Introduction: Perfectly Inculturated Evangelization
It’s another action-packed day on our Mexican pilgrimage, a day that brings us to this holy and historic place, built by the Augustinian friars even before the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here we commemorate among the earliest efforts to evangelize this land and we pray for those who have gone before us in faith. This is a perfect setting for us to take a second look at today’s Scripture readings which also pertain to our calling to spread the Gospel, to be evangelizers.
Last evening we were privileged to listen to Msgr. [Eduardo] Chavez who explained how Our Lady’s countenance and the designs on her robes brings together in a marvelous harmony an array of cultures. All this, however, is more than a blending of cultures. Rather, Our Lady of Guadalupe is showing us how her Son Jesus enlightens not only individuals but also the cultures of which they are a part. Jesus, the light of the world, illuminates and transforms any and every redeemable culture from within. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe teaches us that the Gospel doesn’t destroy cultures but rather purifies and ennobles them. Indeed, so beautifully inclusive is this image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that St. John Paul II recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepayac, “an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization” (EA, 11).
Perfectly Interiorized Faith
The counterpart to a perfectly inculturated evangelization is a perfectly interiorized faith. External observance of the law of God isn’t enough. Rather, it is only when Jesus and his teaching touch us to the core – only when we have an inner attitude of total & loving obedience and self-giving love – only then can we not only to fulfill what the law of God commands but indeed to exceed the requirements of the law. As St. Paul tells us in Romans, “love fulfills the law” (Romans 13:8).
To see this, let’s take a brief look at our first reading from Ezekiel, for it takes us part of the way down the road toward interiorizing our faith. A first step toward internalize our faith is taking responsibility for our decisions and actions. Ezekiel says if we acknowledge our sins and repent, we will be forgiven. If we turn from virtue to sin, we endanger our eternal salvation. Taking responsibility for our moral decisions is only a first step but it is decisive: it creates an opening for God’s grace to touch our inmost being.
In the Gospel Jesus shows us what our second step should be. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:21). Their righteousness consisted in observing the letter of the law but Jesus sets a new standard for those who would be his followers. God’s law must become so much a part of us that it penetrates our hearts and leads us to a point where, deep down, we love what God loves and reject what God rejects. This oneness with God’s mind and heart is called “love”.
So it’s not enough from refraining from murder. We also have to deal with our attitudes of anger and resentment. It’s not enough to refrain from adultery. We must also deal with thoughts and attitudes that render our hearts impure. Nor is it enough to bring our gift to the altar; we cannot express love of God while harboring hatred for our neighbor. The teaching of Christ is interiorized only when we eliminate the internal thoughts and attitudes that lead us to break the commandments.
Let us test the proposition that mere external observance of the law does not produce love. Imagine a couple that merely kept the Ten Commandments in their marriage. Suppose this husband and wife said something like this: “Our marriage is wonderful. We don’t steal from each other; we don’t lie to each other; we don’t cheat on each other; and so far we haven’t killed each other!” Would that be the makings of a wonderful marriage? Hardly! God wants more than that. He wants married couples to grow in love.
And that’s what God desires for all his disciples. Certainly, we should avoid doing things that directly hurt other people, such as killing, adultery, or lying. Obeying the moral law is a minimum. But to live as members of the Kingdom of God we need to do more. We need to cultivate inner attitudes and dispositions that transform our hearts and builds us love… I’m thinking of the patience, meekness, purity, and mercy that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Ultimately Jesus calls us beyond the requirements of the law and tells us instead to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
Lent is a time for you and me to cultivate the heart. We should do this not only for ourselves but also out of love for those around us, especially our families. We should also do this for the sake of evangelization. Only when we have internalized the faith can we become agents of evangelization, that perfectly inculturated evangelization we have witnessed on the lovely face of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!