Sunday Sermon for February 27, 2022, the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Sir 27:4-7; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45
In the Gospel reading today, our Lord tells us that a good person, out of the store of goodness in his heart, produces good, but the evil person, out of the store of evil in his heart, produces evil. One can judge this overall in someone’s actions, but it is sometimes difficult to know the actions of a person if you have only recently met the person. It is fairly easy, however, to pay attention to what the person is saying. Jesus tells us: “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
When a person attempts to grow in virtue, they will begin to act in ways that conform to the virtue they are trying to achieve. I often point out to people that first, the things that are external change, then the things that are internal. For example, if we are working on meekness, the virtue opposite of anger, we can learn to control our external reactions, even if internally we are fuming.
Perhaps, in the past, we would have erupted with anger, flailed around like a madman, and let burst a torrent of nasty words and statements. Now, maybe, we can appear calm and keep our mouth shut; maybe we can even smile and say something kind and without a nasty tone. However, in our hearts, we might still feel the full force of the anger. Nevertheless, when we are away from the person or situation associated with the anger, we might still speak very uncharitably, have harsh tones or words, or express the anger we feel using other means.
In such a case, our actions at the time expressed the charity we want to develop and, in fact, are developing. However, from the fullness of the heart, the mouth still speaks when we let our guard down. This is why Sirach tells us not to praise anyone before he speaks. He says that one’s faults appear when they speak. Therefore, we are to praise no one before that person is tested, because only in the testing do we find out what is hidden in the heart.
The example above deals with things of the present moment. However, many of us may have hearts filled with hurts and injustices from the past. Perhaps we try to keep hidden a very negative disposition, but it makes its way to the surface when we speak in certain situations. Perhaps a name from the past is brought up and we find ourselves getting upset because of the memory of something that happened with that person many years ago.
If we want to grow in holiness, one of the things God will do is to regularly remind us of the areas where we still need healing. This can happen through bringing up a name, as mentioned above, or it can be through allowing us to be put into situations that are very similar to something that happened earlier in our life. He keeps tearing off the scab, which we think is healing, because He knows there is still some infection in the wound that needs to be addressed before the wound can heal. Once again, we find out how much virtue we have, or still need, when these circumstances occur.
The vile creature wants us wounded, hurt, and angry because we cannot operate with the full freedom of the children of God. All these wounds are part of the way the evil one tries to destroy our ability to act in a good and holy manner. When God purifies us of these wounds, the words of St. Paul take on a new meaning: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
If we keep in mind the principle that the devil lives in the wounds, then we can understand that God is victorious in us when we cooperate with Him to heal the areas where death has had a foothold in our lives. It can be very painful to face our woundedness or to face our sinfulness. This latter point is important because some of our deepest wounds may be self-inflicted or, at least, they may be caused by something that came about through our own cooperation.
If we have infections from the past that are still lodged in our hearts, our words and actions will betray this fact. If we work with the Lord to forgive, to heal, or to accept, our peace can be restored. As St. Paul said in the second reading, our work in the Lord will not be in vain. On the contrary, our hearts can be filled with peace and charity. Our Lord will dwell in the areas where the demons used to dwell. Then, from the fullness of the divinity dwelling within our hearts, our words and actions will reflect the Lord Who dwells within!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.