23 February 2020

Be perfect. . .follow Christ!

Audio File

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Anthony/OLR, NOLA

It seems an impossible task: to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Not only does this task seem impossible in practice, but it's not entirely clear what the task actually is or how we are to achieve it. The Lord tells Moses to give His people this message: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” Is the Father's perfection also His holiness? Yes, if by holiness we mean “set-apartness,” “totally other than.” We say that God is both imminent in His creation and wholly transcendent of it. Both in and totally beyond all that He has created and holds in being. If we are to be perfect/holy as the Father is perfect/holy, then we too must be in the world and totally beyond it. We live and move and have our being in God. That's how we transcend the world. We also live and move and have our being in the world. And this is where things get complicated. As followers of Christ, we are given the mission of living in the world and at the same time not being ruled by the world. Our king, our ruler is Christ. Our kingdom, our citizenship is in heaven. So, how do we become perfect as the Father is perfect? 
St. Paul gives us some direction. He writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This sounds familiar. It should. We've heard it all our lives. But in Paul's day, it was a radical claim. Temples were large, stone structures that housed the gods. Prayer, music, sacrifice would bring the spirit of the gods into the building to receive their followers' worship. Even the Jews had a temple where the spirit of the Lord would descend once a year to commune with the High Priest. For Paul to teach that every baptized person is a living, breathing temple capable of housing the spirit of the Lord – that is outrageous! That would mean that every baptized person is a priest capable of offering sacrifice! That they are all empowered to commune directly with God! That they can intercede for one another! That each and every baptized person is established as a holy site, a place of encounter with the divine. And all of this is true. You and I are living, breathing temples of the Holy Spirit; living, breathing tabernacles of the Body and Blood of Christ, sent out into the world to bear witness to the Father's freely given mercy to sinners. To be perfect as the Father is perfect is to be Christ for others in the world.

So, what does this look like in practice? Again, Paul has part of the answer. He writes, “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.” The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. God's wisdom comes with being set apart from the world. Not necessarily in a cave or a monastery or mountain cabin. Our set-apartness must exist in the world. Jesus challenges us to go beyond the Law to the foundations of the Law and take a radical step into sacrificial love. You love those who love you. So what? Even the pagans do that! Instead, love your enemies. You pray for your family members and friends. So what? Even the pagans do that! Instead, pray for those who persecute you. To be set apart from the world we cannot allow the world to rule our hearts and minds. How the pagans choose to think, feel, and act is their business and none of ours. They may hate their brothers and sisters. Seek revenge. Cherish grudges. Refuse help to the poor and sick. Worship whatever gods make them feel good. Christ fulfills the Law by revealing its soul, and its soul of the Law is love. We begin in holiness by setting ourselves apart in Christ, by consecrating ourselves in his sacrifice. We cannot achieve the holiness God wants for us by imitating the fads and fashions of our pagan neighbors.
As we rapidly approach Lent, it seems fitting to repeat Paul's warning to the corrupt church in Corinth: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” Take that warning with this assurance: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Christ fulfilled the Law by revealing the soul of the Law: divine love. He shows us the power of sacrificial love from the Cross, defeating sin and death by rising from the tomb, and bringing us all to the way of perfection. You are a living temple of the living God and your run toward holiness begins by following Christ. Not the dominant culture. Not your pagan neighbors. Not a political party. But Christ. Follow Christ. And become a living, breathing temple of the Holy Spirit, a fool in the eyes of the world.

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