Spirit of God is a necessary guide to our moral decision making

Father R. Michael Schaab

By Father R. Michael Schaab

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Feb. 12

Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-2,4-5,17-18,33-34; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

Early in life we are taught that we employ both our intellect and our will in making decisions. With our intellect we are able to know right from wrong, and with our will we can freely choose either the right or the wrong. The readings for the Sixth and Seventh Sundays in Ordinary Time reflect on these two human faculties and at the same time explain to us how God’s grace (a word that’s really never used in the readings) works through these two faculties.

On the Sixth Sunday, the first reading from Sirach begins with the rather obvious statement: “If you choose you can keep the commandments.” But, in all honesty, there are plenty of times when I use my free will to choose not to keep God’s commandments. Why so? Well, my intellect deals with many sources of knowledge, and, again to be quite honest, there are times when what I know from “God’s wisdom,” which is mentioned in the second reading from 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, is at odds with other truths that my intellect is dealing with. For example, God’s wisdom may tell me I should forgive someone who offends me while at the same time I’m dealing with other truths which tell me to hold a grudge or even to take revenge on the offender.

The Gospel from Matthew 5:17-37 makes clear that we face at least two different truths when it comes to making moral decisions. The first truth we know with our own human reason. It’s called natural law: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery and don’t lie. But there is another truth that we only know from faith, that grace from God which enables us to accept the teachings of Christ.

Natural law says don’t kill; Christ teaches not even to be angry with our brother. Natural law says don’t commit adultery; Christ teaches not even to lust after another. Natural law says don’t lie; Christ teaches us to be perfectly honest in all we say. So we leave the Sixth Sunday with the realization that to follow Christ we need grace as well as reason for our intellect to know the truths of God. In the readings, by the way, God’s grace is also known as God’s Spirit.

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). It takes the Spirit — it takes grace — to know and accept the wisdom of God!

HOLY AND PERFECT

If there is a lingering question whether or not grace, the Spirit, is needed for us to make the moral decisions that God is calling us to make, the last line of the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday removes all doubt when it says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As crazy as it seems, this command to be perfect is simply a restatement of the command given to Moses in this Sunday’s first reading from Leviticus, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” So, “How can I possibly be holy and perfect like God?”

First Corinthians provides the second reading for the Seventh Sunday and there we find the answer to our question. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? . . . For the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” I became a temple of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and I am holy today when that Spirit guides my intellect and my will in making moral decisions.

Father R. Michael Schaab is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and who fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.

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