One of my favorite movies is Miracle, the true story about the US men’s ice hockey team in 1980 that was put together to do the impossible:  to win an Olympic gold medal.  The coach told his players, “You think you can win on talent alone?  Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”  in addition to talent, two other ingredients were necessary to bring home the gold medal:  personal sacrifice and teamwork.  And so the coach put his players through a grueling conditioning program that made them better physically fit than any of their opponents.  If you’ve seen the movie you probably remember the coach calling his players back on the ice after a lackluster effort in an exhibition game where he had them do wind sprints on the ice…”again”, “again”, “again”. He also developed an unselfish cooperation among a bunch of testosterone-filled young men, many of whom had been college rivals and didn’t like each other.  The players thought the coach was unrealistic, obsessed, and even crazy.  In the end, the US men’s ice hockey team achieved the goal for which the team was created.   They beat the Soviets and then Finland to clinch the Olympic gold medal.

Talent, personal sacrifice and teamwork are necessary for success in many of life’s activities including sports, school, and almost any career.  They are also necessary to become the person God created us to become.

Becoming the person God wants us to be requires us to discern, develop and put into action certain gifts called charisms.  You can think of charisms as supernatural talents in the spiritual life.  They differ from natural talents in two ways.  First, they are given to us by the Holy Spirit, not inherited from our parents or simply the result of hard work, although we must work to develop our charisms.  Second, the purpose of a charism is not for one’s own good but for the common good by being a channel of God’s love in the Church and in the world.  Examples of charisms are hospitality, mercy, service, teaching, and intercessory prayer.  It’s important to realize that if we are not attentive to our charisms we resist God and and His plan for our life.   In doing so, we resist the happiness that God intends for us.

Becoming the person God wants us to become also requires personal sacrifice which  can be quite challenging.  Listen again to the bookends of today’s readings.  Starting with Leviticus, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.: and ending in Matthew’s Gospel, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Talk about challenging!   Everything in between those book ends shows us how to be holy and perfect:  Don’t hate your brother, sister or neighbor;  don’t seek revenge or hold grudges.  I know what some of you are thinking and you’re not alone.  So let me verbalize it.  “Lord.  Are you serious?  This is unrealistic, even crazy! Do you know who my brothers, sisters and neighbors are?  Do you know what they’ve done to me and how they treat me?” and the Lord responds, “I know your brothers, your sisters and your neighbors.  I know what they’ve done to you, and what they’re going to do.  Do you know that my  Spirit dwells within you to strengthen you?  Now look at the cross.  Yes, I’m serious.  Be holy and perfect as I, the Lord, am holy and perfect.”  To be holy and perfect is challenging and we will fall.  But when we fall we are called to get back up…again, again, and again.

The final element necessary to become the person God wants us to become is teamwork.  In the spiritual life teamwork is being a member of the Bod of Christ.  As members of the Body of Christ we are called to be concerned, not only with our own salvation, but with the salvation of all the members.  As we heard in Leviticus this may require us to gently correct others.  And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to love as God loves:  turn the other cheek when someone slaps us; give someone our shirt when they take our coat.  But how are these actions loving a God loves and how are they concerned with the salvation of others?  We often think of love as a feeling.   But that is not the love God is talking about.  To love as God loves is to will the good of another.  To do whatever is best for another, not to do what is best for ourselves.  And the best think we can do for someone who attacks us is to help them come to a realization of the injustice they are inflicting so that they turn back to God.   If we verbally abuse someone who insults us or cheat someone who cheats us, retaliation is not going to turn them back to God.  But if we expose their action by patiently suffering the injustice then we have a much better chance of winning them over and back to God.  Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes discipline and correction are necessary, but many times that approach doesn’t work.  Is this radical love easy?  Of course it’s not.  Will we sometimes get burned and be taken advantage of?  You can count on it.   But this is how God loves.  And He calls us to love in the same way.

In the Concluding Rite at the end of Mass one of the proclamations is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive” meaning that God is glorified when man achieves the end of which he was made. Strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist let us commit ourselves to becoming the person God created us to be:  by discerning, developing and putting into action our supernatural talents or charisms; by personal sacrifice and striving to be holy and perfect; and by being members of the Body of Christ who will the good of others.  Let us go, loving as God loves.