Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain, a place Moses once chose to speak to the Jews, but Jesus speaks God’s revelation to a wider world from a mountain. His words are loyal to the Jewish traditions and laws that Moses taught. He’s not abolishing them. He came “not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

First, remember them. That’s what the Jewish scriptures tell us to do. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Lent calls us to remember.

Second, practice them, from the greatest of the commandments to the least. Lent leads us to great thoughts and great visions of faith, but this season reminds us to remember and to do small things as well. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things like these. They’re always at hand, readily available. They’re within our power to do, and the greatest in God’s kingdom are best at doing them.

Lord, may your teaching from the mountain

reach the whole world and bring us peace.

Never let us forget your words,

and help us to live by them.

Never let us forget the small acts of love.

Saturday, First Week of Lent: Loving Enemies

Lent 1

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said,

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies,

and pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father,

for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,

and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-48) 

When people talk about love today,  they’re usually focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.

 “Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love,  our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Is that love beyond us?

We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against  a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.

We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love.  Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:

“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them.  Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
 
  Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
 

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

Whoever Loves Me

Icon of the Sermon on the Mount

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Matthew 7:21-29

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Jesus’ sobering words cast presumption aside. We must come before the Father as a little child emptied of self-will and ready to obey, however difficult it may be. Jesus directs us to the Father rather than to himself, for the Father and the Son have one will. The Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts to lead us to the Father through the Son. 

Hearts need to be watchful and silent to hear the Spirit’s still, small voice. Since the Spirit enlightens and guides our inner spirit, obedience is not violently coerced from without, but freely offered from within. We can trust the testimony of the saints, and pray for the gift of the Spirit for ourselves and for the Church. After Pentecost, Peter and the disciples transformed into persons full of grace and power. 

Jesus is not impressed with “mighty deeds” apart from a childlike trust in the Father and continuous metanoia (inner conversion). Outsiders see what we do; the Father sees what we are—the condition of our hearts, including our thoughts and intentions. Everything must be surrendered to him.

Jesus, an expert carpenter, advises us to build our house on solid rock. Rain and floods will come, winds will blow and buffet, but a house built on solid rock will not collapse. Every day is a new beginning to listen to his words and act on them. “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8; Hebrews 3:15). Many todays flow into eternity. 

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him” (John 14:23).

-GMC

Returning to Simplicity

18th century icon of the Prophet Elisha (from the iconostasis of Kizhi Monastery, Russia)

10th week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

1 Kings 19:19-21, Psalm 16, Matthew 5:33-37 

Have you ever had to “think twice?” In our complex society, everything from politics to online shopping usually involves deliberation. Avoidance of swindling is a big business—how many insurance companies and lawyers are there?

This state of affairs has come to be accepted as normal, even wise—Jesus acknowledged this in his parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13). 

The forked mind (and forked tongue), however, is a sad departure from the state of primal simplicity enjoyed by paradisal man. Prior to “the knowledge of good and evil,” a condition of pure, childlike trust was the norm. 

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.

At the core of our being where the image of the Trinity is inscribed, simplicity and transparency are the norm. Our spiritual DNA is oriented to love, trust, and abandonment to a loving Father.

In a normal universe, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb… and a little child shall lead them… The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den” (Isaiah 11:6-8).

Oaths are a by-product of the knowledge of good and evil—the splitting of the original, one-eyed mind which was free of suspicion and mistrust, and free to give without holding back.

Another by-product of Adam’s forked mind is the bifurcation of reality into what is of God, and what is not of God. Swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or one’s own head (without explicitly calling on God as witness) was a loophole to get out of fulfilling a promise. But God owns the whole world and everything in it, Jesus said, including the hairs on your head. Another tendency of the double mind is to give Sunday to God, but set him aside on Monday. All space and time belong to God.

The prophets leading up to Jesus Christ give us glimpses of our original simplicity: Elijah being fed by ravens, and Elisha’s ability to see invisible realities as if they were visible (2 Kings 6:16-17). 

Elisha’s “Yes” to God’s call was wholehearted and simple. He burned all his cash (roasted his oxen for a farewell party) and left with Elijah.

“You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

-GMC

What’s the Right Way to Pray?

By Orlando Hernandez

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) continues the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This same Gospel is read at the beginning of the Lenten Season, when we resolve to give alms, fast, and pray. Of course, our love of God should lead us to do this all year round. However, our Lord warns us not to be “ show-offs” when we do good for others or when we fast from so many things that we have too much of. He warns us, “ do not blow a trumpet before you” nor “neglect your appearance” so people might admire your kindness and piety.
The part about prayer, though, is the section that has captivated my attention:

“ When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. ( Mt 6: 5-6 )

Jesus says that we will be rewarded. I believe that God’s repayment for our attempts at prayer happens then and there, at the moment of true connection. The increase in faith that our efforts and His grace give us, the consolation and joy that His luminous Presence gives us, the love we feel, from Him and for Him, are great rewards indeed. And during those dry, frustrating days, when prayer does not seem to “ work “ and we don’t get any of those consolations, the faith He endows us with gives us the hope that He, in His love and goodness will eventually “ repay “ us, perhaps for all eternity. Either way, something powerful always happens because we return and try again and again.

Our Lord seems to say, that, rather than a public display of piety, prayer is a very private activity. In the end, it has to be an intimate one-on-one encounter with the loving God, in that “ inner room“, within our inmost selves, where I know the Lord lives. The less  “babbling”, the better. The essence, it seems to me, is the knowledge of a being together, a silent mutual awareness of loving intentions, a union, all initiated by Him.

And yet, I have to say something in defense of those “ who love to stand and pray “ loudly and boisterously in churches and prayer groups, even in street corners! Nine years ago my Lord beckoned me back into the faith through His Body, His people: peasants on their knees, advancing painfully towards the Blessed Mother’s Shrine at Fatima, Portugal; hundreds of people singing and moving toward the altar to receive Communion during Mass in Miami, Florida;  women loudly praying the Rosary in perfect synchrony in a church in Puerto Rico; people full of devotion, with eyes closed and arms raised, praising God at he top of their voices in a Charismatic Meeting in Queens, N.Y.  They were all shining examples to me ( and to many others I am sure ), bringing the Presence of the Living God into my life. Of course, I believe that during those moments each one of them, at some point or another, were totally lost in the power and love of their God, in that place where He sees us all in secret. Private and communal prayer in the end must merge, because our Lord loves us, each and every one of us, together and individually, and calls us to communion with Him and community with each other.

In the end the mystery of prayer is beyond me. My spiritual director, Fr. Richard Schiner, used to say that the only right way to pray is to just pray, trying again and again. And so I push on and on, alone and with others. All I can say is that I feel so much cherished by this God who lovingly created each one of us. He calls me to love, and to work for His people, each one a shining light where He lives and loves.
Thank You Lord!

Ready for Lent?

Lent 1
Communicating isn’t easy. Before the Olympics a Russian writer wrote an article in one the papers about how hard it is for Russians and Americans to understand each other. She gave as an example the simple phrase “How are you?” If you ask an American “How are you?” the answer might be “I’m great,” “Wonderful,” the writer said. But if you ask a Russian “How are you?” you’ll likely get a litany of complaints about health, the government, the neighbors, and everything else that’s going wrong.

I was with some of priests the other day, one is from Ireland the other from Argentina. If you ask the Irish priest “How are you?” his answer usually is “Not too bad.” That seems to be somewhere between the American and the Russian. The Argentinian priest told me that a friend of his was flying to America on an American carrier and he had a bad accident and had to cancel his flight. He called for a refund for his ticket, but was told it was a “non cancellation” ticket. You’re out of luck. After realizing he was getting nowhere his friend said: “OK, Goodbye.” The American agent on the line said. “Goodbye. And have a wonderful day!”

If human communication can be difficult, so is our communication with God. For the last few Sundays we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-8. Jesus goes up a mountain and calls his disciples to himself and begins to teach them. He calls them “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and what he teaches can bring flavor and light to our world.

Jesus’ words are not always easy to understand, however. So much of the Sermon on the Mount sounds beautiful, but we find ourselves asking What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear?” I have to pay bills, keep my job, take care of my family. I worry about them. Is that bad? What do you mean when you say, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek… give someone your cloak…give to everyone who asks. Go the extra mile.”

The Lenten season begins this week. It’s a time to turn to God and ask what’s he saying to us and to our world? Let’s go up the mountain and listen to him.

Lent is a time to imitate the way God acts. From the mountain where he taught Jesus came down and cured a leper, according to Matthew’s Gospel. His miracles of healing and kindness reveal a God who heals and comes to the aid of the poor. Lent’s a time to imitate God’s way of acting through acts of kindness towards those in need.

Lent is a time to see how God acts towards us. He ascends another mountain at the end of Lent and dies for us. That vivid sign is something we need to look at again and again. What are you saying to me and to the world? Do you really love us that much?

The Sermon on the Mount


In his Sermon on the Mount, which we’re reading these Sundays, Jesus takes to another level what the law says or what most people say. “You have heard it said, ‘you shall not kill’…you have heard it said ‘you shall not commit adultery.’…But I say to you.” “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’…You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’…But I say to you.”

He asks for a higher, more nuanced morality from us, because we are children of God and not children of the world.

The British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdock, describes in her novels a world of bright, successful law-abiding people who consider themselves above traditional morality. They’re not murders, or rapists or criminals, for sure. They wouldn’t think of breaking the law, because they and their interests are protected by law.

But civil laws say nothing about most of life, and Murdock’s characters decide for themselves how to live, according to their own wisdom. They make their choices based on what they want or what’s best for them. They’re sincere people, but because of the way they think morally, their lives and the lives of others get messed up.

Murdoch’s characters – and they represent a large portion of educated, western society today – have a strong belief in their own wisdom. They decide their own morality. They’re masters of their own fate and can’t believe that their wisdom might be limited or fed by their own fantasies or could affect others. What’s right for them, is right.

What are the consequences of that kind of moral thinking? You can see it in broken friendships, broken families, broken lives, and a society not built on common norms, but on personal choice.

How different is the idea of choice in Sunday’s reading from Sirach. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you. (Sirach 15,15) The commandments are wise guides and Jesus extends them further, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount. We should learn from this wisdom, search into it and hope it becomes part of the way we think and act.

“You have heard it said, ‘Choose for yourself’…But I say to you…