June 14, 2011 - Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Yesterday and today we have had readings from the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is telling us to do the impossible. “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” sounds well enough, but “offer no resistance to one who is evil”? So if there is a murderer wandering the streets, are we just supposed to shrug our shoulders and say “Oh well. That is unfortunate.” “If anyone wants your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.” And then what? Walk around naked? He culminates these commands today with “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Not everyone can be perfect though, in this imperfect world. These commands of Jesus are not given for everyone. Indeed, they reveal to us the high calling of religious life. It is not possible for everyone to live these commandments, but some people can. I am thinking of St. Francis and Blessed Mother Teresa. Anyone here who has not already committed to another vocation could follow these commandments.

This is why religious life is a higher calling than marriage. I do not say this to denigrate marriage. Marriage is good and necessary, but, religious life offers freedom. When a person takes up the religious life, they give up possibilities. They give up the possibility of wealth and power in this world; they give up the possibility of intimate companionship with another human being; they give up the right to do what they want, to make decisions for themselves. They give up all these things, but, in return, they gain freedom: the freedom to live these commands and all of the commands of Jesus Christ, protected by the rest of society.

This is the relationship between those with a secular vocation and those with a religious vocation. On the one hand, the highest purpose of human society, which the people of the world build with their blood, sweat, and tears, is so that a few people might be able to live out the Gospel completely. On the other hand, these few serve the world with their prayers and their ceaseless work caring for the poor. The work of those who work in the world is dignified because it provides this possibility for perfection.

To those of you who have not committed to a vocation, I tell you this: If God is calling you to live perfectly, if you hear his call to a life of freedom, do not be afraid! The rest of us will keep the world going; you go and be perfect.