As we read the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [cf. Luke 6:27-38], we can almost hear people in the crowd grumbling: “He can’t mean that: ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ [Lk 6:27], ‘to the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well’ [Lk 6:20]. That’s just not real life.” And surely, many there that day would have thought that no one can really do what Jesus was commanding.
I suspect that most who hear Jesus’ words today come away with much the same thought: “it’s just impossible for us.” And Jesus would agree. Indeed, Matthew tells us that Jesus said to the crowd: “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” [Mt 19:26]. So, what are we to make of this? What is this Gospel passage telling us? Many find this passage very puzzling.
Actually, this passage is conveying the very reason why we need the sacraments. Of course, the crowd on the hillside that day would have had no way of knowing that. Most of the sacraments were yet to come in Jesus’ public life. So, the crowd’s dismay and puzzlement were quite understandable, even their dismissive attitude. But, why the same reaction today by so many to Jesus’ words? We need a better understanding of the sacraments.
The nourishment promised by Jesus, the empowerment to do the will of God, to do what we would otherwise find impossible, is called “grace.” Jesus instituted certain visible actions as the means by which grace is to be conferred. And, in order to obtain grace, it is necessary for us to make use of those divinely appointed means. And those divinely appointed means are called "sacraments."
We are to rely on the sacraments as the primary sources of grace, precisely because that is what Christ intended by instituting the sacraments [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1210]. And the premier source of grace is the sacrament of the Eucharist. We receive God’s grace in the sacraments - that empowerment that turns the words in this Gospel passage from seemingly unrealistic expectations to deeds within our reach.
Grace empowers us to do what we would otherwise find impossible to do. Yet, even with God’s grace, most of us will likely not attain the fullness of expectations. We can only do the best we can, given God’s grace. For it is only through grace that we can approach what otherwise is impossible for mankind.
Again, the primary source of grace is the sacraments. And the sacraments “instituted by Christ to give grace” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #295] are found only in the Catholic Church.
“Till next time.
Dcn Bob Evans
February 21, 2022