Doing It Out Of Love -Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily August 29, 2021

“For the Jews the Mosaic Law was at the heart of their religious life. What was the Mosaic Law? It was the Ten Commandments, but a lot more, a lot of other laws that governed not only how they worshiped, but really how they went about their daily lives just a lot of common things like eating and cleaning and moving around from place to place encountering other people. Moses tells them, ‘Hear these statutes and decrees so that you may live and so that the observance of them will be evidence to the nations of your wisdom and intelligence.’ In other words the Mosaic Law was intended to have God’s chosen people, the Jews, live differently than the rest of the world, live differently than the pagan people around them. Why? So that they could be witnesses, so they could prepare the world for what was coming. They were meant to be a sign. They were meant to be an instrument of God to open the hearts of the world to the one true God and God wanted them to act differently. Now there’s some common misconceptions about the Mosaic Law. Some think that the Mosaic Law applied to everybody in the world before Jesus. I don’t think so. I think it just applied to the Jews, to the Chosen People for precisely the reasons that Moses just said. Gentiles were not under the whole of the Mosaic Law. The other misconception is that nothing of the Mosaic Law, nothing at all applies to us as Christians. We don’t follow the Mosaic Law. Well that’s true. We don’t per se. We follow the Law of Christ, but we follow some common elements. The natural law, the things that we can know by reason that don’t necessarily require divine revelation, things like murder is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. You don’t need revelation to figure that out. Common sense, reason can show you how that is not good for individuals or societies. We know that such things are wrong just because of the natural law. The Ten Commandments reflect many of those natural law precepts. They’re knowable by reason, so Christians are bound to part of the Mosaic law namely the Ten Commandments.

Now Christ also taught other things and he established a church to teach in his name. He gave us other norms to follow such as the command to baptize,  ‘Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them.’ to teach, to forgive sins in His name and most importantly the command to love and how are we to love? We are to love one another as HE loved us. We’re to love others in imitation of the cross. All of these are commands in a sense, are laws. He tells us that all the law and the prophets are summed up in the law of love to love God with your whole heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. He said all the law and the prophets kind of coalesce in that law of love. 

Now in the Gospel today, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for paying more attention to human traditions and customs than to God’s commands. Now many people misinterpret this. They think Jesus is condemning human tradition. He is not. There’s nothing wrong with human tradition per se especially if human tradition helps you do good if human tradition helps progress you in some way, but what he’s condemning is putting human tradition above God’s law or honoring human tradition over and eclipsing the intent of God’s law, the spirit of the law. He doesn’t want that to happen. Jesus’ focus is really on the heart. He wants to see a change of heart. He spoke elsewhere in the Gospel about being genuine about not being whitewashed tombs. In other words, not looking like something on the outside, be concerned about the exterior, about how we look while there’s nothing done on the inside. TWhile the inside is filth. Be on this inside what you want to project on the outside. Be genuine. Don’t be concerned about having all the external practices in place if you haven’t worked or don’t care about a change of heart. As a matter of fact, all of those external practices both back then and even now they’re intended, our pious prayers, our religious gestures, they’re all meant to be tools to bring about a change of heart. Change my heart O God. That’s what Jesus wants. That’s why he wants us to enter into relationship because that’s how hearts are changed. He is concerned with our hearts. He says, ‘It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him.’ It’s not what you eat. It’s not saying you can’t eat this food or that food. It’s what comes out. It’s what we contrive and nurture in our hearts. He say, ‘Evil thoughts, unchastity, adultery, greed,’ all those things, that long list he said, ‘that’s what defiles.’ he says. He says, ‘All these evils come from within and they defile.’ he says. 

Now in the letter of St. James, the second reading he says, ‘Humbly welcome the word that is planted in you.’ What is that word? Well it’s the truth of God that is revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the divine word, the word made flesh, the truth of God, the word that reveals to us God’s love. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son. It’s the word that reveals God’s plan for us. God wills all to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. He wants to share His divine life. He wants us to participate in the life of the Triune God. The word that reveals the way to that eternal life and that way is Jesus, the word that shows us the help that God provides through His Church, the sacraments and the scriptures, all these tools to help us open our heart ever more to that word. He said, ‘Humbly welcome this word, this truth,’ you might call it the law of Christ ‘because it is able to save your souls.’ St. James says and then he says, ‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only diluting yourself.’ In other words, practice what you’ve been taught. Live the faith you profess you hold. Don’t be hypocrites like the Pharisees concerned with just how things look, but be concerned with having a genuine change of heart. Then James goes on to say, ‘pure and undefiled religion is religion that changes your heart that causes you to be a doer of the Word not merely a hearer, to live differently from the unbelieving world and let your actions reflect Christ’s love, things like care of orphans and widows that actually translates into actions.’ That’s James’ point.

Now another big difference between the Mosaic Law, the Old Testament Law and the Law of Christ is grace. What is grace? It’s the power of God’s love and life at work within us. We first received it on the day of our baptism. We’re no longer under the Mosaic Law as I just pointed out how we failed over and over, but now we live under grace, under divine help. The power of Christ at work in us as long as we open our heart to it. St. Paul was able to say, ‘It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ GAL 2:20. If you just look at your life on a more secular level. You can try to follow a bunch of rules right? How good are you at that? Some better than others, but sooner or later you get tired of following rules. Sooner or later you’re going to break those rules. How many of you have never gone over the speed limit? Rules serve a purpose, but they aren’t going to be that powerful in managing your behavior, but what does change us, what causes us to make drastic changes in our priorities is when we fall in love and we wanna now change our behavior so that we can please or not hurt or somehow better serve the one we love. That’s a big difference between the Mosaic Law and the Law of Christ. The Law of Love is what should guard our hearts. There’s a whole motivation difference when you’re doing something just because it’s a rule vs. when you’re doing it out of love.

When this whole COVID thing started and the Bishop lifted the obligation I know he hated that word obligation  because it sounds so legalistic, ‘the Sunday obligation.’ We shouldn’t come to Mass on Sunday just because we’re obliged to. Love should bring us here, love of Christ and sooner or later if we’re just fulfilling an obligation many of us will fall away, but if it’s love that brings us here, if we show up here because we wanna honor and serve the one we’ve come to love we’re gonna have to be on our deathbed not to be here. We’re gonna try to be here no matter what because we’re motivated by love not by law. To make a statement like St. Paul, ‘It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.’ that requires a change of heart. You’ve gotta have a change of heart. All we do in our religion, our prayers, our pious practices, our liturgy, our ritual, our sacraments, they’re means. They’re never ends in themselves. They’re means, they’re tools to help us change our hearts to open or soften a hardened heart, to give us an opportunity to encounter a truth, to encounter God’s love and mercy, to encounter his beauty and his goodness, never ends in themselves, but God given means that turn us more and more to Jesus the way the truth and the life. He is that divine word that St. James is talking about in his letter. ‘Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.’ My friends, Jesus wants your heart. Let the word, the word that you encounter every time you come to Mas, that word is Jesus Christ, let him change your hearts and if you let him do that, indeed, you will not be a mere hearer of the word, but you will be a doer of the word as well.”