JUNE 21, 2006, WEDNESDAY, 11th WEEK: HOMILY- 2K 2:1,6-14; MT 6: 1-6,16-18
BE ON GUARD AGAINST PERFORMING RELIGIOUS ACTS FOR PEOPLE TO SEE. Our Lord felt an abhorrence for hypocrisy which he encountered and was forced to deal with in the course of his mission. Clearly his own ways were so opposed to such behavior that he felt the need to warn his own followers against anything resembling hypocritical behavior; on occasion he very severely rebuked those in office who were guilty of imposing burdens they themselves refused to carry. He designated such ways as hypocrisy. His own way of life was quite the opposite; he came ‘to serve, not to be served’, to carry our burdens, to lay on us a ‘yoke that is sweet and a burden that is light.’ He not only carried our burdens, he willingly suffered for our offences as Isaiah had predicted: "He was pierced for our faults, crushed for our sins; on him was the chastisement that brings us peace. By his stripes we are healed." (Is 53:5)
Not surprisingly, then, our Lord taught his followers rather to bring the dispositions of their inmost heart into harmony with their way of life and to form those dispositions according to the words given him by his Father. In this same long address called the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew presents the Beatitudes, that are a concise summary of the values Jesus stands for. He both preached them and showed how to live them out. Poverty of spirit, not pride or avarice, meekness, not harsh ways or angry displays, purity of heart, not selfishness or manipulating others for our own benefit- these are the values that he imparts to his true followers.
But there is a hidden, unexpressed message in these words of Jesus that is a condition for fulfilling the directives contained in this instruction. Rightly to carry out this way of life, a manner of living that engages our inner self before God and man, we must learn to unite the various, conflicting tendencies of our complex nature. We can achieve this single-heartedness only by a deliberate and persevering attentiveness. The hypocrisy Jesus inveighs against here arises quite naturally in all of us unless we guard our heart. ‘Do not be hypocritical’ as used by our Lord is a phrase that in modern usage translates as "do not take the easy way", avoid just "fitting in", stop living on the surface, do not settle for getting by, being content to make a good impression; why rock the boat or blow the whistle? In short, what our Lord teaches here is that we are to take pains to live from the heart, and that entails cultivating our own gifts and potential even when it sets us off from others, as invariably happens if we are true to our own best insights and most personal values.
Such singleness of heart is the fruit of an interior labor over an extended period of time; indeed, it is life-long. St. Francis de Sales, a highly cultivated man of high intelligence, observed that it requires watchfulness until death, in fact. This effort, the early monks taught, is the true work of monk; it is the work of the heart. To enter the deep, hidden recesses of the heart, to abide there so that our thoughts, our actions, our encounters with others come from the heart, the place where we are most our self- this is our Lord’s message. Our restless reaching out for a satisfaction that sooner or later eludes our grasp can be redirected to the one source of fulfillment only from this mysterious fine point that constantly flows up from the depths of our being, where God sustains us in the stream of life. This is the challenge posed to each of us and every day; to return to the heart. To live at the center where our goals, our desires, our aspirations for the complete life that unifies all that we are in a single movement that flows into all we do and say- this is the message that Jesus everywhere is preaching. He summed it up in his first great sermon, spoken on the mountain side in Galilee: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. At the end they shall see him face to face, in glory; even now; by living in the heart, watching lest we drift to the surface and drift with the flow, we are invited to behold with the eyes of the spirit something of the light that he reveals to those who seek him in pure prayer, the prayer of the heart.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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