Week 10 04
Living A Transformative Faith
Memorial: St. Anthony of Padua
(2 Cor 3:15-4:6; Ps 85; Mt 5:20-26)
What do you make of Paul’s focus on “glory” in the first reading today?
The message he is earnestly trying to communicate to the Corinthians, and to us, is to allow our faith in Jesus to transform us into Christlikeness, and to live the law of love.
To better grasp this message, we need to look at the “veil” that is over the Jews to this day. The Book of Chronicles tells us when the first temple was dedicated, the glory of God descended on the temple as fire and smoke so powerfully that the priests could hardly enter the temple.
However, before the exile and destruction of that first temple, the Jewish religious leaders were so unfaithful and corrupt that the “Shekinah” or glory of God lifted up and abandoned the temple, heading East. After the return from the exile, a second temple was built, but significantly, the glory of God never returned to the temple. Richard Rohr believes that is why the Pharisees became so dominant during that period – believing the glory of God would return to the temple if they lived the law perfectly and to the letter.
That belief is actually the heresy of Pelagianism – thinking we can make ourselves holy by human effort – a heresy that worked its way into the early church as well. My own father was affected by this thinking – with his comment “Il faut meriter le ciel” – one has to earn heaven!
When Paul proclaims “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” he is shouting out we are now free of this deadening, impossible burden of trying to make ourselves holy by slavishly keeping endless laws, rules and regulations. In Galatians, Paul even boils the whole law down to one word, “Love” and to one sentence, “Love one another as you love yourself.”
All we have to do is to believe, love and allow the Spirit of Jesus to transform us by first of all forgiving us of all our sins, and then healing us of all our sinfulness (that which makes us sin) – our painful emotions like anger and bitterness, our defects of character and negative attitudes like false pride, selfishness, stubborn self-will and self-reliance, and even our addictions.
The psalm adds the glory of God will then dwell in our land (that is, in us) through peace, steadfast love, faithfulness and justice. In the Gospel, Jesus adds our “righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” by being a religion of the heart and not external observances.
Jesus then places attention on the importance of reconciliation as part of our transformation, by stressing that we must put apologizing to others first, before even going to church (“leave your gift at the altar, and go be reconciled to others if they have something against you”).
This leads to what I would call the Art of an Apology. We can ask those who may have a grudge against us for some hurt we have done to them if we can share something personal with them. Then we can remind them of our hurtful actions and listen to how they feel. After soaking up their pain (which makes an apology sincere), we can ask for forgiveness. The next step is to make a declaration to try to never do that hurtful action again (an apology without a declaration to change is almost meaningless). Finally, we can ask how we can make amends and make things right again.
Isaiah, age 16, shot and killed Jeremiah at a party, and was given a 25-year sentence. After some years of wanting him punished and seeing him as a monster, Jeremiah’s mother Mary, a devout Christian, realized she had to try to forgive him. After visiting him in the State prison, she was able to do so, and upon his release, invited him to live in her own rental unit. Jeremiah, in his words, was “befuddled” by her forgiveness, and now is trying to forgive himself by making amends. He works at a recycling depot by day, goes to college in the evenings, and on weekends speaks to church groups and youth about the power of forgiveness. He is practicing the art of an apology, and his glory is starting to shine, almost as bright as Mary’s.
Today the Church honors St. Anthony of Padua, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, although Padua claims him as their own. At 15, he joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine and studied intensely for 8 years, becoming an accomplished biblical scholar. He joined the Franciscans and was sent by Francis to teach his fellow friars in northern Italy, Bologna and then Padua. His reputation drew enormous crowds, and the power of his words converted them. Ill and exhausted, he died at age 36, so beloved and revered he was canonized within a year. His aid is invoked to help find lost objects.
Our celebration today, based on, yet transcending the Jewish religious worship, is our synagogue (Liturgy of the Word) and temple (Liturgy of the Eucharist) worship. It involves a double transformation. First, through the power of the Spirit of the Lord, humble gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Then we who receive with faith are transformed into the Body of Christ, the Church – mandated to go out and to live the law of love – to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
So, let us take Paul at his word, and allow our faith in the Spirit of Jesus to transform us into Christlikeness.