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Holiness ...

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 13(12):6 — “O Lord, I trust in Your merciful love. My heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord who has been bountiful with me.”

First Reading: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 — “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 — “The Lord is kind and merciful.”

Second Reading: 1 Cor 3:16-23 — “All things belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”

Alleluia: 1 Jn 2:5 — “Alleluia, alleluia. Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Mt 5:38-48 — “Love your enemies.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 9:2-3: — “I will recount all Your wonders, I will rejoice in You and be glad, and sing songs to Your name, O Most High.”

Late one night, a truck driver pulled into a roadside watering hole for some food and drink and a little relaxation. As he was eating, three tough-looking, hard-as-nails motorcyclists roared up to the inn and then roared inside and up to the bar ... The place grew quiet ... You could feel the tension in the air. For some reason, they spotted the truck driver and used him as the target for their meanness. One man shook salt and pepper on his head. One of them took his piece of apple pie and dropped it on the floor where he crushed it under his boot. The third managed to knock over his coffee causing it to spill on the man’s trousers. The truck driver got up, said nothing, walked to the cashier, paid his bill, and made his exit. “That dude sure isn’t much of a fighter,” sneered one of the three cyclists. The waiter behind the counter peered out the window onto the dark parking lot and replied, “He’s not much of a driver either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”

And so ... What went through your minds just now? Did you smile and think, “Ah, sweet revenge?”

After hearing this’s Gospel, the sweet taste of revenge should turn sour. Jesus doesn’t like us running over motorcycles or people. When He says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus is asking for a different approach from all of us.

Remember the time someone asks Jesus, “Master, which is the greatest commandment?” Do you remember His answer? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength ... AND you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But suppose someone asked him, “Master, which is the most difficult commandment?” Well, guess what ... I think we just heard it!

Today we are asked to think about holiness. So, what do you think holiness is? We really need to know because God expects it of each and every one of us. In the First Reading, God tells us through Moses, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” This comes in the book of Leviticus ... this is the book of the Bible that summarizes God’s law. We are told not to bear hatred in our heart. So, I believe (and I hope you all do too) that this is like saying that it is the state of our heart (what we feel in here ... pointing to heart) that determines our holiness. Holiness is not an optional luxury of our lifestyle. It isn’t something we come around to when we are old and have nothing else to do. Holiness doesn’t work that way. It is not abstract ... but rather it is concrete and personal and is expressed in fair dealing. It includes how we treat everyone. Notice how those others are described: brother or sister, fellow citizen, your people, and your neighbor. That is rather inclusive list ... wouldn’t you say? You not only can’t bear hatred for any of these but also must love them as yourself. Pretty tall orders, right?

But not to worry because, as Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, “You are the temple of God. Don’t you know it? This temple of God, which you are, is holy.” In other words, don’t think of yourself as nobody or as worthless. Don’t aim too low. Be careful in your self-assessment. You belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. And if you are following the logic, therefore, you belong to God. It can’t get better than that.

And so, I’ve got a second story for you today. Father Greg Boyle is a Jesuit who works with present and former gang members in Los Angeles and formed an organization known as Homeboy Industries. A few weeks ago, I read a story about one of his young men who had been completely abandoned by his family after they had abused and mistreated him. This young man called Boyle to wish him a happy New Year. Boyle thanked him and told him he had thought of him at Christmas time and wondered what he did for Christmas. The young man related that he had been in his tiny apartment ... but not alone. He had invited some of the guys he worked with in Homeboy Industries to come over because they also had no place to go. They were all former members of rival gangs. When Boyle asked him what they did, he said he had cooked a turkey with butter, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. That was all they had, just the turkey. All six of these orphans had sat there staring at the oven waiting for it to be done. Boyle described it as “the entire law and prophets, all in one moment, right there, in that humble, holy kitchen.”

Some time later he asked the young man how he survived after all the pain and abuse he had suffered. Why and how was he the way he was today? This is the young man’s answer: “You know, I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day ... and he got very quiet ... one day, I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it ... goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was. And now nothing can touch me.”

So why did I tell you that story? ... well ... in a nutshell ... that is holiness. That is discovering what it means to be a temple of God. That is what it means to know you belong to Jesus Christ. God’s holiness isn’t prim piety and empty devotion. God’s holiness is about rolling up your sleeves and getting in there with our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens, our people, our neighbors. The Rule of God’s kingdom lives in our heart and comes out from our heart. It enables us to turn our cheek when someone strikes us. It enables us to give to the one who asks something of us. It enables us to love our enemies and to pray for them. It empowers us to roll up our sleeves and get involved in working for the good of all. It empowers us to make the right choices. It empowers us to see goodness in ourselves and to know that if we have goodness, surely our neighbor, our brother or sister, our fellow citizens, our people have goodness in them too.

This is what holiness is all about. It isn’t pie in the sky. It’s earthy. It’s awesome and cool. Better yet, we already have it within us because we are the temple of God, because we belong to Christ and Christ to God. We don’t have to earn holiness. We have to exercise it ... we have to use it ... we have to expand it ... we have to share it. And the Lord, who is kind and merciful, is right there alongside us, urging us on.

During the family meal around this table we are about to share ... during the Eucharist which we are about to partake ... just before we come forward, will pray in the words that God the Son, Jesus, gave us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do you just say those words, or do you truly think about and attempt to live out what you are asking?

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