February 23, 2020 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following homily today at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
You may have noticed that as we head toward the Lenten season, the Scripture the Church offers us highlights the importance of forgiveness. Such is the case again today.
In Leviticus, we heard, You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him…
And in the Gospel of Matthew, we heard these familiar words: …love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
The forgiveness we hear about today is offered to us in broad terms. It is not focused on personal relationships such as forgiving someone close to us. While scripture and the Church obviously call us to that, today’s readings have more of a global feel. The brother or sister referenced in Leviticus are our fellow human beings – our fellow citizens – rather than family members or friends.
The reading is instructing us on how to respond to groups with whom we disagree. This is certainly a topic well-suited to the times in which we live. I cannot recall a time in my life when there has been so much divisiveness, intolerance, and insensitivity in the world. It can be very toxic at times.
Social media and the speed with which news can travel have created a world in which it is possible to offend people around the world in a matter of seconds. Everyone then chooses sides and the disagreement is magnified.
If we are on this side – the right side – of the issue, then we begin to think of and talk about the other side – the wrong side – as “those people.” They are no longer individuals made in the image and likeness of God and worthy of our respect, but nameless and faceless members of the opposition.
Modern media has made this even more prevalent. Anonymity allows us to say things online that we would never say to another human being face to face. We don’t just disagree; we tear down. We don’t just think differently; we assault the opposition. The notion of turning the other cheek is no longer a viable option.
We have been lumped into categories. Democrats versus Republicans. Pro-life people versus pro-choice people. Wall people versus open borders people. Traditional Catholics versus Vatican II Catholics.
If we are ever to right the ship and detoxify society – if civility is to return – forgiveness is the key.
Simply put, regardless of what side we’re on, we have been offended – that is real. While those with opposing views have not directly attacked us by name, they have attacked our sensibilities, our value system, or even our faith. Forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness keeps anger and resentment from taking over our lives. Left unchecked, those feelings can harden our hearts and keep us prisoner.
To forgive does not mean to condone. We can and should forgive those that attack us, but it is also acceptable to challenge them, to hold them accountable. Remember the words from Leviticus: Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. The language we choose should never demean or de-value them. It should come from a place of love, not from a need to be right.
In the gospel, Matthew offered us a very simple solution to this whole issue: Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
A perfectionist likes things done just so. In his world, it is very important that there be order and structure. Every detail is obsessively considered. Things or people that are out of order or lack structure are challenging. There are some that believe a perfectionist needs professional help to deal with these obsessions. However, a perfectionist knows it is everyone else that needs help.
I am an inactive perfectionist. That means lack of structure and inattention to detail still drive me crazy, but I no longer act on it. I continue to notice things that are out of order, but no longer feel the need to fix them. I am not a retired perfectionist because it is still happening in my head, but I am inactive.
Speaking from this experience, I know that nothing frustrates perfectionists more than the knowledge that they are not, and never will be, perfect.
That being said, and with all due respect to Matthew and his gospel, saying, Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect, is not helpful.
Perhaps you struggle with this scripture passage as much as I do. Please tell me that God, who knows me better than I know myself, is not telling me to be perfect. I know my limitations, so certainly God knows them as well.
It could be that scripture is merely suggesting that we strive to be perfect. That suggestion does not really help my understanding. After all, there are things I strive to do and can actually accomplish. I can strive all I want to be perfect, but I will never get there.
Perhaps because of my perfectionist leanings, I continued to research until I found something that made sense to me. In the scripture passage, be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect, the word perfect is translated from the Greek word, teleois.
When I looked up the word, teleois, one definition was indeed, perfect. However, another definition listed was complete and balanced.
That makes sense to me.
Be complete as God is complete. I can do that. I can be strong in my convictions, yet respectful of those with opposing views – complete and balanced. I can respond to those who attack my values by holding them accountable in a way that does not de-value them – complete and balanced. I can forgive those that offend or anger me, because I understand that forgiveness heals my resentment – complete and balanced.
When we are told to be perfect as God is perfect – or in my new translation, complete as God is complete – we are being challenged to love as God loves. As we heard in our Responsorial Psalm: “the Lord is kind and merciful.” God loves us by showing us mercy, offering us compassion, and holding us accountable.
We heard just moments ago, Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
We should be confident in our ability to love as God loves, for He dwells within each of us – completely and perfectly.