Preaching IT: "You Have Heard It Said..." (Fr. Nick Rouch)

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"You have heard it said... but I say to you…"
Fr. Nick Rouch, S.T.D.

(Homily for February 13, 2011 - Corresponding to Matthew 5)

In today’s gospel (Matthew 5), Jesus said three times, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” Each time he was acknowledging a moral standard that was widely accepted in the culture, but stretching it further and calling the people to a higher standard. The people of his day had minimized the demands of faith and he wanted to restore them to fullness. Certainly, some who heard him thought, “This will be exhausting! Isn’t he asking too much of us?”

In our own day, we have heard many things said in our secular culture, that culture that St. Paul describes in the second reading as the “wisdom of this age.” Our secular culture, which has become indifferent to religion, even hostile to it, has some moral standards which may sound reasonable at first, but Christ is calling us to a different standard. It is as if he is saying to us, “Yes, you’ve heard many things said in the secular culture about right and wrong, but I say to you, I have a higher standard I want you to live by.”

Just as Jesus addressed human life and human sexuality in the gospel, so he addresses them today.
With regard to human life, we have heard it said that:
• Abortion belongs to personal choice and privacy;
• Harvesting of stem cells from a human embryo is scientific progress;
• Prompting death for someone in pain is an act of mercy…

But Jesus says that every human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death, and we need to do all we can to protect, nurture and love each person.

With regard to human sexuality, we have heard it said that:
• Sexual activity that is consensual is morally acceptable;
• To extract sexuality from marriage, procreation and love is its proper liberation from medieval notions;
• That artificial contraception, premarital sexual activity, homosexual activity and pornography are simply unavoidable and part of modern life…

But Jesus says that human sexuality is a gift from God, part of our dignity, and needs to be protected within the holy bonds of marriage, so that it can express love and be open to life.

We need to live by the standard Christ sets, not a secular culture. Certainly, we will experience a tension between these two standards. What we hear from the pulpit, from the Church, and in our conscience, will not match what we hear from the secular media. Yes, there will be a tension. It will not fit together.

And so we have a choice, as Sirach emphasized in the first reading. We have a choice between the standard of Christ or the standard of the world. Why should we chose Christ?
• Because we know that the world is fallen and that the deception of sin has infected the world’s thinking;
• Because we know Christ to be the way, the truth and the life.
• Because we know that long before we decide to follow Christ, he has chosen us, he has loved us.

Ultimately, we say Yes to Christ and to his standard because he loved us so much that he died for us, to set us free and lead us back to the Father. We say yes, because we believe what St. Paul wrote:

“We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory… Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned in our minds, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Fr. Nicholas Rouch, S.T.D., is the Vicar for Education for the Catholic Diocese of Erie and contributes extensively to numerous faith endeavors. In particular, he is the spiritual director for our Catholic Women's Gathering.