Monday, 24 February 2014

Sexagesima, Grace and Purgatory

Sexagesima                                                                   STM, Toronto – Feb. 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1–2, 17–18
Psalm 103:1–4, 8, 10, 12–13
1 Corinthians 3:16–23
Matthew 5:38–48
The Gospel and the other readings today and last week echo God’s call to salvation but also our call to holiness. In the First Reading the Lord speaks to Moses about how we are called away from hate and vengeance to the love of neighbour as self.  Even beyond this in the Gospel Jesus says that we are called to love even our enemies and to be perfect even as God is perfect - Many would close the matter there, saying this is just impossible.
How can even consider being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Jesus explains that we make a start by realizing that we are given grace to be imitators of God as his beloved children (Eph. 5:1–2).  This grace begins the process of sanctification but does not come to an end even after our life on earth.
It is God’s love which refines us throughout our lives and the Church teaches us that after death the same grace continues to refine us in the purifying light of Purgatory to prepare us, perfect us, for the vision of God in eternity.
If you are like me you are thankful for this purifying light as we realize how far we are from perfection and how much in need of grace. It is indeed Good News that it is only God’s grace, love and mercy which can perfect us since we do not have the power on our own. However, we must ask for this grace and be open to receive it . . . even when it hurts.
One of the greatest counsels of perfection comes in today’s Gospel which calls us to love and pray even for those who wish us evil or do us ill. That is when this business of grace often begins to hurt. Praying for and trying to love those who hate us or despitefully use us is one of the most difficult things in the world to contemplate much less to accomplish.
Jesus insists that we are to pray for our enemies in sincerity with the knowledge that no matter how much trouble we have with them, they are loved by God and God is seeking to purify them as well.
Only God can give us the grace to love like this without limit—with a love that does not distinguish between friend and foe, overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
Jesus himself, in his Passion and death, gave us the perfect example of the love that we are called to – no matter how far we may be from it. 
Jesus offered no resistance to the evil—even though he could have commanded legions of angels to fight alongside him. He offered his face to be struck and spit upon. He allowed his garments to be stripped from him. He marched as his enemies compelled him to the Place of the Skull. On the cross he prayed for those who persecuted him (Luke 23:34).
Golgotha - The place of the skull
Jesus showed himself to be the perfect Son of God. By our imitation of him, however small it may be, we are given increasing grace to imitate him more and so we become what we have been created to be – the children of the Father, the eternal Father, the Father whom we share with Jesus and whose face, the beatific vision, is the goal of all humanity.  It is to this vision we aspire and to which we are led when we are finally purified by the divine light of God the Holy Trinity.
We are encouraged by the Psalm today which acknowledges that God does not deal with us as we deserve. God loves us with a Father’s love and saves us from sin and death. God forgives our transgressions and shows us the example of forgiveness which we are called to afford others: “Forgive us our trespasses . . . “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Forgive us as we forgive, not more, not less.
God has loved us even when we have made ourselves his enemies through our sinfulness. St Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (see Rom. 5:8).
We have been bought with the price of the blood of God’s only Son (see 1 Cor. 6:20). We belong to Christ now, as St. Paul says in this week’s Epistle. By our baptism, we have been made temples of his Holy Spirit.

And we have been saved to share in his holiness and perfection. So let us glorify him by our lives lived in his worship and service, and by seeking the grace to love others as he loves us – even when it hurts.

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