23 Feb 2014
“‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.’” (Lev. 19:2) In the name …
Fr. Sen. Rob and family flew down to Florida a week ago Thursday. They were the last flight out before Logan closed down because of a snowstorm. Later in the day he sent me a picture of him sitting in his father’s pool. I felt so bad for Fr. Rob because he had missed all of the excitement of a good ol’ New England snowstorm. So I sent him back a picture of my pool covered with mounds of the white stuff. Later in the week he and the family headed even farther south to Key West to go fishing. Again he sent me a picture. This time from the deck of his hotel room looking out at palm trees along the beach. I knew he was just overcompensating because he had now missed a second snowstorm. This time I sent him a picture out my window of all the beautiful pine trees draped in white so that he could at least make believe that he was up here enjoying all the fun.
But you know, after that third and unexpected storm this past Wednesday, when the temperature climbed all the way up into the 40’s on Thursday, I swear it felt like May around here. Maybe Fr. Rob’s perspective wouldn’t be the same as mine after he was swimming and fishing in Florida, but for those of us who have lived through a frigid January and a snow-filled February, 40-something felt pretty darn good. A lot has to do with a person’s perspective I guess. And I also think that a person’s perspective and limitations have an effect on how any of us understands the phrases, “‘Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy,’” and “‘Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (Matt. 5:48)
What better place to begin our remote preparations for Holy Week than with these questions. What does it mean to be holy in the eyes of God? What does “be perfect” entail when spoken by Jesus? I just submitted an article for the next issue of the diocesan newspaper. I never know if what I write will be printed or not. If it is, it’s about seeing the cross as the ultimate statement of God’s love for us, not as the final divine act of judgment caused because of our sinfulness. Jesus is so committed to a gospel message of peace and compassion that even in the face of own His tortured death He will not return hatred for hatred, cruelty for cruelty. Instead, He maintains until the last moment of His life those ideals of non-violence and community so that even from the cross He prays to heaven, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
It would seem, therefore, that the holiness of God has to do with these same ideas. And that’s exactly what we find today. “Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy,” it says in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Well, how exactly do you do that? How are we supposed to be holy like God is holy? A great place to start says God is to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) Then we find Jesus once again this week saying, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you,” and He goes on to expand upon the ancient tradition of what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. It is still love the ones who love you because that’s natural, but also strive to love the ones who don’t. That’s unnatural. But that’s gospel. That’s Christian. Then if loving even our enemies isn’t hard enough, Jesus challenges us to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. When Luke tells the same story, he immediately recognizes that there could be problems with this perfection-talk. So what he hears Jesus saying is: “‘Be merciful just as your heavenly Father is merciful.’” (6:36)
God’s holiness is connected with the challenge to love your neighbour in the Old Testament Law. And according to Jesus the perfection of God is imitated in our willingness to show mercy without distinction, or I like even better the way it is said in the Bible: “‘[God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.’” (Matt. 5:45) His gifts are shared with all, and that’s a lesson for us, says Jesus. But we can’t forget the reality factor. When I started talking about 40º being warm, it was because we had been in the polar vortex for so long. Come off the plane from Key West, and 40º is freezing. The ideal is perfection. The reality though is mercy. Jesus is the perfect human being and His love and mercy are unblemished, even to the point of going to the cross, but even if we can’t be perfect, we can still be more merciful than the ones without God in their lives. Perfection is great. My daughter blogged that she got a 100 on a recent test over in Prague. The way she said it, “My first and only college 100.” Perfection is great, but so is trying to be perfect.
I was at meeting the other night and I guy was telling me about the movie “This is the End.” It’s a comedy about the apocalypse, the end of the world. Only the sinners are left on the earth and mayhem is breaking out. You can still get beamed up to heaven, however, by doing a good deed. A precocious fellow figures this out and as zombies are breaking into the house he tells his buddies to run and that he’ll sacrifice himself for their sake. As he says this the light shines and he begins to ascend up into heaven. On the way though, he gives the one-finger-wave to the zombies, that undoes his good deed, the light turns off, and he sinks back to earth and the zombies. Perfection is great, but just trying to stick with the good, the merciful, the peaceful, may be enough for now. 40º is warm in February, not in June. Doing our best to be good people of faith doesn’t mean it’s the best we can ever do, but it’s a good place to start. And that’s what Pre-Lent is all about. It’s a good place to start our journey to come closer to Christ, to better understand His perfect sacrifice, and to better understand who we can be if we turn to Him a bit more often. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo