By His creative and renewing power, the Spirit always sustains the hope of God’s people as we make our pilgrim way through history, and, as the Paraclete, He always supports the witness of Christians. In this moment . . . all of us want to listen to the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to us through the Scriptures we have just heard.
In the first reading, the Lord’s call to His people resounds: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). In the Gospel Jesus echoes this call: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). These words challenge all of us, as the Lord’s disciples. . . . Imitating the holiness and perfection of God might seem an unattainable goal. Yet, the first reading and the Gospel offer us concrete examples which enable God’s way of acting to become the norm for our own. Yet we— all of us—must never forget that without the Holy Spirit our efforts are in vain! Christian holiness is not first and foremost our own work, but the fruit of docility—willed and cultivated—to the Spirit of God thrice holy.
The book of Leviticus says: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart . . . You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge . . . but you shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Lev 19:17-18). These attitudes are born of the holiness of God. We, however, tend to be so different, so selfish and proud . . . and yet, God’s goodness and beauty attract us, and the Holy Spirit is able to purify, transform and shape us day by day. To make effort to be converted, to experience a heartfelt conversion: this is something that all of us . . . must do. Conversion!
In the Gospel Jesus also speaks to us of holiness, and explains to us the new law, His law. He does this by contrasting the imperfect justice of the scribes and Pharisees with the higher justice of the Kingdom of God. The first contrast of today’s passage refers to revenge. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you . . . if anyone should strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:38-39). We are required not only to avoid repaying others the evil they have done to us, but also to seek generously to do good to them.
The second contrast refers to our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44). Jesus asks those who would follow Him to love those who do not deserve it, without expecting anything in return, and in this way to fill the emptiness present in human hearts, relationships, families, communities and in the entire world. . . . Jesus did not come to teach us good manners, how to behave well at the table! To do that, He would not have had to come down from heaven and die on the Cross. Christ came to save us, to show us the way, the only way out of the quicksand of sin, and this way of holiness is mercy, that mercy which He has shown, and daily continues to show, to us. To be a saint is not a luxury. It is necessary for the salvation of the world. This is what the Lord is asking of us.
Taken from a homily given by the Holy Father on February 23, 2014.