“Choose Life!” by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

6 Epiphany

Deut. 30:15-20 or Sir. 15:15-20
Ps. 119:1-81 Cor. 3:1-9Matt. 5:21-37

Freedom is largely squandered if exercised as a series of provisional commitments. In such a case, the mind, heart, and soul and the body’s work in the world are never constrained or fixed to some point of irrevocable commitment. No work is deeply engaged, no love profoundly embraced. This is a gospel example of freedom: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). A declaration of consent confirms this is done freely and without compulsion. A decision is made and other options summarily cut off. If faith, hope, and love remain, this can be a freedom of decades, a holy vow loosed by death alone. This too is an example of gospel freedom: A legendary Latin teacher speaks of his early dreams. “When I was seven I decided to become a priest. In my teens I decided to join the Carmelites and hoped to become a Latinist and Latin teacher.” More than 50 years later, these three remain: priesthood, monasticism, Latin brilliance. “It’s amazing,” the Rev. Reginald Foster opines, “what you can do if you limit your options.”

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deut. 30:15). Providence awaits a promise, a firm and resolute commitment. Obey the commandments, love the Lord your God, walk in his ways, observe commandments and decrees and ordinances (Deut. 30:16). “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). The summary of the law contained in the synoptic gospels and enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer restates this for the Christian dispensation: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (BCP, p. 324). Such commitment requires steadfastness, diligence, eyes fixed on the prize, the upward call of God in Christ (Ps. 119:5-6). One must choose, and the choice must be sincere and confirmed by effort.

In religious devotion of love to God and neighbor, and in the vocational direction of one’s life, decision and commitment are essential instruments of growth. “To obtain the gift of holiness is the work of a life,” John Henry Newman said in his sermon “Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness,” adding: “Is not holiness the result of many patient, repeated efforts after obedience, gradually working on us, at first modifying and then changing our hearts?” My Latinist friend and teacher Father Foster warns: “Take the pain, suffering, and discipline to keep yourself from falling into the eternal trap of misunderstanding these verb times,” along many other similar provocations to hard work (Ossa Latinitatis Sola, p. 202). Decide and make solemn vows!

But we know the problem. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:20). Subject to sin, we seem incapable of keeping commitments as we ought to God, our neighbors, and our respective vocations. St. Paul cries out in a mixture of despair and profound hope: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25). Amid failures we know too well, Christ is the grace to go on, the one who makes speed to save us. Thus failure is no excuse. When I am weak, then I am strong in the super-abounding and supplementing grace of Christ. Go on until it is finished! Endure to the end.

Look It Up
Read Matthew 5:37.

Think About It
The time is short. Start.


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