "I have really been treated poorly by my ex-husband or wife, by my sister in law or brother in law.  Every meeting is a battle with all sorts of nasty things emanating from this person I am supposed to love.  How am I supposed to handle this situation?" Well,  we have got to let go of the past.  We cannot let the past destroy us. We can still love those who have hurt us.  In fact, we have to love them.  Perhaps it was with tongue in cheek that St. Paul tells us and the Romans to love our enemies because it will drive them crazy: "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." (Romans12:20).  What drives them crazy is that it is difficult to respond to kindness with nastiness.  Many will continue to try to be nasty, but it isn't easy.

Still, the call to love those who hurt us does not mean that we should seek their company so we can endure further hurt.  Sometimes it is just the best thing to have less contact with someone who has caused us bad feelings. The important thing is that we limit our contact not to hurt the other person, but to control the feelings within us which can lead to the destruction of our own lives through hatred.

We cannot let hatred kill us.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
7 Ordinary Time
Bottom line: As we look forward to Lent, this is the bottom line: "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy."

The renown theologian, Cardinal Avery Dulles, tells about seeing a church banner that caught his attention. The banner proclaimed: God is other people! Cardinal Dulles said he wanted to add a comma: God is other, people!

As you can can see, the comma makes a big difference. Without the comma, the banner is saying that we are God and God is us. Or that God is everything and everything is God. With the comma, however, it means: People, listen - God is other.

That's what our first reading says, "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy." The word "holy" has the sense of being separate or other. Think of the distance between a human being an an earthworm. Well, the distance between us and God is greater. God is other.

God of course is not totally other. According to the Bible, when God created the world, he imprinted his image on us humans. Unfortunately, as our long sad history shows, that image has become corrupted. Instead of using our intelligence and will to turn to God, we turn away from him. Instead of loving our neighbor, we do harm to each other. As we saw last week, we easily fall into lust, anger and falsehoods. Those things are not from God. We need to admit our failures, ask God's help and turn back to him.

This Wednesday we receive ashes with these words: "Repent and believe in the Gospel." We can receive at these times: 6 am - Morning Ashes (bilingual liturgy of the Word), 9 am - Mass in English, 6 pm - Mass in English, 7:30 pm - Mass in Spanish, 9 pm - last chance.

You will notice that this year I've added an additional service: Morning Ashes. You can receive ashes and "wear" them to school or work - a great way to witness to our need for God, his forgiveness, healing and strength.

In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, Jesus invites us to the penitential practices: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. For Ash Wednesday & Good Friday: one main meal, two smaller meals, no snacks, no meat. Fridays of Lent: abstinence from meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc.) Fish is OK. Daniel Fast: fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, seeds, olive oil (Bloom version includes fish); no meat, eggs, dairy, fried foods, sweets, alcohol.

During Lent we will talk about the penitential practice of prayer. Today I want to mention something about almsgiving - or generosity. Many of you showed generosity by supporting the Called to Serve as Christ Campaign. Here are the results for our parish.

As we look forward to Lent, this is the bottom line: "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy." Or as Jesus says, "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
7 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
7 Ordinary Time

We continue to work our way through the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday with some apparent teaching on non-violence. Jesus says quite categorically, 'Offer the wicked man no resistance.' And then later on he adds, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' This is looks like some very strong teaching indeed and certainly runs completely opposite to the way the world thinks about things.

We find it difficult to comprehend what Jesus intends by this. Maybe if we were to think of ourselves being attacked we might be able to summon up the moral courage not to retaliate. But what about those close to us. Are we to stand defenceless before our enemies? Are we to stand aside when our children are attacked? Are we to fail to protect our spouses against brutal assault?

These are important questions. We might not think we are being called to answer them right now because we live in a relatively peaceful society. But we need to be prepared for the answer we might give if things became difficult. Our grandparents and great-grandparents had to have an answer to these questions during the time of the last world war. If the whole nation had taken Jesus' teaching literally then the consequence would be that even today we would find ourselves under the jackboot of a foreign oppressor.

These are very difficult questions. But thank God that we live in a country which even with its back against the wall found space for the conscientious objector.

Maybe there is another way of looking at all this. If we examine the text carefully we find that Jesus is very specific; he says, 'If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.' What I believe we have to understand is that this is referring to an insult and not a full-frontal physical attack.

What I think Jesus is talking about is the situation where a socially superior person slaps you on the right check with the back of their hand. This is the sort of insult that many Jews would have received from their Roman oppressors.

We have to understand that in the ancient world the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. If you think about it, to hit a person on the right cheek with the right hand can only be done with the back of the hand. This is what makes it an insult. It is the sort of thing a master might do to a slave.

Jesus says turn the other cheek and if you do this then the oppressor cannot then hit the right cheek again since now the left cheek gets in the way. You would almost have to do this yourself to see what is being done here. Take it from me, it is virtually impossible to strike either cheek with the right hand if the victim turns his face to the right.

Essentially what is means is standing one's ground before an oppressor in such a way as not to provoke him further but also not to permit him to repeat the insult.

In the milieu of the time no Roman would attack a Jew with their fist, since that would mean that they were facing an equal. The Roman can only hit a social inferior with the back of his hand, to do anything more demeans him.

So, when the inferior person turns the other cheek the superior person is necessarily defeated. He cannot assert his dominance any further. Of course, there can be consequences later, but in the face-off the inferior person is in effect declaring their equality and their refusal to be cowed.

If we take this understanding of the situation, we see that Jesus is not so much teaching non-violence as non-cooperation. He is encouraging us to stand up for ourselves but to do so in a way that enhances our human dignity and does not degenerate into unnecessary violence.

By going on to talk about loving your enemy Jesus takes things further and stresses that we should see things the way God sees them. We should realise that we are all equal and all deserve prayer and love.

By dividing the world into good and evil persons we do a disservice to our brothers and sisters in the human family. While there surely are people who are wholly good and others who are wholly evil, most of us fall somewhere in between.

What Jesus wants is for us to adopt a divine perspective and to see other people as they really are. He wants us to pray for everyone and to love them as God loves them. Jesus understands perfectly well that the best way to get people to behave better is to treat them with dignity and to appeal to their better instincts.

This means that we should see the good in others, it means we should treat even our enemies as brothers. By acting towards others in this way brings the good out of them and frees them from the grip of the evil that they have fallen into.

What we have therefore in this passage is not so much a teaching about unequivocal non-violence or love for enemies who continue to hate us. No, what Jesus is suggesting is that we should think more cleverly. We should stymie the oppressor by refusing to accept their insults and disarm our enemies by treating them as our brothers. Jesus is telling us not to follow the ways of the world, which clearly lacks intelligence and perpetuates old oppressions. This only leaves people stuck and unable to move forward.

Jesus is telling us that we should be agents of real change in the world by acting in unexpected ways. He is inviting us to think through the consequences of the old ways of doing things and to come up with new and unexpected ways of dealing with difficult situations. He wants us to be free and upright citizens of our world, he wants us to be rid of old oppressions and to be dignified citizens of our world.

This means that we do not go along with the crowd but rather approach the various situations of life with new and imaginative thinking as befits a disciple of Christ. He wants us to see the world not from the bottom up like a victim but from the top down as God does. And by seeing the world the way it really is we will find that we are in a far better position to change it.

While the message of non-violence has a great deal of merit, I believe it is not what Jesus is actually teaching here. He is preaching a Gospel of intelligence and imagination. He is inviting us to be active agents in the transformation of the world rather than being passive subjects and victims of old forms of oppression.

Jesus wants us to be liberated and free citizens of the world, active agents in its transformation. He wants us to be the ones who will change the world and bring it ever closer to the Kingdom of God which is its true destiny.
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