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7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What is God's Law?
Today's Gospel offers answers to the question "how do we keep God's law?". The law which Jesus, who is God, reveals.
There is no doubt we are called to keep the law. Remember the four simple basics from last week: don't be angry or insulting, respect others, live in peace. Don't be ruled by your passions, respect for others includes respect for marriage and respect for yourself, modesty, purity, chastity. Marriage is for life - it is God's law, divorce and remarriage or living together is wrong. Speak the truth. These are not ideals or counsels of perfection, something to aim for but rarely to achieve. We are supposed to keep them because we are supposed to be perfect as Our Father in Heaven, who is God, is perfect.
Don't gasp at this. Through baptism, through the sacraments, Jesus, who is God, unites us to himself, he shares his life with us, he pours his grace into our hearts. He makes it possible for us to be like him, in other words, perfect, as the Father he reveals is perfect. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you is another way of saying 'be like me even me on the cross'. Jesus makes possible what he asks. Why then do we find it so difficult?
Why do we find it difficult to keep?
In part because although we know the law our will to do it is weak. To love something is an act of will, a free act. We are called to love God but our will is free to love anything it wants. And experience tells us two things about our will. It always seeks happiness and it always tries to avoid pain.
The first is good because our ultimate happiness is to know God but unfortunately we often mistake pleasure for happiness. Pleasure is powerfully attractive. You may know in your mind that something is against God's law but the will can only think of the pleasure. And because the attraction of the pleasure is so strong we find ourselves choosing it in spite of the regrets and bad consequences which may follow. Indeed the will can grow so weak that eventually our whole lives become the pursuit of pleasure which because it is not the same as happiness leaves us feeling dissatisfied and empty.
The second thing about the will is that it tends to avoid pain or suffering. From not doing the dishes, through not getting up in the morning, to not going to confession or missing Mass. The will avoids it because it's difficult, hard or uncomfortable. This is a big problem because our ultimate happiness lies in loving God and love does involve suffering. It involves service, giving, being unselfish, putting the other first. In the end it means following Jesus to the Cross.
How to keep God's Law?
So we need to train our will to choose what we know to be right, what Jesus and his Church teach. Literally train the will. Like an athlete or a soldier. Your will is not in charge of you. You are in charge of your will and it must be exercised trained and when necessary disciplined.
Hit on one cheek, offer the other. Sent one mile, go two. In other words train the will. You tell it what to do. Start simply. Friday fasting. Do you drink lots of coffee? Give it up on Fridays. When the will says "mm coffee, oh go on, it's uncomfortable not having a coffee, I'm not happy, drink coffee" say No! to the will. Deny it. Don't always do what the will says. Don't drink that coffee on a Friday. To begin with it is as simple as this. God does all the work for us in the end. He makes it possible for us to keep the law. But we must co-operate freely. We must choose to love. In the end love means true self denial, you say to the beloved, to Jesus, 'not me but you' 'not what I want but what you want' 'not my will but yours'. If we can't give up coffee or whatever on a Friday, if our will has never been trained to get out of bed in the morning, to say no to an extra chocolate or put someone's needs before our own then we will never learn to keep the law, to love, to resist strong temptations to sin. Self denial must be part of our life.