The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Homily: Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Readings: Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147; Mt 5:17-19

I remember the first time one of my children openly disagreed with me. Trust me, it came as a shock.

It was our elder daughter, and I think she was probably 11 or 12 at the time, perhaps even younger. I had pontificated about something at the dinner table, not expecting anything but full agreement, when she said, “No, Dad, I think you’re wrong about that.” The shock was so great I can’t even recall the subject of our disagreement. I remember thinking only, “Our family life is about to undergo a radical change. These children of ours are more than little clones. They’re actually beginning to think for themselves.”

Of course, the four of them had no doubt been thinking for themselves and disagreeing with me for years, but had wisely chosen to remain silent. I also realized that in the future I’d have to give a little thought to what I intended to say or I’d end up having to defend my every utterance.

Naturally, I didn’t change at all. I still pontificated at the dinner table, saying whatever entered my mind. In truth I expected agreement and obedience without having to teach. And as you might expect, our children grew ever bolder in challenging me. This all came to mind thanks to today’s readings.

In Deuteronomy Moses tells God’s People:
“…take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children” [Dt 4:9].
Then we hear Jesus in the Gospel:
“…whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” [Mt 5:19]
In Moses and Jesus, the Old and New Testaments come together, one pointing to the other, one fulfilling the other – and yet both offering the same Word of God.

Moses pleads with us: Don’t forget. Teach them to your children and your children’s children.

And Jesus demands of us: Obey and teach these commandments.

I’m sure you noticed one of the themes common to both: the call to teach. Yes, both call us to teach, and I wonder to myself…

How well did I teach my children? Did I simply tell them what to think, what to believe, how to act…? Or did I really teach? Did I let them question and probe? Did I help guide them to the truth? Or did I simply tell them and expect unquestioning obedience?

To teach well is hard work because it demands that we place another, the one being taught, above ourselves. It demands humility. And when it comes to teaching the Word of God, the best teacher is the one who lives the Word of God.

This leads us to the second common theme found in our two readings. Both Moses and Jesus also call us to obey. But notice they don’t tell us to extract obedience from others. They don’t tell us to force our children to obey the commandments. No, Moses and Jesus both tell us, the teachers, to do the obeying. For we teach best by how we live. We teach best by our own obedience.

To teach another well, to teach as Jesus taught, means taking the commandments to heart. It means loving our God with all that we have and are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Benedict XVI, preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, once said:
“Struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbor, heedless of any question or danger. The burden of the question thus shifts here. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me ‘as myself.’”

Here, too, we encounter the attitude of the true Christian teacher.

Here we find the attitude of the good parent and grandparent.

Here we find the one who is able to love the other as he loves himself

Here we find the one who can lift the other, the one who can bring the other closer to God.

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