Matthew 5:17-19 brings us face-to-face once again with what most men and women have found difficult ... for centuries. What is it? Saint Cardinal Henry Newman described the challenge with the following thought: to live is to change; to be perfect is to have change often.
Why is it that when change is involved in one's religion, almost any change becomes very difficult, filling the heart with fear. And what is the underlying cause of fear, especially when we are dealing with our faith, our personal relationship with God? Let me suggest that the answer to that question is simple: we are afraid that the change we realize as necessary may demand of us sacrifices that could change our way of living.
Many times when thinking about making a change or being encouraged to change what we recognize is the need to put aside what has become the comfortable, the usual. For example, why is Lent so often looked upon with a certain amount of trepidation? How can I fast for forty days? Do I really have to examine my way of living? There are sinful habits that need to be changed yet I have so programmed myself to live this way ... do I really have to change? For most of us there is need for change if we are honest with ourselves. Not necessary major alterations but alterations nonetheless.
Today throughout the USA many Catholics are faced with what seems to be major change: the closing of some parish schools and even the closing of some parishes. For long-time parishioners, closing a parish is akin to a tremendous, unfair change put upon their lives. For authorities who conclude such actions, it is not a change easily put forward.
Jesus came to the Jewish converts and told them he had not come to change the laws or the prophets. No, his change was not to bring an end but to fulfill what the laws and prophets had encouraged the people to be. What Jesus was teaching was a shift in understanding and living out of the laws. He was presenting the laws with a new insight a new vision.
The efforts of Bishops and Pastors to bring the Church and the People of God to the signs of the times will never be found on Easy Street. And we must realize that our Church would die if our leaders did not listen to the Holy Spirit who seeks to prevent our avoiding or trying to block needed changes. We continue, I believe, to be adapting and adopting the changes the Popes John XXIII and Paul VI believed the Holy Spirit was putting before us. In the first reading today, St. Paul is also mindful of the need to make change a regular part of our lives, as we grow, as the Holy Spirit leads us to deeper understandings of ourselves as well as the meaning of the words the Jesus has taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, which, by the way extend beyond his words of the Beatitudes. Consider the lives of Paul and Cardinal Newman: these men found themselves being called by God to make radical changes in their lives. Look what happened to them: they became saints and wise teachers of God's desires for us in our times.
Failing to accept change when we are called to it by the Holy Spirit is to become stagnate and self-righteous. When we see change brought about by our Church and also when we realize that there is an inner voice calling us to personal change, we must believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us forth to a new way, a new practice not just for ourselves. He is leading us to a closer life with our God and with all of our sisters and brothers in faith through the gifts of harmony and love.
It is a difficult reality for some but it is, I believe, a reality that if we do not respond to the calls of the Holy Spirit the kingdom of God will never become what our Creator wishes it to be.