Homily for June 16th, 2017: Matthew 5:27-32.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” Jesus speaks in the passive (“it was said”) as a way to avoid speaking the name of God, which for Jews was forbidden. Scholars call this a “theological passive:” a way of saying, “God said,” without actually speaking God’s name.
The next sentence takes our breath away – or would, if we were hearing it for the first time. “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in heart.” If the commandment really means that, which of us can claim to be wholly innocent? Priests often have to deal in the confessional, or in spiritual counseling, with people who are upset, even in anguish, over these words of Jesus. When the priest explains that lustful thoughts are only temptations, until we consent to them, deliberately invite them in, and dwell on them; and that a thousand temptations do not make a single sin, people with tender or scrupulous consciences ask: “But how do I know if I have consented to such thoughts?”
The only honest answer to that question is: “We don’t know, and we can’t know. As long as we are trying to turn away from lustful thoughts, turning instead to God and others, we’re all right. The Lord doesn’t want us to torment ourselves with worry. He is not a strict policeman just waiting to catch us doing or thinking something bad. God is first, last, and always, a God of mercy.”
A seminarian approaching ordination to the priesthood told the priest who had been nourishing the young man’s vocation all through seminary: “I have difficulties with celibacy.” The priest’s response: “Well, brother, join the club. If celibacy were easy, it wouldn’t be what it is meant to be: a sacrifice. So don’t be discouraged. Never, ever give up. And when you stumble or fall, as most of us do from time to time, go to confession.”
Then the priest gave the young man some advice which is good not just for seminarians and priests, but for all of us: “Remember what our wonderful Pope Francis never tires of telling us: ‘God never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.’”