Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

March 7, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

We currently live in a society that is very divided on what it means to be human and what it means to be happy. These divisions in thought and word have prompted a spirit of argumentativeness in so many of us that we have cultivated dispositions of not wanting to listen to anybody else. We also simply do not want to be told what to do — even though many of us do not know what we want to do except that we want to do what we want to do. Sadly, we frequently approach our family life and our communion in the Church in the same way.

Our first reading recounts for us the Ten Commandments. As we listen to them, living in the culture and society we do, they seem strange and outdated. They show little concern for individuality, free choice, and personal fulfillment. They disregard our pleasure, offer us strict imperatives, and set limits to what we can and cannot do.

We do not like to be given limits — especially moral limits. We hear the common complaint that Catholics are too concerned with sin and suffer from excess guilt. Our problem is not that we are guilt-ridden and scrupulous. Our problem is not that we deny ourselves too much. And it is not that we are crippled by moral confinement. In fact, it is probably just the opposite.

We usually pursue what we want without much guilt, and perhaps even less hesitation. And we certainly do not like to be told that we cannot have or do something. We are more concerned about what we are inclined to call our “rights” — our special name for what we really, really want — without any inconvenient references to our duties and responsibilities. We see ourselves as exceptions to the rules. Rather than cultivate a sense of gratitude and humility and service to others, we begin to think that the only needs we must serve are our own. We frequently attempt to meet these needs — needs both real and imagined, immaterial and spiritual — by the law of supply and demand, or by the rules of the marketplace, making moral norms lead us to visit to the delicatessen. It is precisely that practice that Jesus justly drives out of His Father’s house, the temple.

We are uncomfortable with law and commandments and want to reject any that we do not give to ourselves. We believe that the restrictions of morality get in the way of the pursuit of our happiness. God does not give us suggestions or advice but commandments. And the commandments are not subject to our approval or disapproval, or whether we like or dislike the person we are facing, or whether that person is good or bad.

But neither are the Ten Commandments some external or irrational law from an alien and pushy God. God is not a bully. Each commandment is an expression of the truth God has put in us, a way we express and satisfy the human nature that we have been given by God’s design. If we worship ourselves or our work … if we desire another’s life or property … if we dishonor those who have been given to us, if we are not truthful and honest with our family and co-workers, we not only reject the plan of God, but we also destroy who and what we are. The commandments call us to be who we are: finite and limited but also capable of excellence, and most especially, of happiness and beatitude.

Jesus is the New Law … the law of God given in the flesh. As Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians in our second reading, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,” is crucified for the sake of love. His way of life appears to some as unnecessary to be fully human, and to others as simply naïve and silly. But it should be for us our way and our truth because unlike us who are flawed by sin, Jesus is fully human. Jesus sums up the commandments in His law of love: love of God and love of our neighbor. It is only in living out this foolishness of love, the folly of the Cross, that we come to understand that it is true wisdom and grace.

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