February 19 — Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The overlying theme on this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time might be called a “Call to Holiness.” Pope Francis speaks often, at Masses in homilies, at his weekly audiences, and at other public events. With those many opportunities he is able to address many issues for us as Catholics. One is the universal call to holiness. At an audience two years ago he said the following, as he referred to Lumen Gentium, one of the documents that came out of Vatican II: “This has helped us to better understand that all Christians, as baptized, are equal in dignity before God and are united by vocation, which is to holiness. Now we ask: what does this universal call to holiness consist of? And how can we achieve it?”
As to the call, it is interesting to note that in the first verse of the First Reading from Leviticus, Moses is told by God, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” God’s instructions to Moses are that he is to share this with the “whole community,” of which each of us is a part. All the readings are then tied together by Christ’s closing statement in the Gospel of Matthew, which is “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We are well aware as sinners that perfection is beyond our reach. However, the Lord does offer us advice as to how we can achieve it in part and how we can be holy in the process. Leviticus, the third Book of the Old Testament, continues in today’s reading with themes that are oft stated by Jesus in His ministry. This guidance is timeless: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, our Second Reading, has the same message, with a slightly different approach. Paul’s premise that the Church and each of us are “temples” of God is actually based upon holiness. We cannot be holy without both the presence of God in our heart and our willingness to accept God’s wisdom above all others. The Temple of God contains the Spirit of God, and wherever that Spirit is, that place is holy. To Paul we are holy to begin with, but to maintain that holiness we must accept and embrace God at the center of our lives.
This is in part a restatement of what we have been hearing for the past few weeks — that is, the wisdom of humankind cannot match, nor should it in our beliefs, the wisdom of the Lord. To be holy like God we have to accept not just His call to holiness, but His beliefs as to what can make us holy.
For the past few weeks our Gospel Readings have come from Matthew, Chapter 5. To put things in perspective there are 28 Chapters in the Gospel of Matthew so Chapter 5 is early. Furthermore, it falls at the relative beginning of Christ’s ministry. In this chapter we have already heard the richness of the Sermon on the Mount that contains the Beatitudes. Thus, today’s Gospel reading that applies to our call to holiness is important as one of Christ’s early as well as ongoing teachings.
The Lord repeats what we heard in the First Reading from Leviticus — namely that we have been called through baptism and that call is to holiness. To be sure the call to holiness is as much of a challenge as the call to stewardship and discipleship that is part of that call. In this particular Gospel Jesus says things and speaks to topics to which He will return throughout His ministry. The Lord says, “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one as well.” And “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.” He more or less puts it all together with His statement, “Give to the one who asks of you.” Over and over we have had to face the reality that Jesus’ expectations for us are not easy, and sometimes not comfortable. The kind of service and humility He calls us to is exactly what it may seem to be, a call to holiness.