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Perfect and holy

Seventh week in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The fragment of the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed this Sunday ends with the Lord’s exhortation to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.

In the moral code found in the Old Testament in Leviticus, we find a similar exhortation. God issues a command to his people: Be holy for I am holy.

Holiness is moral perfection. It does not consist in looking up to the heavens with nostalgia, forgetful of the temporal reality. We, Christians, are not of the world but we are in the world and, therefore, must commit ourselves to the transformation of the reality that surrounds us. Just as the Verb became flesh and dwelt among us, so our beautiful Catholic faith must be incarnate. It ought to manifest itself in our daily life, in the consistency of our actions, in our search for holiness, for moral perfection.

The love we have found in Jesus Christ is not a feeling. True love never is. It is an inner disposition to strive and work for good, to do good. It is realized and grows through our actions.

To be Christian is to have had an encounter with someone who is alive and gives a decisive orientation to our lives. Our faith is not a political program, neither an economic nor social one. It is not a philosophical system or a moral code. It is a relationship with God incarnate. Precisely because of that, it has practical and concrete consequences for political life and for economic and social relationships. From our relationship with Christ follows a moral code, because our faith must inform and transform all our relationships, every single dimension of our humanity.

It is evident that there is always the danger of ideologizing our faith. Among other things this consists in emphasizing those teachings that are personally less demanding to the detriment of other dimensions that may entail radical changes in my life. Pope Francis constantly warns us about this pitfall.

The Gospel is very demanding. The Lord encountered the cross. His disciples cannot be greater than the teacher. In our attempt to imitate Him we will also find the cross. It appears in our lives in many different ways. The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us in our struggle against our own personal sin reminding us that we have not yet shed blood, whereas Christ did.

It is also true that in their quest to be faithful, some have shed their blood for Christ. Throughout history, Christians have encountered and still encounter persecution, slander, scorn and other forms of martyrdom. However, the great saints never stopped in their efforts to love as God loves, even in the most extreme circumstances. Even then, they imitated the Lord who, as St.  Peter says, when he was insulted did not respond with threats. They placed themselves in the hands of the Just Judge. Faced with violence, they opposed and still oppose the love of Christ, embodying the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.

Only a few days ago, while explaining the meaning of “Blessed the meek for they will inherit the earth,” Pope Francis pointed out that “the word meek literally means, sweet, smooth, gentle, non-violent. Meekness manifests itself in times of conflict, it can be seen by the way in which we react to a hostile situation. Anybody may seem meek when things are calm, but how does one react under pressure when one is attacked, offended or challenged?…

In Scripture the word “meek” also designates a person who does not have any land and, therefore, we find curious the fact that this third Beatitude states that the meek will “inherit the earth.”

In truth, this Beatitude quotes Psalm 37. There too meekness and the possession of the earth are related. These two things, think about it, seem incompatible. In fact, possession of the earth is the typical domain of conflict. Oftentimes people fight for a territory, to gain the upper hand over a certain area. At war, the strongest one prevails and conquests other lands.

But notice the verb used to indicate the possessions of the meek. They do not conquer the earth. It does not say: Blessed are the meek for they will conquer the earth. Rather, they inherit. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. In Scripture, the verb “to inherit” has an even deeper meaning. The People of God calls the land of Israel “inheritance”, the land of the promise. That place on earth is a promise and a gift for the people of God. It becomes a sign of something much greater than the mere territory. There is an “earth”, allow me the play on words, that is heaven. In other words, the earth that we walk to is in fact that new heavens and the new earth towards which we journey.

Then, the meek is the one who “inherits” the most sublime of all territories. The meek is not a coward, or lazy who finds himself or herself in a comfortable morality to avoid problems. It has nothing to do with that! It is a person who has received an inheritance and does not wish to waste it. The meek is not a complacent person, but the disciple of Christ who has learnt to defend a very different land. The meek defends his or her peace, defends a relationship with God, the gifts received, gifts from God, defending mercy, fraternity, trust, hope.”

Clearly that meekness proclaimed blessed by the Lord is not inaction. Just as we do not seek suffering and the cross, but find them in our efforts to be faithful to Christ, so our meekness demands concrete acts of love even toward our enemies, or what is the same that we do good always and everywhere out of love for Him who not only is good, but is Goodness itself, who has loved us first and calls us to communion with Him in moral perfection, in holiness.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid