One day, a priest, who was known for his long sermons, noticed a man get up in the middle of his homily and leave the church. Just before the end of the homily, the man returned. After Mass, the priest asked the man why he had left.
“I went to get a haircut,” said the man.
“Well why didn’t you do that before I started Mass?” the priest asked.
“Because,” the man said, “I didn’t need one then!”
Sometimes we can go overboard in life, even with good things!
This past week I went to bless a parishioner’s home. As per usual I brought along the holy water, the chalk and the incense. After the blessing, I noticed that the charcoal was still nice and hot. So just for good measure, I added some more incense.
As I walked through the door to leave, sure enough, the smoke alarm went off! And, as my luck would have it, the alarm was linked to the security system which then sent the alert to the fire station. So if you happen to live on McTavish Street, and noticed a fire truck there this week, now you know why: Father was just blessing homes!
Even when it comes to our faith, moderation is always a virtue. As someone once said, “God want spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”
Then there is always the other extreme of just squeaking by when it comes to our faith life. In his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly describes this as a philosophy of minimalism. The minimalist will always ask, “What is the least I can do...?” Kelly calls minimalism the “enemy of excellence and father of mediocrity.”
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), Jesus confronts this spirit of minimalism in a provocative manner.
“You have heard it said... ‘You shall not murder’...But I say to you that the one who is angry with their brother or sister will be liable to judgement.”
According to the law (the bare minimum that is required), “‘You shall not commit adultery’....But I say...that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“ ‘You shall not swear falsely’....But I say to you: Do not swear at all.”
Notice what Our Lord is doing here: He is issuing a challenge. Those who followed the law were good people. The Pharisees and scribes were called righteous because they followed the law.
However, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, following the moral law is the bare minimum. Follow the law and you will be good. However, being a Christian is not about being good, but about always striving to be better! It is about committing ourselves to growing in holiness and virtue through the grace of God.
What does this mean for us as individuals? It means that basic pillars of Catholic life, like the Ten Commandments, and the Precepts of the Church are only starting points for us. They help form the foundation on which our spiritual life is built. We are called to go beyond the minimums of Christian life.
What does this mean for our parish? It means that we are a people with a mission. Even our church building, with all the heroic sacrifice and devotion that went into building it, exists for this reason, so that we might carry out our mission “to evangelize... to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 14). Our minimum responsibility is to maintain this building structurally. Yet, once again, we are called to do so much more.
A chicken and a pig were discussing the problem of world hunger, trying to figure out a practical solution. Finally, the chicken came up with an idea.
“Pig,” he said, “I have figured out a way to help solve the problem of hunger in the world. You and I will make sure that everyone has bacon and eggs to eat. How’s that for a contribution?”
The pig said to the chicken, “For you, that’s a contribution; for me, it means giving my all!”
Being Christian is about striving higher with the help of God’s grace, embracing the call to heroic virtue, and seeking the Lord with all our hearts (Psalm 119).