6th of the Year, 12 Feb 23
The Entrance Antiphon for today`s Mass sets the tone for our considerations for the day. It is from psalm 31 verses 3 and 4: Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me. For you are my rock, my stronghold! Lead me, guide me for the sake of your name.
Today`s scripture readings are the perfect guide for the Christian Life but, unless we read them in the right way, using the grace of God, the Gospel, in particular, can seem burdensome or even impossible.
St. Augustine of Hippo, that great Doctor of the Church living from 354 to 430AD, said, “Love God and do what you will”. It sounds like a great let out to follow an irresponsible life and chase after all the wrong things – the way of perdition leading to damnation but it is, in reality, just the opposite. It is for this reason that I am grateful that Fr. Morris has printed, in the Mass Sheet, the full text of the Gospel reading for today rather than the permitted shorter version for the fuller version begins with Jesus saying to his disciples – and by implication all of us who seek to follow Him – these words: `Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to complete them.` A little later on Jesus says, `For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven……`
In St. Mark` s Gospel chapter 12, verses 29 to 31, we find Jesus quoting the Summary of the Law combining Deuteronomy 6, 5 and Leviticus 19,18 when He declares: “The first is `Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.` The second is this, `You shall love your neighbour as yourself.` There is no other commandment greater than these.
The Summary of the Law is very positive and that there are no “THOU SHALT NOTS” but a firm command to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and neighbour as oneself. When this is the case then there is no possibility of sin where these three loves of God, of fellow human beings and oneself co-exist.
The Lord, in addressing his followers, presented the call to be truly faithful to God and devoted to Him out of genuine love and devotion and not merely fulfilling the obligations or doing things out of fear or desiring to maintain good appearances, or as a formality to be fulfilled or completed. The Lord told his hearers, and therefore each one of us too, that we all have to be sincere in doing God`s will, law and commandments and we need always to be centred and focussed on God as the centre and purpose of our very lives and purpose in this world. Each one of us, as Christians and Members of the Body of Christ is called to be truly righteous, good and just in the same way that our Lord Himself is all good and righteous. Are we not, after all, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ through adoption and grace given to us through our Holy Baptism ?
We are not called to slavish obedience to the Commandments but rather of a divinely given freedom as we heard from the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus: “If you wish. You can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power…” St. Paul in that first letter to the Christians at Corinth teaches them, and us, about the wisdom of God that is offered to each of His followers and predestined for our glory before the ages began – a wisdom that is not of this world or age but the very things that God reveals to us as those who love Him and through the Spirit. As St. Paul writes: “…for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.”
We need to return and remind ourselves of the context of when Jesus was speaking on this occasion which was more of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had been speaking about those who were making excuses, playing at casuistry or their own interpretation of the Law of Moses, finding loopholes in order to conduct their behaviour in their own selfish ways – focused not so much on the love of God as their own desires, wants, ambitions, pride, ego and worldly achievements and, as such, while they may appear outwardly to be faithful are instead, and within, found wanting and lacking. Unless they, and we too, for that matter, are more faithful than just being superficial, and truly develop a strong faith in God, then it will be hard for such a one to come closer to the Lord and to be worthy to receive His grace and salvation. Our readings today encourage us to develop a right attitude In life, so that we nurture in our lives the love that we are called to have in the Lord, as well as for our fellow brothers and sisters and, indeed, ourselves just as the Lord has taught us.
As Christians we cannot be idle in our lives for we must make use of all the gifts that God has given us, the strengths given us or blessed us with so that, in turn, we may be fruitful and filled with love for God and all our fellow men and women, that we have, too, by God`s grace the strength to resist the temptations to sin and disobedience. Sin and disobedience will likely lead us on the downward path to damnation.
As followers of Jesus Christ we can never afford to be complacent and must be constant in our vigilance against Satan and all his works. God has given us free will, we are not like puppets on a string, for God in creating us has given, each one of us, the freedom to choose our path in life. We have the means and opportunities to do that which is right and good and just in the sight of both God and man or follow that self-destructive path which is wicked and evil. But do not be fearful for God`s grace is outpoured in abundance just for our asking for it - and then following his way.