Free from sin

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

On this Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we continue to read together the Sermon on the Mount and we come to the question of the Commandments and Christian life.

There is an intimate relationship between the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord Jesus makes abundantly clear that the law of love and mercy that He proclaims, inaugurates and codifies in the Sermon on the Mount in no way abolishes the prescriptions of the Ten Commandments, but rather brings them to perfection. It could not be any other way because they are not arbitrary impositions but expression of the natural Law written in the heart of every single human being, as St. Paul would later tell the Christian community in Rome.

Although the Ten Commandments are formulated in the negative form, Thou shall not…, they are expression of the freedom of the children of God, which is not freedom to sin but rather freedom from sin. Again, St. Paul in the letter to the Galatians, explains that it is nonsense to claim that now that Christ has set us free it is not important how we live our lives. As a matter of fact sin destroys our freedom, enslaving us to our passions and inordinate appetites.

The Lord does not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, to bring it to perfection. The Law and the Prophets is the name that, even to this day, Jews use to designate what we call the Old Testament and they call the Tanakh, an acronym formed with the first letters of the words in Hebrew for Torah, Prophets and Writings. The Torah, of course, are the first five books of the Bible which we, Christians, call the Pentateuch. The word Torah, a proper noun, was translated into Greek and subsequently to other languages as ¨the Law¨, so the saying of the Lord found in the Gospel passage proclaimed this Sunday, ought to be understood as a direct reference to the Old Testament.

Then, of course, the Lord singles out some commandments to illustrate what He means when He says that He will bring them to fulfillment. The law of love and mercy that He proclaims is not just about external actions but about a transformation of the human heart. It is not just about not committing adultery, it is also about having a pure heart. It is not about not calling our brothers and sisters names, it is also about the disposition of our heart. It is not just about not murdering, it is also about loving even our enemies. It is not just about what we do, but also about who we are. The Pharisees are concerned with external actions only. The disciples of Christ must act in a certain way, but their actions ought to be expression of an inner disposition of the heart, not just merely an external observance. Good intentions can never turn an evil act into good, but a bad intention taints a morally good action.

Who we are expresses itself in our actions, therefore, what we do matters, thus, the importance of the ten Commandments, that teach us what is and what is not in keeping with the natural law, the order of things that human reason can grasp. In principle, every single human being can discern that stealing or killing is wrong, yet we live in a world where our understanding is clouded and our intellect obscured by sin. That is why God reveals to us in the Commandments even evident facts that, in principle, seem accessible to every human being, not just Christians, because they are part of the order of things that we can discover through the application of our intellectual powers.

That every culture is in need of guidance to overcome its own blind spots ought to be quite easy to understand for us, men and women, of the XXI Century. Our culture, permeated by gender theory and ideology, constantly denounced by Pope Francis, seems unable to recognize that killing innocent human beings in the womb is wrong and goes to the extreme of proclaiming that most heinous crime and ugly exploitation of women as progress, with some even going as far as calling it a “human right.” Also, many in our times seem to think that in the business world and `politics, standards of decency, honesty. Integrity and goodness do not apply, whereas cheating, deception, lying are acceptable behaviors, when they are obviously not. Some people in our times think that when it comes to sexuality, there are no objective standards of morality and marriage is simply a human institution, a contract that can be dissolved at will. Yet the Lord, in the Sermon on the Mount, reminds us that there are objective standards of truth, goodness and beauty that they begin in the human heart and express themselves in concrete actions. He tells us to mean what we say because our words are consequential and our promises, such as the ones exchanged in marriage, ought to be kept.

Living the Sermon on the Mount is undoubtedly a challenge for all of us. It is therefore imperative that we cultivate virtues in our heart, so that they can become second nature and we can act always and everywhere according to objective standards of goodness and truth with the proper disposition of the heart. Cultivating all the virtues by practicing both, the human virtues, the cardinal virtues and the theological virtues enables us to grow in humanity, to become ever more human by living the Sermon on the Mount.

Chief among all the human virtues, of course, is the virtue of prudence, which is simply about doing what is right always and everywhere, for the right reason at the appropriate moment. This is the virtue that constitutes the foundation of every other human virtue, because it enables one to discern what is right and wrong and act accordingly. For example, the person who is prudent will act according to the dictates of justice and will always seek justice and repudiate injustice.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments together offer us a roadmap, instructions, to grow in virtue, to avoid evil and do good, realizing in our lives the freedom of the children of God, set free from the yoke of sin and death, called to participate in the life of God for all eternity!

Fr. Roberto M. Cid