What makes a person good? The legal system judges people good or evil by whether they keep laws. But it is easy to see the limits of that approach. A stingy person may well be keeping all financial laws. An honest person may never tell a lie but also never take a stand. External behavior may look good but flow from a bad motivation, such as impressing someone. In both Hebrew Scripture and in the New Testament — including today’s Gospel — the heart is mentioned in connection with goodness and evil. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” Jesus says, quoting Isaiah. And “from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts…” he adds. And so in our rich moral tradition, growing in holiness means advancing beyond merely obeying commandments or laws. Loving is not reserved just for my family or my neighbor but also for my enemy. Generosity must include people we don’t normally associate with, like the Samaritans or lepers of Jesus’ time, or the homeless and refugees of today. As we grow spiritually, we automatically obey laws of course. But we also begin to get in touch with the impulses of our hearts. There we find the “evil thoughts” that Jesus mentions, things that prompt us to act and react in ways we ought not. Besides the list Jesus gives us, we might also remember the list of “capital sins” already being taught in the fourth century: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger,and sloth. We probably won’t ever root these things out of our hearts; some undoubtedly come from our evolutionary past and others from cultural conditioning. But we can learn to become conscious of them, recognize them and interrupt them before they prompt us to act badly. Each time we do this, we purify our hearts and build up our spiritual heart muscle for doing good.
– Blog entry by Sister Mary Garascia