Homily for the
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Given at St. Jude February 19, 2023
By Deacon Ken Steponaitis
In a continuation of the reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to be talking crazy talk: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn your other cheek. And the craziest of all … be perfect as your Father is perfect.
Here is something from the Catechism, paragraph 460: In a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas, it reads, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make [humanity] gods.” In Peter’s second letter he writes that, “The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” It seems heretical, does it not? That we might become gods?! That we are made to partake in divinity.
What do you suppose it means to be perfect? What does that look like? Are we to take what Jesus is asking us, literally? In our first reading the LORD tells Moses something similar to what Jesus is telling us; “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” So, maybe a more appropriate way to look at perfection is from the perspective of holiness.
The definition of holiness is to be whole or to be complete and we cannot be whole or complete without God. Holiness is not what we do, it is who we are. We are holy because God is holy, and God created us holy. What makes us unholy are all those decisions we make that are contrary to God’s will for our lives. Holiness is also about being set aside, to be raised above that which is unholy in order to be what God intended us to be.
We are human, and God is God. And for all those moments we look at ourselves with disappointment; or those moments that we feel like a failure because we cannot live up to perfection, we first have to understand that perfection does not come from us.
To know this and believe in our core, that our perfection cannot come from us, I think, brings about a kind of relief, a kind of peace. We are not called to make ourselves perfect. Our purpose in this life is not about perfecting ourselves. Our purpose in this life is that somehow through faith, through trusting in God and the Church, we are perfected.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “okay deacon, that is all good and well but how does that happen. How does God make us perfect? How does God make us Holy?
Well, for one, God created us and therefore we are already perfect in the eyes of God, but if we’re messing things up then we must ask, how do we get back to holiness? One answer to that question is among you right now.
There is a group of people who are going through a process called RCIA. These are people who for some reason, God has been able to reveal himself and his Church to them and they decided to work towards becoming Catholic. And, as it turns out, today we have a wonderful example of people allowing themselves to be perfected. At the noon Mass, the St. Jude community is going to be experiencing a special rite (R I T E), a ceremony, where we as a community will send people who are not baptized, to the bishop to be affirmed that they are ready to be baptized. Then next weekend the Bishop will receive them at the Cathedral and then declare they have been elected by God to be adopted into His family, this family we call Christianity.
What is so inspirational to me about these people is that first, somehow, God had to reveal himself to them. And then these people had to make a decision to do something that could totally change their lives. As Catholics we know how difficult it can sometimes be to live out our faith. Yet, they are striving to understand that lifestyle, and they are going through the RCIA process because somehow they believe that God through His Church will bring them the hope, joy and the love that we all long for.
So, one example of how God perfects us is in the sacraments. At the moment any of us are baptized, something incredible happens to us. We may not see any physical changes in a person who get’s baptized, but what happens is so profound. Baptism frees us from all sin – we become perfectly cleansed of our sin. Baptism makes us sons and daughters of the Father – we become what Jesus is, a son or daughter of the Father, just as Jesus is a son. Baptism sets us aside from those not baptized … it makes us Holy. Not that those who are not baptized are shunned by God, but that those who are baptized have a special character, or a spiritual mark on our soul that can never be removed. The Baptized can never NOT be part of the perfect family of God.
Let me give you another example of how God perfects us. Friday, Ruby my wife and I went to Frisco, to the convention center there attached to the Embassy suites Hotel. We were there to help out at DCYC, the Dallas Catholic Youth Conference. It is something the Dallas diocese does for our high school students. They go there to be Catholic kids. They have great music, wonderful speakers, breakout sessions on all kinds of topics, a time for the sacrament of reconciliation, adoration, fellowship and great food all culminating in Mass on Sunday.
Friday night before we left, we wanted to see how the opening session was going to be. What I saw there, blew my mind. It was loud and smoky, there were lights flashing and beaming. There were a thousand Catholic kids from all over the Dallas diocese … black, and white, Hispanic and Asian, small and large. It was so loud and obnoxious. It was like a rock concert. The kids were jumping up and down singing and praising God. And as obnoxious as it was to me, it almost brought me to tears.
We hear so much about all the negative things of our youth, that they don’t respect their elders, that they don’t care about things that matter, that they are unhappy and unruly. That all they want are silly things of this world and never strive for greatness. But that is not what I saw. What I saw were happy, and joyful kids, loving on God in the way they love on God. Loving on each other the way they love on each other. I saw a community coming together to support the most vulnerable group in our society, the youth, so that they could be perfected by God. And I saw something else. Hundreds of kids going to the sacrament of reconciliation. They didn’t have to, but they did. God was perfecting them!
To be perfect as the Father is perfect is not about us. It is about God. It is about a God who is perfect, creating us in perfection. God in His perfection gave us an ability to choose good over evil, God over the devil, love over hate. It’s called free will. And while the things that Jesus is talking about seem so radical, maybe even impossible. Our free will also leaves us with the choice to try to understand Jesus’ teachings or just dismiss them as impossible for us. For us humans one way to be perfect as the Father is perfect is to make the decision to follow Jesus’ commands and to try to understand why Jesus’ way is perfect.
Everyone attending mass and by choosing to become part of this Catholic family, just as the people in RCIA are doing, are in fact here today because in a very short time, Jesus who sacrifices himself and gives us His body and blood, perfects us each time we take Him in.