01 November 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 7

Lecture today was from Chapter 7 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Continuing with the Sermon on the Mount.

Father started out mentioning that Jesus telling us not to judge transcends former covenants. Previously, Mosaic Law operated on justice and there were prescribed ways of extracting justice (eye for an eye type thing). Sometimes, in the Old Testament, a person’s sins became manifested physically, as seen with leprosy. Now, Jesus is telling us how mercy is to be applied and it goes beyond justice. Only applying justice is not enough. If God only applied justice to us, things would’ve ended with Adam and Eve, or surely at Calvary when Jesus was crucified.

Father said St. Augustine wrote about how the devil was hoping this is what would happen at Calvary, but God “turned the tables” and what the devil thought was to become our condemnation actually became our redemption. (If anyone knows where this is in St. Augustine’s writings, please let me know).

We must temper our judgment with mercy, but we must also have the Christian charity to correct those in sin. Father cited St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5), where St. Paul was harsh on the Christian community there for not correcting, and even excluding, a fellow member who was sinning and causing scandal. It was analogous to allowing a disease to affect the entire town, “leaven leavens the entire batch.” The community risked the spread of the behavior and corruption for not rooting it out.

We are to judge from charity and not pride. Our MOTIVE is what matters. To judge from pride (hypocrisy) is wrong, but to judge out of charity is right. And, the measure we use to measure others will be used on us.

Father went on to talk about prayer. He said that if we seek, knock and pray and seemingly don’t receive and answer even if our requests are “good,” even if daily prayers don’t get answered, if we are in the state of grace, there is always a response, but it may not be what we want (even Jesus asked for the chalice to be taken from Him and it wasn’t). We need to trust that God is a perfectly loving Father who wants the best for us and will bring this about. We need to continue to pray, but also understand that we should wish for God’s will be to done since there is good being brought about whether we know it or not. This is a mystery and we will not see God’s “big reveal” until Judgment Day.

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mat 7:13-14) Father stressed that Jesus wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. These are harsh words that Jesus said over and over and in many ways. Like everything else in life, there are standards and the bar to Heaven isn’t so low you can crawl over it.

“Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Mat 7:21-23). Father said the people in this passage had faith. They were Christians. But, here we see another passage that talks about the heresy of faith alone. Father briefly mentioned Martin Luther and how Romans got changed to say “by faith alone” and is now being corrected in many Protestant bibles. Father said these people had faith but are not sanctified by faith alone; you need to act out on faith since even the demons have faith (but not love) and their knees are compelled to bend too. Faith alone is not enough.

From the Catechism:
162: Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be "working through charity," abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.

God condemned, it is said, a third of the angels. Angels are superior to us in many ways. Who are we to think that we are above the angels and the same fate won’t happen to us? We have been given many, many chances.

Father talked about being given the grace of faith. This grace leads us to Christ. In baptism we are joined to Christ through additional grace. We can forfeit the grace of sanctification and still retain the grace of faith. You can still believe the Catholic Church is true and correct, but be in a state of mortal sin. You can believe in God, but still not get to heaven. Faith alone is not enough, but this grace of faith is what allows people to return to the Church or convert. You can also forfeit the grace of faith. You need to move from knowing things in the intellect to having the will act on them; it needs to be an act of will, not just intellect. Knowing is one thing, doing another.

From the Catechism:
2003: Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit.” Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

2004 Among the special graces ought to be mentioned the graces of state that accompany the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and of the ministries within the Church:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord's words "Thus you will know them by their fruits" - reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.
A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: "Asked if she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'"

There is more to this chapter, but time didn’t allow Father to talk about the Golden Rule, how the Christian faith rests on the authority of the risen Christ (see CCC 651) and how the disciples were chosen to pass on His ministry (see CCC 551).

We learned in our small group that there are five parts of the Sermon on the Mount:
The Beatitudes
The Six Antitheses
Principles of Piety
Care of this World
The Way to Life

"Every one then who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." - (Mat 7:24)

As St. James says (James 1:22-25), “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

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