Spiritually mature persons know that they must choose whom they will serve. Spiritually mature persons know they must serve someone. It is the spiritually immature who attempt to live as if they serve no one but themselves. This is key to today’s readings.
Joshua led the tribes of Israel back to the land of Israel, and told his people,
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,…
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
St. Paul’s well-known words in the second reading should only be understood in the context of mature service,
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church…”, and Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church….”
Paul was not speaking about politics and power as secular society would have us believe. Paul was teaching about mature personal choice, spiritual choice. Whom will we serve? We serve the ones we love.
I can say with Joshua, “As for me, I will serve the Lord.” And, “As for me, I will serve my Bishop. That is my choice.” And, when I was married, I could say, “As for me I will serve my wife and my family.” And today, I can say freely, “As for me, I will serve you, the parish of Sacred Heart.” These are my spiritually mature commitments, not political statements.
In the Gospel, Jesus had just told the Jews to eat his flesh and blood in order to have eternal life, saying,
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Here was a “Joshua moment” for Peter and the disciples. If you were going to follow Jesus, you had to eat his body and blood. You must choose to serve Jesus, love the way he loved, and sacrifice the way he sacrificed. And we must keep his commandments. This was not easy for many, as we read,
“As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.”
Jesus asked if his disciples would also abandon him. Simon Peter answered,
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Growth in spiritual maturity involves a continuous process of conversion and decisions of faith throughout our lives. Are we living moral lives? Are we following God’s Will?
The Ten Commandments have served me well as I have discerned whether I was following God’s Will. We sin when we refuse to conform ourselves to the Will of God and His Commandments.
Let us a take a good look at what is not sin. It is not unusual for people to ignore the Ten Commandments, but confess things that are not sin. Be careful not to ignore big sins, while confessing small ones. Some of the most frequent things that I hear offered as sin in the Confessional are “impatience”, “anger” and “doubt” as if these were serious sins. People miss Mass but confess impatience.
Impatience is not a sin. We read in the Gospels that Jesus was occasionally impatient with his disciples. God became impatient with the Israelites. If Jesus was impatient, impatience can’t be a sin. Jesus became angry on occasion, but he did not sin. Anger by itself is not a sin. Sometimes we commit sins of violence or abuse out of impatience or anger, but, by themselves, anger and impatience are not sinful. Doubts are not sins. The Apostles revealed their doubts often, but Jesus didn’t condemn their doubts, but attempted to help them resolve their doubts. We can obey and still doubt. This is mature.
We can actually measure our own spiritual maturity according to the way we have accepted and live God’s Commandments. The Commandment that says, “YOU SHALL NOT KILL” is one that is written on my heart. By way of contrast, the traffic laws that regulate the speed limit on I-35 are not written on my heart. Recently I was pulled over by a motorcycle policeman for going too fast on a freeway. When he approached my car window he noticed I was wearing my Roman collar and he exclaimed, “Oh, no!” I told him, “Sir, I am guilty.” Traffic laws are generally external to me, and generally not written on my heart.
The Ten Commandments are the Word of God, not the word of man, and should be in our hearts. The Sixth Commandment is, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY”. That one is also written on my heart.
The Seventh Commandment says, “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL.” This commandment was not fully written on my heart until relatively recently. I learned to, “Stop Stealing Paperclips!” I had to teach myself the concept that I didn’t have a right to take even the smallest thing that was not mine, not even paperclips or pens or pencils, or even to use someone’s copy machine to make personal copies. If it is not mine, no matter how insignificant, it’s not mine. It took me some spiritual effort to work my way through that conversion.
Likewise, I don’t have a right to copy your work if we are taking a test. That is cheating, and cheating is a form of stealing. If I then offer as mine the work I have copied from another, that is lying, and against the Eighth Commandment, “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS”.
Conversion happens when we realize we have been far from God, and disobedient to His Will; and then, often in shame, we attempt to conform our lives to his Will.
Consider the Third Commandment, “KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH”. The word “Sabbath” means the “seventh day”. We are to keep holy the seventh day, the day of Jesus Resurrection, Sunday, as our seventh day.
I confess that even as a priest I have had a difficult time with the Third Commandment and keeping the Lord’s Day holy. God said,
“Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.”
Keep holy Sunday? All day? That means we should be dedicating the entire day to the Lord by resting, praying, worshiping, reading, being with family and friends, not working, and not causing others to work on our behalf. Merely going to Mass is not enough to keep holy the Sabbath. Recently I began to realize that the Third Commandment is still not written on my heart if you see me at Walmart or HEB on a Sunday. I am struggling to plan ahead and get my shopping and errands done before Sunday. I pray for God to help me to conform my life to His Will and to His Heart.
My life is really more peaceful when I keep the Seventh Day holy. How much Grace and Peace would increase in our community if everyone honored the Sabbath Day and kept it Holy!
We mature spiritually when we honestly review our actions and to see how they conform to the Will of God. Spiritual maturity is the fruit of being faithful in the Ten Commandments.