My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
In this week’s Epistle and Gospel we have lessons which serve us in two ways. Firstly, they serve as direct instruction – or even as reminders, since we will have encountered before the information which we are given; but secondly they serve as challenges to us. So we have: instructional reminder and challenge. You can ask for a more practical way in which to learn anything, and as we prepare ourselves during this time of the Nativity Fast, we have this precious opportunity to receive such practical lessons in just how we are to live the Christian life. In the Epistle, we have the instructional reminder of the virtues which we are to cultivate, and the challenge of living them courageously. In the Gospel, we have the instructional reminder of the commandments of God, and the challenge of giving all to follow Christ. Instruction and challenge.
So let us take a look first at today’s Epistle, and let’s see what Saint Paul is saying to the Colossians, and through him what the Church is saying to us, her children.
Saint Paul begins, “Brethren: Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also.”
“The bowels of mercy,” and the rest, Saint Paul tell us. The “bowels” of mercy. That’s a thoroughly odd and, frankly, if I may say so, unappealing way to say something. “Bowels of mercy.” Seems very unappealing, doesn’t it?
Well, not really. Not really, and I’ll tell you why.
Though we wouldn’t be all that quick to use the word “bowel,” as it is here, we can easily understand what Saint Paul means. He means “guts,” “intestinal fortitude,” as it were. And even though even these phrases may seem a bit coarse, they nevertheless fit very well what Saint Paul is telling us.
He is telling us on the one hand that we are to make these virtues, that is, mercy, and benignity, humility and all the rest, we are to make these virtues so deeply rooted within us that they become second nature to us, that is, that they become our “gut feelings.”
And secondly, he is telling us that in the exercise of these virtues that we are to be courageous, we are to be steadfast, to be “gutsy,” as it were.
So we have mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience, bearing with each other, forgiving each other… We have to feel these things in the very centre of our being, have to feel them with a frankness, and a toughness and a resolve. Like something that gets you in the very pit of your stomach, that’s what Saint Paul’s talking about here. Feeling them, clinging to the virtues so strongly that you feel it in the very centre of your being.
And how many of us can say that? How many of us can say that we feel so strongly about forgiving one another that it just gets us? That it gets us right in the middle of our being? How many of us can say that?
How many of us can say that we have that much resolve and we have that much courage to be kind to one another?
How many of us can say that in the face of any hardship, that our gut reaction is to be humble?
How many of us can say that we have an overriding, courageous urge to be modest? For that matter, how many of us are so courageous – how many of us have such interior fortitude – as to be patient?
That’s the way we’re supposed to be. That is the way we are supposed to feel. That is the way we are supposed to act. That is the way we are supposed to live and to be. We must put on the bowels of mercy, of benignity, humility, modesty, patience…
And what’s lacking to us? Why do we fail so often in acquiring such an unshakeable virtue and resolve in our lives?
Charity is what is lacking. Charity, which is the supernatural love of God. The supernatural love of God. That is charity. And Saint Paul says, “But above all these things” – above all these virtues he just enumerated – “above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection.” The bond of perfection, that is it ties all the rest of these things up together and makes them into one, makes them as it were, one cohesive collection of virtues.
Saint Paul continues: “Let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful.” And how many times have we heard that lesson recently? Thankfulness. The necessity for being thankful.
And thus we see the necessity of the supernatural love of God – of charity – and the necessity of the “action of grace,” which is thanksgiving, if we are truly to put on the bowels of these virtues, if we are truly to make them the very center of our being. If we are truly to be what we are called to be: that is, merciful, kind, humble, modest, patient, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, then we must also be loving and thankful. Loving God and rendering thanks to God in all things, this is what binds up and enlivens all the other virtues, this is what allows us to live as we ought to live. And this is our challenge from today’s Epistle.
And that leads us into today’s Gospel, where our Lord enumerates the commandments. Now the commandments, these are things that we know. And though we know them, it is good for us to be reminded. So let us take a quick look at the Gospel lesson lest a few things go by that we don’t mention.
We see in today’s Gospel that “A certain man came unto Jesus, tempting Him and said: Good master, what shall I do to possess everlasting life? And Jesus said to him: Why dost thou call Me good? None is good but God alone.”
Now, just very briefly, it must be mentioned that this is not our Lord denying His Divinty. Rather, he asks “Why dost thou call Me good?” And He asks this of those who might deny His divinity. For, as the fathers assure us, the young man in today’s Gospel coming up to our Lord, calls Him “Good master,” and he uses these words as a form of flattery.
Our Lord is not one to be flattered. Our Lord is not simply a good teacher, a good master with good ideas. He is not simply a moral teacher or simply a prophet. Only those who acknowledge our Lord as the Son of God – and God the Son – can truly see His goodness, for we are also able to truly to see wihtin Him His divinity. And thus we do call Him “Good,” as we do in the liturgy of the Church.
And in answering the young man’s question, our Lord enumerates the commandments. He says, “Thou shalt not kill: Thou shalt not commit adultery: Thou shalt not steal: Thou shalt not bear false witness: Honour thy father and mother.” And the young man says either truthfully or untruthfully, that he has kept them from his youth. He has kept all of these commandments. And our Lord does not dispute him on this point, for this was not our Lord’s lesson that He was seeking to teach. What follows is the lesson – and it’s also our challenge.
For our Lord says, “one thing is wanting to thee: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. He having heard these things, became sorrowful; for he was very rich.”
And at first sight, we might be tempted to think that we ourselves are not called to the same thing. For – while we live in these times which are more materially blessed than perhaps any other period in history – I’d say that there are very, very few of us who would consider ourselves at first thought to be “very rich.” I don’t think there’s a one of us who has money to burn, so to speak.
But nevertheless Our Lord does still speak to us. He speaks to you and to me in what He says today. For we are, in fact, rich. Every one of us. Our Lord speaks not only of money or material goods, but He also speaks of those goods which are immaterial.
And what are we rich in? What is precious to us? Very often we hear the phrase that “time is money.” And even if we do not have money, our time is worth something. Well, then for the sake of the heavenly kingdom, let us give up our time so that those who need it may have it.
Are you a parent of children? Your time is precious to your children. Your children are in need, give it to the poor – your children. And in so doing, you are doing a good and holy work. You are laying up treasure in heaven simply by giving your children your time.
What is our treasure? Our talents. Our talents in so many different areas. Our abilities. Our education. Let us then use these things – not for their own sakes, or simply to use them to make money, but let us use them, using all of our riches, all the things that we have, our talents, our treasures, all of those things that we can do, that we might otherwise hold back. For there are many things with which God has blessed us: our talents, our time, our abilities, our education… even our very being. These are our riches. These are the things that can benefit those in need, because sometimes that is all that someone needs: simply someone to sit by them in time of need. To be with them. So even our very being is one of the great riches with which we have been endowed by God.
“He having heard these things, became sorrowful; for he was very rich. And Jesus seeing him become sorrowful, said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
If we selfishly hold on to any of these things, to any of the great treasure – whether they be material or immaterial – that God has given us; if we hoard them up unto themselves and we do not work in them, so that those who stand in need may benefit from them… then, my dear friends, it shall be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for us to enter into the kingdom of God.
“And they that heard it, said: Who then can be saved? He said to them: The things that are impossible with men, are possible with God.”
Each and every one of us in many ways have been greatly blessed. We truly are rich, and it is only by the grace of God and the working of virtue within us, bound up by charity – the bond of perfection – which is infused in us by sanctifying grace, it is only then that we who are rich can truly lay up treasure in heaven in giving all things up unto God. So that those that stand in need of those things and those talents, and those abilities, and our presence, that they may benefit from them. And then we will find the impossible made possible by the grace of God.
So that’s our lesson this week, my dear friends. Very, very simple. Let us be ready to give up all we have for the sake of the kingdom. The only way we can do that in truth is to have charity within us binding up all of the great virtues, and the only way we have that is by the grace communicated by the Holy Mysteries of the Church into an open and receptive heart.
And that is our lesson for this week. Let us take it. Let us live it. And let us let the peace of Christ rejoice within us, as Saint Paul says, singing in grace in our hearts unto God.