9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
March 6th, 2011
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
When a professor is teaching a class, it happens on occasion that the students may not be paying attention. There is, I am told, one thing which the teacher can do, one thing which works for students from around the 5th grade all the way up through to graduate school – the teacher or professor can regain the students’ attention by saying these simple words, “This will be on the exam.”
All of a sudden, the students perk up and are paying attention. They are taking notes and even checking with their classmates to make sure that they didn’t miss anything. I teach the 7th and 8th graders at our Catholic grade school, and I have never had to threaten with an exam yet – but, I hear it is something worth considering…
On a much more profound level, something like this occurs in today’s Gospel. Christ our Savior has come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the longest and most complete discourse on Christian morality; and he wants to make sure that we are all paying attention. For this reason he tells us, “This will be on the exam, this makes a difference for the final judgment.”
The Good Lord directs our hearts and minds to the final days, to judgment, to Heaven and Hell. “On that day,” he says, many will come and will cry out; but I will reject them, for they did not follow my commands. The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are necessary for our salvation.
Perhaps we are a bit afraid when we think of the final judgment and the second coming of our Savior. Indeed, there is something terrifying and great about the end of time – for on that day, each of us will answer for our doings, whether good or evil. Moreover, we recall that Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit – it is the beginning of wisdom. It is good to fear the Lord.
However, the fear that we have ought not to be the fear of a slave, terrified that his master will beat him. Nor, less, should it be the fear of a dog, expecting punishment from his owner. No, rather the fear we have is the fear of a child who wants only to please his father.
We fear lest we should disappoint the God who has so loved us. Recognizing the goodness and the love of God, we fear lest we may separate ourselves from that Love through sin. We fear lest we should be separated from him who has so loved us.
Christ’s words are challenging, and perhaps even a little bit scary; but remember that the Good Jesus only wants you to be happy! That is what this is all about: Beatitude, eternal happiness, and joy even in this life. Thus, even the challenging teachings of the Sermon on the Mount – that we must love our enemies, that we must not have lust or anger in our hearts, that we must be free from attachment to worldly possessions since we cannot serve God and mammon – even these challenging teachings have been given for our benefit. Christ challenges us because he wants us to be happy with him, both here on earth and forever in heaven.
It is for this reason that the Good Lord tells us to build our house on solid rock, not on sand. The house is the soul, and the rock is Christ, but the sand is the passing delights of the flesh. We build our house by seeking after either the delights of heaven or the momentary gratifications of earth. We build our house by either following the commands of Jesus, or ignoring our Lord’s words and seeking pleasure.
If we seek our consolation and delight in the things of earth, these things which are passing away, we build our house on sand. And it is fitting that we compare this to building on sand; for just as sand passes through the grip of the fingers, so too the pleasures of this life pass away swiftly and are gone. If we think rarely of heaven, if we focus all our energy on the duties and demands of this life, we are fools who build on sand – our house will not stand long.
How then do we build our house on solid rock? How do we found our soul upon Christ?
This is to find joy and consolation in the Lord and in the hope of heaven. Next week, we begin the season of Lent, a time to re-found ourselves on Christ as our true rock. We build our house upon Christ through these three Lenten practices: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All three are necessary, together they will give us supernatural joy in this life, and eternal happiness in the life to come.
First, we consider prayer. Lent is a time of prayer, focusing on the things of heaven. Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Then ask the Lord for this grace! Every day, ask the Lord to bring you to heaven! Ask also for the graces needed to get you through the next day in the state of grace.
But we must also meditation – for how can we ask anything from the Lord, if we do not have a solid relationship with him? We must meditate daily on the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Daily meditation is necessary for salvation. During Lent, we have the opportunity to focus particularly upon the mysteries surround our Savior’s passion and death. Think of how much Christ loved you – he loved you so much that he died for you! Will he not give you everything else besides?
Then there is fasting. This is most necessary, for fasting is the body’s way of participating in prayer. We often pretend like we do not have bodies, we forget about the importance of fasting and mortification. The body works for our salvation too! It is not enough simply to pray with our minds – we need also to fast.
Remember, fasting is easy when done out of love. Christ became hungry out of love for you, will you not hunger for love of him?
Finally, there is almsgiving. Almsgiving covers a multitude of sins, and therefore is central to the mystery of Lent. Almsgiving can be part of an expression of sorrow for sin, especially during this time of repentance.
Moreover, almsgiving helps us to grow in charity. It frees us from mammon and opens us to the Lord. Simply put, without almsgiving we cannot be saved. Unless we love our neighbor and, especially, the poor; how can we ever hope to have a true love for Christ Jesus?