Here is a homily that I gave a few years back on this, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. One aspect of it might be a bit controversial – my commentary on what was in the news at that time, namely, the efforts of a certain pro-life group to infiltrate abortion clinics and expose the evils being done in those places. I say that it might be controversial, because people are pretty polarized on the matter (from big-name scholars to the “average joe”). It’s a tough issue, and I took a side (and my mind hasn’t changed since then).
In any case, there’s more to the homily than that one point. Take a look.
Why do we break God’s commandments? The question doesn’t have a simple answer. Sometimes we might break a commandment because of weakness; other times, because of ignorance. Still other times we might break a commandment because of pressure from others or from within. In all of these cases, there is either a lack of knowledge or of freedom on our part concerning what we are doing.
But then there are those times when we break God’s commandments with full knowledge and full freedom. We know it’s wrong; notwithstanding, we choose to do it anyways. This fact – of a free choice with full knowledge that it goes against the law of God – still begs for an answer to the question why we do it. It touches upon what St. Paul calls the “mystery of iniquity” in his writings: and so, being mysterious, there is a certain sense in which an answer is not possible. Sometimes, it would seem that within our hearts there is an “I want” that irrationally clamors for attention, even when we know it’s wrong.
But apart from that mysterious, irrational “I want” that can surge up from within, I think there is another reason why we sometimes make free choices, with the full knowledge that they go against the law of God. It is because we don’t trust that God’s way is the best way. It’s because we think that a little subversion, or even a big subversion of his law, is somehow necessary for our own good or the good of others.
There is something in the Catholic news media right now that illustrates this theory very well. Some courageous individuals have been targeting abortion clinics around the country, by sending in girls who pose as unwed pregnant teenagers or as girls in some other sort of difficult pregnancy situation. They typically have concealed cameras or recording equipment, with the goal of uncovering the great evil that is happening in those clinics. It’s a noble goal, but what means are they using to attain it? Deception. Lies – lies about who they are and what they are doing. The evils that they have uncovered are truly shocking, and cry out for justice. But the question remains, in spite of their fine goals: Are they going about it in a moral way? Are they following God’s law?
I am not making a subjective judgment of any of the people who are involved in these exposés; I am right there with them in wanting the evil of abortion to come to an end. No, what I am doing is an objective analysis of their methods, because the fact is, many Catholics are applauding their efforts. Many people are saying, “Finally, we are making some progress in the fight against abortion!”. So again I ask, “Are they going about it in a moral way? Are they following God’s law?”
There are some who, when they hear those questions, immediately respond, “But the evil that abortionists are doing is far greater than the evil of the lies that the individuals tell in order to get inside!”. To which I answer, “Did God ever ask us to compare and weigh evils? Did God ever give us permission to do evil?” The answer, of course, is no. The first reading explains it very clearly: “The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”
God does not need our lies. He does not need our other acts of deception in the fight against evil in our world. In other words, God does not need us to fight evil with evil. Rather, what he needs us to do – if he would be victorious through us – is to follow trustingly his moral law. This is why our first reading says, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live”. Sometimes we might choose to tell lies, even so-called “harmless white lies”, because we really think they’re necessary. Sometimes we might choose to subvert God’s moral law in other ways – not just in the area of lying – because we really think it’s necessary. Because we don’t trust that God’s way is best. But that is not at all what he demands of us.
The traditional moral axiom is, “One may never do evil that good might come of it”. It is a clear enough principle; it doesn’t really need much explanation. Yet as we go through life we come to see how difficult it can be at times to live it out. We come to see how much we must grow in trust of God. For some, it even becomes a burden, for they begin to see the moral law as nothing more than a list of rules, and such a perspective only breeds resentment. Jesus, in today’s gospel, wants to give us a different perspective: “Do not think”, he says, “that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law…” He calls us to radical fidelity to an unchanging moral law, but he does not propose it merely as a set of rules to be followed. No, it is something that he himself has fulfilled – something that he has lived out. Seen in that way, the moral life for us is imitation of Christ.
Can you imagine Jesus telling a lie, or looking lustfully at someone else, or having unrighteous anger – all themes that he touches upon in the gospel? Can you imagine him breaking any of the other commandments? Of course not. Maybe there is a lower part of our nature that would like to believe that Christ slipped up, if only in some small way, during his life. But it is blasphemous really to believe that. We are called to imitate him in his faithful and uncompromising fulfillment of the moral law. We are called to imitate the one who, in fact, also gives us the divine help that we need to live the way he wants. He never asks of us more than we can bear, with his grace.
In all of our decisions – those personal ones that we make for our own happiness and well-being, and those that we make for the happiness and good of others – there is only one way that we may take that leads to life; Christ tells us in the gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, except through me”. He calls us to imitate him, who has fulfilled the moral law in its entirety, and offers us the grace to be able to do so ourselves. Do we trust that God’s way is best, or not? We must truly pray for the divine wisdom which will help us to see the truth of this matter, and reform our lives as necessary.