Praised be Jesus Christ! Saint Philip Neri lived in Rome in the 16th century and was one of the most loving and lovable saints the Eter- nal City has ever seen. He was a great confessor who truly helped his people to trust in the Lord and His infinite mercy. But St. Philip Neri could be tough too – maybe you’ve heard the true story of the penance he gave a person who was famous for spreading gossip. He told him to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell tower, rip it open, and allow the wind to blow all of the feathers away. Once the parishioner complied and returned to tell Neri “mission accomplished,” it was then that Neri revealed the rest of the penance: “now go and gather each and every feather.” The penitent was crestfallen and said that such a task was impossible – and so St. Philip Neri made the point that damaging the reputation of others by our words does irretrievable harm. As you recall, we’re meditating this Lent on the Ten Commandments: this week we begin with “Thou shall not kill.” Sounds relatively easy until you consider all the ways we can damage others by our words, our slights, and our lack of Christian charity. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say that it is not enough to merely abstain from mur- der; we’re also not to harbor grudges or speak derisively about people we dislike. A merely hypothetical scenario would be folks who say mean things about our elected officials – for people who want to grow closer to God, this sort of behavior undermines our efforts. And to put an even finer point on it, Saint James writes in his epistle, “no human being can tame the tongue . . . . with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God,” (James 3:7, 9). Moving on to the 6th Com- mandment, we’re told that “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Our world makes this a challenge because of all the sources of impurity and occasions for lust. Now remember that adultery begins long before we formally break our vows – Jesus said it begins in the heart when we indulge selfish desires for carnal pleasure. Saint John of the Cross insightfully stated once that “what the eye does not see, the heart does not want.” Custody of the eyes is key for anyone who wants to protect the desires of the heart. You may have noticed that some states are making pornography illegal (e.g. Utah), which is a step in the right direction. For people struggling with the desires of the flesh, the most important factor is to bring it out into the light – i.e. tell a priest in the confessional. Anything we hide from God becomes a favorite hiding place of the devil. He will provide you with a litany of excuses as to why these sins are “no big deal” and “everybody does it” and “after all, it’s not hurting anybody.” Never forget that Satan is the “father of lies” and will only lead us to the prison of addiction, which is always a living hell. Also apropos of adultery is the seductive trap of contraception, which made extra-marital affairs much more feasible. When he courageously taught that contraception was against the will of God in Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that widespread use of contraception would lead to an increase in marital infidelity. Only the greatest of ignorance could feign surprise that this prophecy has sadly come true over and over again. These days contraception promises sex without babies, while many of the immoral reproductive practices (e.g. in vitro fertilization) promise babies with- out sex. Thank God for the reassurance Saint Paul gives us in his letter to the Romans: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,” (Romans 5:20).
God, help us to be pure of heart so that we may see You in every person we meet!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin