Put On the Armor of Light!
A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 22: 34-40 for Friday 25 August 2023
The Lord commands us in the Gospel today,
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37–40 NABRE)
In this statement, Jesus sums up the Old Testament Commandments and, in His command, “You shall love,” connects every Christian to that law. Yet, how we all struggle with this command. Each time we turn from love of God and neighbor, we betray the Lord as much as did Judas, as much as did the disciples who fled from the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was led away to His passion (Matthew 26:56). Love is so easy to say but so difficult to put into practice. Yet, love is the very heartbeat of holiness. Consider the saints, they publicly project holiness into the world through acts of love for God and neighbor. That Holiness, like love, God also commands. God tells Moses,
“Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 NABRE)
St Peter reiterates this command in 1 Peter 1:15-16. In the words of St Teresa of Calcutta, holiness is a duty.
Holiness is not the luxury of a few people, but a simple duty for you and me.
(St Teresa of Calcutta as quoted in YOUCAT 342)
Again, love is easy to speak and preach about; yet, it is the hardest thing to do. A life of love is so exceptional that we tend to hold up those who actually accomplish this as Saints, “holy ones.” What we don’t like to speak or preach about is sin. We should! Sin defeats love and erodes every effort toward holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its definition of sin, includes that it “is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” (CCC 1849) That “perverse attachment,” or desire, begins in our head. St James describes this process,
… each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.
(James 1:14–15 NABRE)
For love, the way of holiness, we must make a constant effort to defeat each desire which Satan helps bend toward sin. In a world where, “winning” and “pleasure” is honored over virtue, we begin to believe that acting on our every desire is legitimate. Persistent and ignored personal sins eventually give rise to a society and governing institutions that are contrary to divine goodness, “structures of sin.” (CCC 1869). Think about how sins such as abortion, euthanasia, racism, genocide are twisted such that what is intrinsically evil, society debates as a good. That is the insidious lie of the liar. (See John 8:44)
Jesus commands us to “love,” the willing of the good of the other for the good of the other. Love requires us to put a stop to the desires leading to sin before they conceive and give birth. The Church calls these sins of desire, “Capital Sins.” The word, “capital,” comes from the Latin, “capitalis or caput,” which means, “head.” These sins are pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath (rage), lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia (laziness, inactivity, sadness). (CCC 1866) Every sin can be traced back to these sins of the head, or capital sins. We defeat these “heady” desires to sin with a deliberate practice of virtue.
Defeat pride through the practice of humility. When you are tempted to place yourself first, your wants, your desires, your opinions; seek the last place and serve the other.
Reverse avarice (greed) with generosity. When you are tempted to hold back time, treasure, or talent, out of greed, when others are in need, give.
Beat envy with admiration. Envy is the daughter of pride because it involves comparing others to yourself and believing that you should have or be what the other has or is. Turn these thoughts around and actively admire the other and rejoice with them in their success.
Conquer wrath (rage) with patience and forgiveness. As you feel anger building within you, consider the other, not as an enemy, but as one whom Christ commands us to love. Be Patient! The first attribute St Paul gives us to define what love is, is patience. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Overcome lust with chastity. The root of lust is treating the other as an object of your own desires. Chastity calls us to reject our desire and serve the good of the other. Attitudes of lust go much further than sexual desire. Be chaste in both mind and action.
Master gluttony with temperance. Gluttony is placing the pursuit to satiate our desires over everything and everybody else. Temperance should cause us to limit our “taking,” and place God and neighbor ahead of desire.
Throw off sloth and replace it with zeal. Sloth is an oppressive sorrow and a weariness in the service of the other. Jesus calls us to work in the vineyard of the kingdom, not lounge around outside. (Matthew 20:6–7). We need a zeal for Christ, a zeal to serve the other, a zeal for love!
Jesus commands that we love. How do we do this? Today, and every day, actively pursue virtue, removing every obstacle to that love. Set aside pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. In this, pursue the path of holiness, the path of virtue, a path to love.
“… Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”
(Romans 13:12 NABRE)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Schönborn, Christoph, ed. Youcat English: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. Trans. Michael J. Miller. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Print.