Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

We all like consistency between our thoughts and our actions. It is as though we have a map to a goal and we are following it. When we lose that consistency, we feel lost, distressed, and uncomfortable on account of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a condition that becomes worse in proportion to the meaning and importance of those thoughts and actions. This state of discomfort is actually a gift that under the most important of circumstances the Fathers would refer to as pangs of conscience. Those with a refined conscience for whom living in accord with God’s will is highly … [Read more...]

Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.

For those of us who speak without thinking and spout off when we are irritated, the sobering words of our Lord in Matthew 5:22 are often dismissed. In today’s world, words uttered in anger may be considered to be a slight offense that can be justified by the circumstances. In our own mind, we may afterwards indulge in such justifications in which our focus remains riveted not on what has come out of our mouths, but on what the other person has said or done to us. “Well, I did get angry, but he was accusing me of something I didn’t do,” or “He had it coming to him. He didn’t recognize my hard … [Read more...]

The Flexibility of Righteousness

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. One of the first lessons we are taught as children is that some things are right and other things are wrong. There are rules to follow at home. There are rules to learn in school. There are rules for the games we play. There are rules for just about everything. And if we obey the rules, we can become good little boys and girls. We can do well in school. We can win the game. And so we all learn to be very good at the rules. That’s … [Read more...]

Break the Least of These Commandments

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Human beings are marvelously complex. In the myriad of situations in which we find ourselves, with the multitude of people with whom we interact, we can respond in thought, word, and deed in a variety of ways with a range spanning from the darkest hell to the brightest heaven. Choices confront us at every moment and the decisions we make determine the … [Read more...]

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

In the area of human sciences, laws of genetics and laws of behavioral interactions as well as rich descriptions of the processes that lead to sickness and to health are accepted by all as incontrovertible givens. Humanity conforms and acquiesces with nary a murmur or complaint. And yet with respect to moral values, the spiritual life, and liturgical practices, people feel that it is permissible, perhaps even desirable, to adjust and even discard the givens of faith, the givens of revelation, and even the givens of sin and holiness. It is as though the claims of science have such a hold on us … [Read more...]

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil

For the Church Fathers, the relationship between the Gospel of Christ and the Law of Moses could be likened to the distinction between the work of a trainer or a pedagogue on the one hand and the work of someone who initiates someone into a mystery or a mystagogue on the other. The first directs the body to do this or that. The second illumines the mind to see clearly what was formerly hidden. Thus, Saint Basil the Great would say that “as the law forbids evil deeds, the Gospel does so with well hidden passions” (Initium Morialum, PG 31.761). If we were to put it in contemporary language, we … [Read more...]

Ye Are the Light of the World

Light a match in a darkened room and the brain of an observer becomes ablaze with activity: complex shapes, angles, movements, color and depth all register in a moment and if another human being is present, the face of that person is immediately recognizable in all its uniqueness. The human brain seems to be especially and wondrously fashioned to respond to light in a myriad of ways, conscious and unconscious. When light and the human mind meet, we suddenly know where we are, what is around us, and who is with us. Of all the senses, light distinctly enables us to make sense of our world. And … [Read more...]

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

There is something truly divine about the way our Lord took the most common and simple ingredients of life and transformed them into lenses through which Christians could see the world and their role in it anew. Salt was already an integral part of world civilization whose value has been acknowledged throughout the history of mankind. Without salt, there could be no ritual meal to seal a covenant. Without salt, no savory sacrifices among ancient peoples could be made to bring propitiation for sins. Without salt, the great caravan routes in the East would not have been trodden. Without salt, … [Read more...]

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Emotions are of great importance in our lives as human beings and as Christians. Carl Jung once observed, “Emotion is the moment when steel meets flint and a spark is struck forth, for emotion is the chief source of consciousness. There is no change from darkness to light or from inertia to movement without emotion.” In general, emotions motivate us, organize our world, and help us to adapt to changing situations. And it is significant that the Beatitudes conclude with the brightest and most blessed of human emotions, a rejoicing and gladness that are strikingly and peculiarly Christian, for … [Read more...]

Blessed Are You When Men Shall Revile You and Persecute You and Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, For My Sake. Rejoice and Be Exceeding Glad, For Great is Your Reward in Heaven

Our Lord’s words are “powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,” for the Word and Son of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). He knows that listeners to His voice desire more than to marvel at the blessed poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and peacemakers. They want to become what they admire and the Lord already begins to accomplish that transformation by shifting from speaking about them in the third person to speaking to you in the second and to the blessedness … [Read more...]