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Friday of the First Week of Lent
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Opening Prayer: My Lord, you reveal to us the fullness of what it means to become truly human. I renew my faith that your guidance will lead me to this fulfillment.
- “Old Law”: The Ten Commandments constitute the foundation of the moral order, which God revealed to his people, and they mirror also the ethical guidelines which man can discover rationally by reflection and examination of conscience. These commandments give moral order, they point into the direction of moral goodness, and they mark borders to protect us from great moral evils. To follow the Ten Commandments means to resist our disordered tendencies towards sin. To provide us with these parameters was among God’s first projects, in order to solidify his covenant with humanity.
- “New Law”: At first glance, Jesus seems to challenge the Old Law when he calls out: “But I say to you…” However, we know that he did not intend to take away “the smallest letter from the law.” In fact, Matthew has explicitly reported this intention of Jesus in the two verses which precede today’s pericope (see Matthew 5:18-19). If we go even further back, to the beginning of chapter 5, we find the Beatitudes and understand that Jesus wanted to go beyond the basic rules, beyond a law that prevents man from sinning. For Jesus wanted to redeem, to renew, to re-create us. Indeed, the final project of God’s covenant with us is to lead man to his true fullness. And that fullness consists of more than following rules and restraining from falling into temptation. It constitutes a new life.
- Christ’s Law within Us: This is what Christian ethics is ultimately about–closing the gap between being good and being holy, making the leap from merely controlling our tendency for doing evil to fostering and nourishing our tendency for doing good. This leap, this transformation into a truly virtuous person, is not the result of an external law; it is not the result of the Old Law alone. The New Man carries a New Law inside him; a law which consists of the silent whisper of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, who not only informs us, but empowers us to love the good. Thus, Jesus did not only demand higher standards by giving us a New Law, but he also empowered us to fulfill them. This is our Christian faith: we live a new life in Christ. He lives in us. His love can spread in our hearts, and thereby we come fully alive. Our true potential is not activated by avoiding the big sins. We come fully alive and whole when we live in Christ and Christ lives in us. Then we will “love and do as we will,” as St. Augustine puts it.
Conversing with Christ: My Lord Jesus Christ, while I renew my commitment to follow the laws which revelation, my reason, and the Church present to me, I also want to pay attention to your New Law inside me. I want to discover the workings of your Spirit in my heart. Help me not to resist his inspirations and help me to distinguish them from my own voice. Love through me, oh Lord.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will identify a moment today in which I can practice the New Law by allowing you to direct my heart toward wanting what you want.
For Further Reflection: Catechism of the Catholic Church 1968: The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.
written by Fr. Gabriel von Wendt, LC