This Sunday, the seventh in Ordinary Time, is the final Sunday before we begin our preparations for Easter by our journey through the Season of Lent. It is a happy coincidence that the scriptures place before us the message of charity for our neighbor and love for one another as a means to imitate Christ and, in so doing, bring us closer to the love of the Father.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Leviticus 19:1-2. 17-18. Today, we hear one of the rules of conduct which are set out in chapter 19; that of love of neighbor. Other rules included reverence for parents, observance of the Sabbath, avoidance of idolatry, upon harvesting leaving some of the grain in the fields for the poor, and the practice of justice and charity in social dealings.
The second reading is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 3:16-23. As we work our way through the first part of 1st Corinthians, last week we heard Saint Paul tell of the true wisdom of God. This week he again addresses the divisions in the people of God and reminds the Corinthians (and us) who we really belong to.
The Gospel is taken from St. Matthew (5:38-48). The lesson we have to learn from today's gospel hardly needs any emphasis. We must, if we are truly Christian, forgive those who offend or injure us. We must love all men, whether they be friends or enemies. G. K. Chesterton says: "We are commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies; they are generally the same people." This is very true for all of us. It is very easy for me to love (in a theoretical way) all Japanese, Chinese, Russians and most Europeans–they never come in contact with me and never tread on my corns. But it is my neighbors, those among whom I live and work, who are liable to injure me and thus become my enemies.
Charity begins at home because it is here that it can and should be learned and practiced. It is first and foremost necessary for Christian peace in the home. The husband and wife must learn to understand and tolerate each other's imperfections and faults. If one offends in what the other would regard as something serious, the offended one should not demand an apology but should show forgiveness before the other has humbly to apologize. No two persons in the world, not even identical twins, can agree on all things, so it is vain and unrealistic to expect even one's married partner to agree with one in all points. Christian charity alone can cover the multitude of faults of both partners.
If there are peace and harmony between husband and wife, as there will be if both are truly charitable, the children will learn too to be understanding and forgiving. Such a home will be a truly happy home even if it has little of the world's riches.
Our charity must spread from the home to our neighbors–to all those with whom we have contact. It is easy to get on with most people, but in every neighborhood and in every village or town there will always be those who are difficult. There will be the dishonest, the tale-bearers, the quarrelsome, the critic of everyone and everything. It is when we have dealings with such people that all our Christian charity is necessary. Most likely we will never be able to change their ways of acting, but charity will enable us to tolerate their faults and will move us to pray for their eternal welfare.
Try the sunny smile of true love, the kindly word of Christian encouragement, the helping hand of true charity, and not only will you brighten the darkness and lighten the load of your brother but you will be imitating in your own small way the perfect Father of love who is in heaven.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you.