The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (detail), Barna da Siena, ca. 1340

Translation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: Except your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment and whosoever shall say to his brother: Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say: Thou fool, shalt be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother; and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

Transcription of Sermon

The saving words of the Gospel

Except your justice abound more than that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Our Lord speaks of the requirements for entering into the Kingdom, He speaks in these terms of a dynamic, which involves this excess of righteousness, of justice, περρισοδ – perrisos – which means a super abounding, a going beyond, a transcending of justice. And there’s justice, δικαιοσύνη – dikaiosynē – is also righteousness, it’s what makes us just in God’s eyes. This is how Thomas defines habitual grace; gratia gratum faciens – that which makes us pleasing in God’s eyes. So, one thing is to be loved by God – everyone is loved by God, even Satan and all the damn souls, and the souls in Purgatory, and souls on earth. Every creature is created He loves, but not every creature is pleasing to Him, and this is the difference: Grace is what makes us pleasing to Him. And Grace, then, is the participation in His nature, as St. Peter says in his Second Letter. Notice too, that when he says, Except your justice abound more than that of the scribes and the Pharisees, he’s not juxtaposing [the] Law from the interior life as if there were something incompatible there. 

You’ve probably heard people thoughtlessly saying, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Well, this betrays an ignorance of relationships. Because every relationship has written into it laws, and to say, “I am spiritual and not religious” is basically, it’s tantamount to a husband saying to his bride, “While I’m interiorly faithful to you, but not exteriorly.” She’s not going to be convinced of something of that ilk. And Christ doesn’t make us choose between the interior and the exterior as if they were at odds with each other.

There was a Russian Jewish atheist, Räissa, who, at the early part of the 20th century met Léon Bloy, Catholic philosopher, and through him got to know Christ. And she became a Catholic and a very fervent Catholic, as did her formerly agnostic husband, who was raised Protestant. Both of them, her husband, Jacques Maritain, they both became Catholics. And she aptly defined this following of Christ as law and mystery. And these are two terms that rationalists can’t stand – law and mystery.

These are terms that modernists do not like because they’re either too close or too far: The law is something that I am to do. The mystery is something that transcends me. And they don’t like this accountability. They don’t like this lack of control of themselves, because they become at odds with the mystery when they think that they are above the law or beyond the law.

This super abounding righteousness that Christ demands of His followers doesn’t make the Law obsolete, as if human efforts on the exterior were at odds with the interior life. Christ doesn’t put before us an either/or; it’s a more of both. And there’s more. This super abounding, this περρισοδ, which is a going beyond, is more His work than ours, but not without our consent. In other words, it becomes clear, after a while, that the law is not external to us. The law is Christ Himself.

Christ in the Armor of God / Christ the Warrior Icon

The Father has breathed His Spirit into the body of Christ, and Christ is the revelation of the Father. Christ is the Law. And so, imitation of Christ, then, is the living of the Law. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Old Law was written on stone and impossible to keep perfectly. The New Law is written, through grace, on hearts of flesh, and it’s Christ who keeps it within us. And so, Thomas is saying we were called to latch on to this fidelity of Christ and make it our own. This being configured with Christ, allowing Him to become the standard and the reference point for my thoughts, my words, my actions. And so, we see that not only in Christ are the prophecies fulfilled, but they go beyond all expectation. The Incarnation is something that they didn’t reckon with. Christ is not merely the fulfillment of the Law; He is the Law. Our fulfillment of the Law then is to be crucified, as Paul says, when he says, It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. He also enjoins us to put on the mind of Christ. This is exactly what he’s talking about: This allowing Christ to take over, to claim what already is His; our hearts and our minds.

And this, this call to become another Christ in a world that doesn’t seem to know Him very well, can seem rather daunting, and even, in the truest sense of the word, tremendous, in that it makes us tremble because of the hugeness of the gift but also the responsibility. But we’re not set up for failure since Our Lord doesn’t just give us the tools to live this fidelity; He becomes the means Himself.

Through the life of grace, we have the Three Persons dwelling within us making it possible for us to live theological virtue. They’re called theological virtues because they have God as the first protagonist, but not without our cooperation. All the other virtues, they’re moral virtues, those are things that require our action, but they don’t have God as the first actor. Faith, hope, and charity do.

And this absoluteness of following of Christ, of being identified with Christ, was so clear in the Early Church that the discipline in the Early Church was that a Catholic could only go to Confession once in his life, because the idea was that I have bought into this following of Christ so radically, that sin is no longer part of the program. Obviously, the Church found it necessary to change that discipline, thankfully for all of us, but nonetheless, that reveals this absoluteness of following of Christ. If I am sitting with an eye to go into Confession later, that really calls into question the validity of the sacrament itself, in that case.

Panagia, the Life-giving Spring, and Christ, Icon.jpg

And so, there is no mediocre or mechanical form of justice that will satisfy this demand of Our Lord to super abound in righteousness. Christ when He speaks with a Samaritan woman, He says, If you knew the gift of God, you would ask Him for a drink, and He would give it to you and it would well up within you to eternal life. And so, this is what Our Lord is speaking about in this Gospel today: That the Law is not an end in itself. It’s not self-contained. But the Law is a Person. And this Person, when He dwells within us, wants to reveal Himself to us, and to others, through this radical presence. And so, the keeping of the Law is not merely something external. It’s not merely something internal. It’s both but it’s more. And it leads to the ultimate source of the Law, which is the holiness of the Father. In such a pursuit itself, already in this life, is entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger