9th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings today focus on a topic of utmost importance for each one of us, namely: how do we get to Heaven?  In the first reading, Moses told the people of Israel that they had two options: Moses set before the people a blessing and a curse.  The people had to follow the commandments in order to receive the blessing.  The problem is that our human nature is fallen and inclined towards sin.  The entire Old Testament is the story of God again and again reaching out to His people after they have sinned and turned away from Him.

In the fullness of time, God sent His own Son in order to break us out of our fallen state.  Jesus Christ established the new and everlasting covenant in His own blood.  Saint Paul teaches us that all have sinned (we all fall short of the glory of God); we are justified (we are made right with God) through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the law.  What Saint Paul is saying is that there isn’t anything that we can do to save ourselves: we cannot earn eternal life.  Jesus Christ died in order to win eternal life for us: His death on the Cross opened the gates of Heaven and the life that He won, He offers to us as a free gift.  We cannot buy it: Christ purchased it for us with His blood on the Cross.  Jesus Christ saved us from sin and death: it is through Him and only through Him that we have access to the Father.  That is what Saint Paul means when he says that we are justified through faith apart from the law.  It is not enough to try to follow God’s law; we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

This truth has been taken by some to mean that we do not have to do anything but believe and then we can call ourselves good Christians; as if it is enough to say that we believe in Jesus and then we can live like pagans.  Today’s Gospel fills in the rest of the picture: not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of the Father.  The letter of Saint James tells us that faith without works is dead.

True faith, the kind of faith by which we are saved and have access to Heaven, is a faith that is lived out in day-to-day life.  Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”  What commandments did Jesus give?  Only two: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.  It is not enough to say that we believe in God, we have to put our faith into practice through love.  In another letter, Saint Paul says that even if we have faith that moves mountains, even if we sell everything we have and give all the money to the poor, even if we hand our bodies over to be burned, if we do it without love, there will be no benefit for us.  In order for us to be real Christians, we need the kind of faith that is put in to practice through charity.

How is this charity practically lived out?  It is important to remember that love is a choice, not a feeling.  We are commanded to love others; we are not commanded to necessarily like them.  Our Lord commands us to even love our enemies: that type of love is a choice, and it is not an easy choice.  When people hurt us, we still must love them.  Our Lord commanded us to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven.  True love forgives and does not bear grudges: true love excuses everything; true love bears everything.

True love does not envy others: Saint Thomas Aquinas said that to love another is to will the good for that person.  When we envy another we fail to will good for them: we want it for ourselves instead.  If we had true charity in our hearts, we would thank God for the good things that we have and we would rejoice in the good things that He has given to others as well.

True charity tries to see the best in others.  This does not mean ignoring sins that others commit.  All that I have said about charity does not mean that we cannot correct others: of course we must always do so in charity.  Charity does not mean that we cannot judge another’s actions.  Our Lord said that we can know a tree by its fruit.  We cannot, however, judge the heart of another.  God alone is the Judge: we are commanded to judge not, lest we be judged.

We ought not allow ourselves to be troubled by our neighbor’s defects and faults, rather we ought to have patience with others and remember that we, ourselves, are sinners who stand in need of God’s mercy.  The second commandment that Our Lord gives to us is that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  When we see defects and faults in our own behavior, we are much quicker to excuse ourselves or try to justify ourselves than when we see them in others.  In order to grow in love we should excuse our neighbors more.  When we fall into sin, we need to accuse ourselves in the Confessional in order that we might receive God’s mercy.  We cannot judge our neighbor’s heart; we ought to focus on removing sin from our own hearts before we worry about the sins of others.

Of course to live the love that Our Lord commands us to have for Him and for others is completely impossible to our fallen human nature.  We need God’s grace in order to live as He commands us to live.  Let us ask Our Lord to give us the graces that we need to love Him and our neighbors.  Lord, help us to love You above all things: help us to do all that we do out of love for You; help us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves out of love for You.  Amen.