The first reading from the Book of Sirach (Sir. 15:15-20) begins with a very direct statement,
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.
We all have been given the ability and the freedom to exercise our will. We can each one of us make choices and all choices have consequences. We are all free to make choices but no one is free to deny the consequences of his or her choices. How we choose to exercise our will can lead to either more life or can lead to death (in a variety of forms).
Earlier this week the priests of our diocese gathered for our annual study days and at one point the presenter talked a little about the physiological effects of prayer. He shared that there are studies which indicate that the discipline of prayer is a factor in the development of the areas of our brain connected with attention, focus and compassion. Prayer (a spiritual discipline) can positively affect our minds, our biology. This makes sense for Christians because we hold mind, body and spirit together. It is all connected. The choice to pray and to enter into the things of faith, which is an exercise of the will, is a choice that leads to more life.
Interestingly, the presenter also shared that there are studies coming out indicating that there is another choice we can make that negatively impacts the biology of the brain and that is the choice for porn. Studies are demonstrating that persons who fall into this habit experience an over-development of the lowest level of brain functioning (the reptilian area of the brain) and less development of the areas connected with attention, focus and compassion.
All choices have consequences – some lead to life and some lead to death.
Our God is a God of life and not death.
Our Lord goes deep in today’s gospel. (Mt. 5:17-37) He is not content to remain on the surface but wants to go to the heart where healing is needed. Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and he wants us to know that in our keeping of the commandments is found life. So Christ calls us to look within – to look at the anger, the greed, the judgmentalism, the pride, the lust that can dwell there – and to begin making choices (by his grace) beyond those sad realities and temptations. Choices made for sin all leave us locked within our small selves. God does not want this for us. God wants us to be turned outward – towards Him and towards our brothers and sisters. Here is where life is found.
One final thought. It begins today – by the choices we make now. Some of you know that I am not the most consistent in my jogging routine (more than partly due to my own choices, some poor) but I have been around enough joggers to know that you don’t just get up one morning and say, “Today, I will run a marathon.” It doesn’t work that way. To run a marathon you prepare months in advance and during those months you make daily choices – some choices are not “fun” and some are downright painful. The choice to watch what you eat, the choice to plan and chart miles, the choice to run even when you don’t want to, the choice to not do other things when you need to get your running hours in, etc… The race does not begin the day of the marathon; it begins the months before and it continues with all those daily choices.
We will all face “marathons” in life – times of struggle that will try and test us. To begin trying to make the choices for life when the struggle is upon us is often just too late. The choices for God and His commandments that we make today and parents, the choices you help your children to make today, are the choices that will see us through the marathon when it comes.
Each one of us is free to make our choices but no one is free to deny the consequences of the choices we make.
Before man are life and death, good and evil…
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.