Bottom line: We feel a certain sadness because we are so far from fulfilling that law. But we don't say, "I do not belong."
In today's Psalm we hear that "the law of the Lord is perfect," that it refreshes the soul and rejoices the heart.
God's law, however, does not always cause such joy. As we heard in the Old Testament reading, when Ezra publicly read God's law, the people at first listened attentively and responded, "Amen, amen!" But then they fell prostrate and became sad as the full weight of the law struck them. Ezra tried to cheer them up, but it seems like many felt (to use the words of the second reading) "I do not belong."
Something similar has happened to us. Some Catholics have heard aspects of God's law and have become sad, even concluding, "I do not belong." And they express anger at what they perceive as "the Church's teaching."* Fr Tom Vandenberg addresses that anger in his book on the sacrament of marriage(Rediscovering a Pearl of Great Price: The Surprising Sacrament of Matrimony), especially in his appendices on Contraception, Same-Sex Marriage and Cohabitation. I encourage you to read his book.
Fr. Vandenberg does not give a definitive answer to all the vexing issues, but he is like St. Paul in today's reading. He addresses those who say, "I do not belong," and responds with a comparison to the human body. An ear cannot say, "because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body." No, the human body needs eyes, ears, hands and a variety of organs. None of us can say, "I do not belong."
It is true, of course, that part of the body can become diseased or wounded. That does not mean we can separate it from the body. In the Gospel we hear that Jesus has come to bring healing and liberation. Fr. Robert Barron speaks about this in his Catholicism videos. He says that one of the key roles of the Messiah is the gathering of God's people. For that reason Jesus went out to those on the margins - lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes. These people had concluded, "I do not belong." Jesus instead tells them, "I need you." You are a vital part of my body.
Jesus did not do this by writing off the law, but by showing the full depth of the law. For example, regarding marriage, Jesus did not say, "do whatever seems good to you; it's no big deal." No, he calls all of us to a purity of heart based on the sanctity of marriage - that the exercise of sexuality belongs only in that context: the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
When a person accepts Jesus' law in its fullness, it brings joy. It also brings the need for daily prayer, daily examination of conscience and daily conversion of heart. Unfortunately, rather than taking up this challenge, a lot of people have concluded, "I am not a perfect Christian, I am not a perfect Catholic, therefore I do not belong." But, Jesus (as we hear today) offers liberty to the captive, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. He needs you and me as part of his body. If we begin each day with prayer, Jesus will gradually remake us so we can be productive members.
So, today we hear God's law. For sure we feel a certain sadness because we are so far from fulfilling that law. But we don't say, "I do not belong." No, we turn to the Lord who gives sight to the blind, liberty to captives and freedom to the oppressed. He needs you and me and he will equip us as members of his body. Amen. Jesus loves
*In the last election the Democrats capitalized on this anger to win the "Catholic vote."
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