“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Dear fellow pilgrims,
The Gospel passage for today reminds me of the sign of peace during Mass, and especially certain Masses where sharing that peace was really difficult with specific people around me at the time, but healing and (what is emphasized in this passage) necessary for approaching the Lord’s table. This passage is especially vivid in application for a Catholic because of the prayers of Mass, bringing our life offerings to His table as a community is important, but being united in doing so is even more important and takes precedence over giving the actual gifts.
And our Catholic Church is strikingly divided on many issues that have caused anger between people who hold opposing views on important issues. Here are just a couple: There are some who believe Pope Francis is the fantastic, merciful pope of the people, but there are others who believe he should retake his theology classes and clarify some issues where he muddied the waters (e.g. suggesting there may be a way for divorced Catholics to receive communion). Fr. James Martin is heralded by some as building the necessary bridge between the LGBTQ community and the Church, while others view some of his statements as dangerous and vague in their theological implications. Heck, after writing all those sides out, they don’t seem entirely mutually exclusive, but it wouldn’t make headlines if we Catholics had reasonable and balanced discussions about important topics. Our world draws out polarized views because we love drama, clickbait, and the warm fuzzy feeling of having a “tribe” that can complain about other tribes. Oh, and the evil one is the Divider, and he knows how to distract us from living in harmony and peace with each other (which he does not want! Bad for business).
Unfortunately, the Church has not avoided the political tensions that are engulfing this nation. And I’m no better! My heart has succumbed to anger against others. I need to learn to pray for our president not by obligation and muttering discontents under my breath, but out of Christian love and trust the God is truly greater than any form of government and can work to change hearts and minds.
But please, do not read this as a political statement. I bring this up because, in searching my own heart for objects of anger, that’s where I landed. I bring this up because even when we are on good terms with people we know and converse with, we may be harboring a reservoir of anger towards certain groups or individuals who we have never met, but are angry at them because of the views that divide “them” from “us.” We might not be able to reconcile with them personally, but it is necessary to reconcile our individual anger with the Lord if we are to truly give our gifts to Him and receive His gifts fully within us. We must not fall into a habit of feeling like we are owed the sacraments, or that they are given without any conditions…we must pave the way in our hearts actively to receive Him.
Of course, there is righteous anger. But we must remind ourselves that because Jesus’ sacrifice covers every person’s sins, people are not our enemies, the evil one is. Still, I would argue, that all too often it is easiest to believe that we are in the moral high ground and give ourselves permission to harbor anger towards others on the basis of believing we are simply expressing a “righteous anger” when we are really expressing a lack of compassion and empathy, and sometimes, an abundance of immaturity in just dealing with other people who are different from you. This is a complex topic that merits further discussion elsewhere, but I want to leave you with the simple and yet painfully difficult charge our Lord gives us to “love our neighbor.” Because truly, when we love our neighbor as they should be loved, we love Jesus as He should be.