Sunday Sermon for February 19, 2023, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

In the first reading, God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel to be holy because the Lord God is holy.  Jesus takes this to another level in the Gospel where He tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  Needless to say, this kind of perfection is impossible.  God is absolutely perfect; He is lacking nothing, and nothing can be added to Him.  Nothing we do can make God’s happiness or holiness increase.  At the same time, nothing can cause Him to decrease in any way.  Being perfect, God cannot change in any way, shape, or form.

As human persons, we are anything but perfect.  Moreover, because of sin and the natural “defects” in our humanity, we can never even come close to being perfect in the absolute sense of that word.  So, why would our Lord tell us to be something that is not possible for us to be? 

Obviously, Jesus is not telling us that we need to be absolutely perfect, because we cannot.  However, there is a relative perfection that can be achieved in each of us.  The saints show us the way to this kind of perfection (it is laid out most clearly in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross), but even prior to attaining this spiritual perfection, we can still be as perfect as we are able at any given moment.

The spiritual perfection of the saints means that a person has, by the grace of God, overcome all sin, and even all imperfections, in their life.  Further, it means that all of the virtues have been developed and perfected, most often through years of trials and dying to anything selfish.  This means their love for God and neighbor has been perfected, meaning everything they do is done with no self interest and solely for the love of God.  What is more amazing about this spiritual perfection is that the will of the saint becomes united to, and even transformed into, the will of God.  Because everything is done with a perfect charity, the person wills only what God wills.

Needless to say, most of us are not at that point.  However, in the second reading, St. Paul gives us a clue to help us in our progress toward this spiritual perfection.  He says that the temple of God is holy.  That part we can all accept.  But then he clarifies it when he says, “you are the temple of God.”  Suddenly, the idea of God’s holy dwelling place is no longer an objective idea.  Yes, we know the Lord dwells in the church building, but St. Paul says, “the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  The temple of God is subjective, it is you and it is holy!

What does it mean to be holy or to possess the level of perfection to which we are called?  St. Paul says that we are to become fools.  By this, he means that we are to conform ourselves to the wisdom of God, which the world thinks to be foolish.  This means we must be intent on seeking the truth and it means we must strive for humility.  If, as we saw above, this spiritual perfection consists in a perfect love for God, then truth and humility are essential for us to love as God loves.

Charity is expressed in actions.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.  We are to treat everyone with charity because God allows the sun to shine on the good and the bad and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Therefore, if we are going to be as holy and perfect as God, in Whose image and likeness we are created, then we must be like Him.  We cannot control the sun or the rain, but we can control our charity.

It is easy to treat someone we do not like in a manner that reflects our dislike, but spiritual perfection means treating that person in a way that reflects our love for God.  Since most of us are not at the level of perfection, we need to do our best to die to our selfishness and emotions, and strive to treat every person as a temple of God, that is, with charity.  True charity comes from the heart; it can’t be phony.  By a life of deep prayer and acting with as much charity as we can, God will open our hearts to receive more of His love so we can love every person with His own love, and be as holy and perfect as we can be at any given moment.  You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you—be holy!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit