05 March 2011

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The image is the Saint Bruno Chapel, a house built on rock, most fitting for this weekend's Gospel from Saint Matthew.

First Reading, Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32
Binding the words of Moses to the wrist and on the forehead would get the attention of any faithful Jew reading this passage from the Torah because this description would remind any faithful Jew of a phylactery. In fact, the Hebrew text translates the 'pendant on your forehead' portion of this verse as 'frontlets between your eyes'. A frontlet in Hebrew usage is a phylactery. A phylactery or tefillin, in Hebrew, is by description two small black leather cubes containing the scriptural verses of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Exodus 13:1-16. One of the leather cubes is attached to the left wrist and the other to the forehead. They are worn even to this day by Orthodox Jews during their weekday morning prayers. In Christianity, the early Church used phylacteries as containers for holy relics. A blessing or a curse solicits the free will of man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: 'Endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will, the human person is from his very conception ordered to God and destined for eternal beatitude' (CCC 1711). Saint Paul tells us that Christ was made a curse for us and thus has redeemed us from the curse (cf. Galatians 3:13). He surely sees these words in the Old Testament as prophetic: 'He is accursed of God that hangs on a tree' (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Second Reading, Romans 3:21-25, 28
Saint Paul has a unique and gifted way of enthusiastically showing us the path that leads to eternal blessedness, but at the same time kind of knocks us down a few pegs allowing us to experience a little humility by reminding us that we don’t deserve to be on this path. He teaches us that 'the righteousness of God' comes 'through faith in Jesus Christ' but never does he suggest that faith alone is sufficient. Faith is a gift from God and therefore must be shared which requires action. In this same book, Paul tells us that God will render to every man according to his works (cf. Romans 2:6). In that same chapter he says that it is not the hearers of the law but the doers of the law that shall be justified (cf. Romans 2:13). In his letter to the Galatians he writes that faith must include works of charity (cf. Galatians 5:6). Saint James tells us in the second chapter of his letter that faith without works is dead. In the Ten Commandments, keeping the Lord’s Day holy and honouring father and mother are acts of faith. All of the “thou shalt not” Commandments are warnings of what would be considered uncharitable, sinful acts motivating us to 'do' just the opposite. How could faith not have works? Even a contemplative monk who spends his entire day in prayer has works. And one of the mottos of monastic life is, 'ora et labora – pray and work'. Prayer is an act or work of faith. Faith and works actually do not stand side-by-side because it is more proper to say that they are a holy union and thus inseparable. The guilt of man made the written law of God necessary; but non-compliance to the written law made the guilty even guiltier. Because of the Incarnation, the justice of God and sanctification of man now comes to us by means of the graces of the Redeemer and faith in Christ Who God gave to all 'as an expiation'. For Christ alone is the Just One and the Justifier of all; and faith in Him calls us to service.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 7:21-27
Our Lord clearly is teaching us that it is not enough to have faith in Him and hear His words, but that works must be united with faith. 'On that day' which seems to suggest the Day of Judgment, not only will our level of faith be examined but also what we did with that gift of faith. Being a doer of faith means to be a missionary of Christ’s love or charity. Saint Paul, in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, outlines very well the importance of bringing our Lord’s love: 'If I should have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing' (1 Corinthians 13:2). The intention of the heart seems to come into play as well since prophesying and doing mighty deeds, which are works, could nevertheless have our Lord saying: 'I never knew you'. Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that Balaam in the Old Testament, who was void of faith and probity, still by the will of God prophesied for the advantage of others. And Judas, our Saviour’s betrayer, was able to cast out demons (cf. homily XV, Chrysostom). Thus, the external display of good works must flow from an interior soul that is prepared to serve God unconditionally. In the Catechism are these words: 'The prayer of faith consists not only in saying Lord, Lord, but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father. Jesus calls His disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan' (CCC 2611). Once again from Saint John Chrysostom are these words: 'Our Saviour dispenses His rewards to such as order their lives according to His instructions; but as before He promised the Kingdom of heaven, divine consolations, and other rewards, so here He promises them the numberless blessings attendant on virtue in this life. The just alone are surrounded with virtue as with a strong guard, and amidst the high swelling waves of worldly troubles, enjoy a calm and unchanging tranquility. Thus was Job strengthened by his virtue against the attacks both of men and Satan (homily XXV, Chrysostom). In an address to young people our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said: 'What does it mean to build a house on the rock? Building on the rock means, first of all, to build on Christ and with Christ. We are not listening to any person; we are listening to Jesus. We are not asked to commit to just anything; we are asked to commit ourselves to the words of Jesus. To build on Christ and with Christ means to build on a foundation that is called crucified love. It means to build with Someone Who, knowing us better than we know ourselves, says to us: You are precious in My Eyes and honoured, and I love you (Isaiah 43:4). It means to build with Someone, Who is always faithful, even when we are lacking in faith, because He cannot deny Himself (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13). It means to build with Someone Who constantly looks down on the wounded heart of man and says: I do not condemn you, go and do not sin again (cf. John 8:11). It means to build with Someone Who, from the Cross, extends His Arms and repeats for all eternity: O man, I give My life for you because I love you. In short, building on Christ means basing all your desires, aspirations, dreams, ambitions and plans on His will. It means saying to yourself, to your family, to your friends, to the whole world and, above all to Christ: Lord, in life I wish to do nothing against You, because You know what is best for me. Only You have the words of eternal life (cf. John 6:68). My friends, do not be afraid to lean on Christ! Long for Christ, as the foundation of your life! Enkindle within you the desire to build your life on Him and for Him! Because no one who depends on the crucified love of the Incarnate Word can ever lose” (2006 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana).