Scripture Readings: Book of Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; First Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Liturgical Season of Lent, is just three days away. The three Scripture readings given to the Church on this Sunday before Lent offer some important teaching found in the Bible, and to be put into practice in any season and throughout our lives.

The important message in the First Reading for Mass this Sunday is this: love your neighbor as yourself, found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, expressing something much more than legislating a code for avoiding criminal behavior.

Saint Paul in the Second Reading this Sunday proclaims this message: You are temple of God. Seek wisdom, but not according to the world’s standards, but according to God’s. All things are yours, you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Finally, in the Gospel passage from Saint Matthew, tells us: you must strive for God-like perfection, especially by loving your enemies. Should we be pressed into service for one mile, go two miles instead.

All three Scripture Readings this Sunday stress the undisputed theme of the sacredness of life, going so far, as Saint Paul does, to say that humans are temples of God, places where divinity dwells. Furthermore, God’s dwelling in humans is perfected over the course of time, even extending beyond earthly existence, to eternal life after death.

We should ponder on the fact, be happy and reassured of our dignity and worth as humans, from conception to death, being endowed with free will, which makes us capable, by the grace of God, of doing extraordinary things, including love for enemies. We are called to do, not because we want human recognition, but because we want to grow in the likeness of God, in whose image we are created.

The ancient “Fathers of the Church,” as we now call them, consistently taught that all human beings, saints and sinners alike, are created in the image of God, and that fact cannot be “undone” or denied. However, the likeness of God, in which we are also created, can increase or decrease by the choices we make in life, by how we respond to the action of the Holy Spirit in out lives, in our “temples,” each and every day.

In many ways, our concentration needs to be focused on growing in God’s likeness, another way of saying we must strive to grow in nearness to God, what we call “holiness.” The “Baltimore Catechism” of days of yoke (and which I grew up with in parochial school in the 1950 and 60s) offered a simple but accurate reply to the question, “Why did God make you?” The answer was this: “God made me to know, love and serve God in this life, and to be happy with him forever in the next life.” That is really the essence of our existence, and something to us through the inevitable ups and downs of life.

The Gospel of Saint John records words of Jesus that bolster the words of the inspired the Baltimore Catechism answer. Jesus said: “I have come so that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). As temples of God, we are never abandoned by God, and even when we stray, God lovingly calls us back.

Wherever we find ourselves this week, at home, at work, in school, in church, indoors or outdoors, we are living in God’s presence and under God’s protective care. If we allow them, our actions can become acts of worship of the God who made us.

We are all called to imitate God’s kindness, by our own pardoning of those who offend us, healing divisions and wounds wherever we can, not seeking revenge for wrongs done to us, but rather, like God, to be slow to anger and abounding in goodness to all.

Living thus, we can be truly joyful and fulfilled.

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB