Sixth Sunday and the Keeping of the Law

If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20).

In the Gospel of St. Matthew Our Lord is presented as the new Moses or lawgiver who explains the precepts of the Old Law in greater fullness and detail and who brings it to perfection. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill’ (Mt. 5:17). Hence, Our Lord introduces the fuller meaning of the Law with this familiar phrase: ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times….But I say to you’. Beyond any doubt Our Lord calls us to go beyond the minimal observance of the Law to an appreciation not only of the deeper meaning of a given precept but more importantly, to an appreciation of the mind of the lawgiver – the mind of God Himself.

Observance of the law is not beyond our capacity or ability because God does not command the impossible. We are reminded in our first reading in very simple terms: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20). Leo Cardinal Burke, one of the greatest churchmen of our day, has rightly observed that our times may be rightly described as antinomian. This word is derived from a Greek word meaning lawless. This week we have seen evidence of this antinomianism in the blockades set up across our country by people masquerading as the voice of Canada’s First Nations. Activists (whatever that may mean) are grinding our country to a halt and it seems that there is no will to enforce the law. Laws and by extension, morals enable communities to flourish by removing the disruption of antisocial behaviour.

The Commandments of God are not oppressive and burdensome; they are liberating and essential to the establishment of a free and virtuous society. We cannot ignore them or minimize their importance without suffering the consequences of lawlessness. How can anything but chaos result from this? We must humbly heed the words of Sacred Scripture: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20).

To those who believed in Him, Our Lord said plainly: If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (Jn. 8:32). Our Lord invites us to perceive the truth of the Law; and so we make our very own the words of the Psalmist: Open my eyes, so that I may behold the wondrous things out of your law…Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart (Ps. 119). These are the sentiments of a son or a daughter who desires to understand, not to oppose; of children who are grateful for the concern of a loving Father, not resentful of His authority. This is the mature attitude that we must bring to our own personal efforts to observe the demands of God’s Law. I think it is fair to say that given the times there is hardly a family that has remained unaffected by the moral confusion of our times. In some cases we have received contradictory counsel and we are rightly confused. Therefore, we must be on our guard against those who hold the form of religion but deny the power of it (Cf. 2 Tim. 3:5); and we must endeavour to make our own, to appropriate God’s wisdom, which is best understood as the coupling of truth and love. Hence, St. Paul exhorts us: Among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age…But we speak God’s wisdom…which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Cor. 2:6-7).

To appropriate God’s wisdom is not always an easy thing and sometimes we fail and fall, but His eyes are on those who fear Him (Sir. 15:19); and so we are confident in the help of His grace. We may be afflicted, but we are not crushed; perplexed but not given to despair (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Perhaps there was a time in our own lives when we rebelled against the demands of God’s law or found it very burdensome; yet out of the experience of the desolation and misery that inevitably result from losing our way, we returned to the practice of our faith and made our very own the words of the St. Peter the Apostle: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68). In the journey of faith, whether we were baptized as infants or as adults, a time comes, a moment of truth of sorts that engages us and transforms us, matures us; and we understand that our all our efforts must be directed to actually being who we are – disciples of Jesus Christ. When this happens and we continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s law and its saving wisdom, we recognize how essential it is for us to know and to cherish the moral truths of our faith.

In what is effectively his autobiography, the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the great English Cardinal, St. John Henry Newman, vividly describes his own moment of truth when he came to the realisation that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of God; and he observed that the drama of religion, and the combat of truth and error were ever one and the same (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Image Books, p.217). The ascendancy of error in this combat – whether the battle is waged within the intimacy of our own personal life or in the public square where today political leaders and legislators seek to further and impose abominations and crimes as a moral good – always results is moral chaos and the disruption of antisocial behaviour. May our sincere efforts to be faithful to God’s commandments be a mitigating force in this combat enabling us to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). In His mercy may our Heavenly Father hasten the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart and the restoration of Christian order to our nation.