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The Spirit of the Law: Love
Friday of the First Week of Lent
“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, 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 with him. 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: Lord, as I reflect upon this Gospel please help me to see what I am clinging to, so that I may detach and cling only to you.
- Settle Quickly: Self-righteous anger is toxic. Like any sin, it can blind us to goodness, truth, and love. Our Lord was urging his listeners to resolve their issues so that they could put anger aside. When we feel angry and unforgiving, it truly is foolish to think we can come to Mass expecting union with God. The fruit of the Spirit is peace, and we have no peace if we choose to withhold love from others. Because we’re human, we should not be surprised when we are tempted in this way, but we must lean on our Father all the more, asking for grace to replace our pride with humility, our anger with peace. St. Paul reminds us, “Do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). We are called to live humbly and to trust in the Lord.
- Judgment: Jesus tells us that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees subjected them to judgment. They determined they were righteous because they adhered to the law. Jesus calls us to surpass them by living not the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, which is love. Jesus warns that when we fall short of loving well, there are spiritual consequences, and we may face earthly consequences as well. Living the Ten Commandments is truly a road map to happiness, both temporally and spiritually.
- Gift: By divine design, we have the power to build up and the power to tear down. Jesus is showing us in this Gospel that we inhibit our capacity to love others when we hold on to self-righteousness, anger, or unforgiveness. Since we have been loved unconditionally from above, we are called to extend this love to those Jesus places on our path. The sacrament of reconciliation can empower us to do so by washing away our sin and restoring our peaceful equilibrium.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, you lived in complete freedom, never allowing the injustices directed toward you to separate you from the Father. Your dignity was so firmly rooted in your Father’s love that nothing anyone said could shake you. Lord, sometimes I allow the thoughts, opinions, and actions of others to get the best of me, which produces anger and hardening of my heart. I can feel victimized and become determined to justify myself by seeking revenge or refusing to love. Lord, please soften my heart. Help me to be so firmly rooted in your love that I am not swayed by the people around me. Please Lord, help me to accept your unconditional love and then give me the willingness to extend it to those around me, especially those who are hardest to love.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a plan to go to confession (as soon as possible) and confess any grudge, lack of charity, justice, or generosity that I hold onto. I will pray for those people who have hurt me and whom I have hurt in return, and if possible I will reach out in love toward those people whom I have hurt or who have hurt me. God, please fill me with the grace to set right my wrongs.
For Further Reflection: Catholicdoors.com has a meditation on the Our Father written by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Stephanie Nguyen lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Vince and six children, ranging in age from four to twenty-four. Stephanie holds a master’s degree in Theology from Newman University. She facilitates Bible study for women in her parish, and oversees a formation group at her children’s school for girls in kindergarten through third grade.