Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, February 13, 2011, IF, a Simple Word, Kenneth Hughes, SJ


St. Mary of the Angels

Sunday 6 A 2/13/11

Sirach: 15.15-20; I Corinthians: 2.6-10; Matthew: 5.20-22, 27-28, 34-37

The first word of today’s readings is the word, "if."

The author of the Book of Sirach begins:

"If you choose, you can keep the commandments [and] they will save you.

If you trust in God, you too shall live."

If you choose …, if you trust in God…, if …

These opening phrases inspired Patricia Sanchez, a Scripture scholar, to turn to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, entitled, "If." And so, I did too. It is a poem of a father advising his son.

Some of the lines read:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtues,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;


If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

And eventually the poem ends with the promise:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, -- Sounds like a Beatitude!

I am sure that the simple word, "If" was prominent in many peoples’ minds these days:

Earlier this week I thought that President Mubarak might have been echoing Kipling’s words:

If I can keep my head when all about me

Are losing theirs and blaming it on me, ….

perhaps, I can keep my power. But, thank God, he couldn’t and didn’t!

The Egyptian people could well have been echoing other lines:

If we can force our heart and nerve and sinew

To serve our turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in us

Except the Will which says to us, "Hold on!" …

perhaps, our revolution will succeed. And it did. They did "Hold on."

Presidents in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan, might be thinking, "If we raise government workers’ salaries and subsidies for the poor, we can keep our people from likewise demonstrating and revolting.

Closer to home:

Politicians of both parties, and Tea Partiers as well, are urging, "If we stick together, we can get what we want."

Even closer to home:

Perhaps Mayor Menino is thinking, "If it snows any more, our city debt will be the only thing higher than the snowbanks!"

And Speaker of the House, Mr. De Leo, might be thinking, "If it snows any more, I may get those slot machines after all!"

While Bob and Jen and Catherine may even be thinking, (but never saying!) "If it snows any more, where the blank, blank, blank are we going to put the stuff?"

Is Bill Belicheck thinking: "If I can keep this team together and healthy, next year will surely be our year?" – but of course, he would never let us know that!

Could Cardinal Sean be thinking, "If I close parishes instead of churches, maybe, people won’t get angry any more, and, hopefully, no more sit-ins?"

And, at this point, I was saying to myself, "If I give any more examples, I am going to be in deep, deep trouble!

So, I return to today’s Scripture where Jesus speaks his, "If:" "If your righteousness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." – a pretty strong statement!

And, then, in effect he says more concretely:

"If you think that you are keeping the 5th commandment, ("Thou shalt not kill"), then take a good look at your anger, acknowledge it, deal with it constructively."

"If you think that you are keeping the 6th and 9th commandments, about adultery and coveting, then be careful of your lustful eyes and lustful thoughts, be careful of what you read, what you look at on TV and computer."

"And, if you think that you are keeping the 2nd commandment, then be careful of any lies, half truths, even pretending to be better or different than you really are."

Choosing life, as we are urged in the first reading, means living at a deeper level than keeping the commandments, and means trusting God more fully. Remember that what Jesus says today is still part of the Sermon on the Mount which began two Sundays ago with the Beatitudes. "Blessed are those…" "Happy are those …" Jesus wants our happiness and He knows that happiness flows for the one who keeps going more deeply into the truth and beauty and goodness of God and God’s creation.

Later, Jesus will give us some more, "If’s," like:

"If you wish to become my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily…"

"If you wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must become like little children …"

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be given to you …" (Jn. 15.7)

"All of these "If" statements are about choosing life. Each day, consciously or unconsciously, we choose life or death, mostly in ordinary choices and in small ways, but these choices add up and point us either to a more vibrant life or to a slow dying. What is Jesus’ desire for us? Choose life! Choose it today! Choose it every day, if you want to be happy. If ….

Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

Brighton, Mass. 2/13/11

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