Jesus expects us to reflect on our actions and motivations and to look deeper within ourselves.
Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
When you think of the saints, who comes to mind? Is it great missionaries like Saint Paul or Saint Patrick? Do you think of the founders of religious communities like Saint Benedict, Saint Francis of Assisi, or America’s own Saint Elizabeth Seton? Perhaps you think of great champions of the poor like Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Peter Claver, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta. For those of us a bit more oriented toward theology and philosophy, great figures like Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or Blessed John Henry Newman might top our list.
We don’t often think of those Christian women and men whom we honor as saints as unremarkable or simple. In fact, those are often the people in our day to day lives whom we quickly overlook. And yet, as we consider models of holiness, we can’t help but be struck by the number of “little” saints, including Saint Dominic Savio, Saint André Bessette, and, of course, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
When Thérèse Martin died in the Carmel of Lisieux, France, in 1897, no one would have imagined that only a few years later another saint, Pope Pius X, would call her “the greatest saint of modern times.” And, anyone who knows anything about Saint Thérèse knows that she is most especially known as the “Little Flower” or the “Saint of the Little Way.”
The “secret” of Thérèse’s holiness is found in today’s Gospel. In this passage, which is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that he expects his followers to go beyond the demands of the Law—we can think of the basic rules of the Ten Commandments—and to focus on those little things that can build up or damage our relationships with God and those around us.
We can see this in the way Jesus addresses the commandment “You shall not kill.” We understand that. But Jesus doesn’t stop at this basic level. He continues:
I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and who ever 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 brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother.
Jesus is telling us that a simple obedience to the Commandments isn’t enough for his followers. He expects us to reflect on our actions and motivations and to look deeper within ourselves. Rather than focus on preventing murder, Jesus wants us to look at the anger that we often hold deep within ourselves and which can destroy relationships, even if it might not lead us to physically assault another person.
The same can be said about Jesus’ comments about adultery. Instead of just condemning this sin and defending the rights of spouses or the dignity of the human person, Jesus wants his disciples to reflect on the lust and emptiness that can lead us to objectify others or to use them for our own pleasure or benefit.
Ultimately, as the First Reading of this Sunday’s Mass reminds us, each of us has been endowed with freedom from God to choose good or to choose evil. God, of course, wants us to always choose what will strengthen our relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters. This is the path to holiness and the way we can grow in our union with God. This is also how we can build up the Church and help promote justice and peace in our war-weary world. As the example of Saint Thérèse reminds us, obeying the words of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t necessarily require that we do extraordinary acts of penance or charity. Instead, in the end, we will best serve God and those around us through the little sacrifices of our attentiveness, intentionality, kindness, and love.
How do I show my love and faith in small acts of kindness?
When have the small kindnesses or attention of others helped ease my suffering or worry?
How do you use the gift of your freedom as a human person for the good of others and to promote peace and justice?
Words of Wisdom: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love..” –Saint Thérèse of Lisieux