30th Sunday in Ordinary
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005
First Reading - Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Second Reading - 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel - Mathew 22:34-40
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
A scholar of the law tests Jesus by asking Him, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus' reply is very simple and very profound. He replies that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. The second commandment is similar: to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. By this simple response, our Lord establishes a hierarchy of love. He also summarizes the Ten Commandments for us: the first three commandments relate to the mandate to love God above all things. The second set of commandments (#4-8) relate to the mandate to love others as ourselves. Note well that the first of this second set of commandments, which is the commandment to honor our parents, precedes any dictum against injuring life (5th commandment). We'll talk more about the 4th commandment later.
So, what of this hierarchy of love? The first commandment is to love God above all things. This seems simple enough to grasp, at least on paper. But the second commandment may be more difficult to understand: to love our neighbor AS we love ourselves. This means that the proper ordering of love is: God 1st; myself (in an ordinate and proper way) 2nd; others 3rd. Myself 2nd? Doesn't that seem counterintuitive? After all, don't we often feel guilty about putting our needs above those of others? Think of parents of young children. They change everything in their lives to make accommodations for the young ones in their midst. They become secondary to the child. And yet, in reality, loving ourselves in a proper way is necessary for us to love others. Why? The answer lies in an old Latin phrase, Nemo quod dat non habet - you can't give what you yourself don't possess. In other words, you can't love others correctly and in a proper way unless you have loved yourself enough first. At the end of our lives, not only are we responsible for helping others get to heaven - we are responsible for ourselves. Loving others should never come at the expense of loving ourselves in a proper way. Before we can love others well, we need to have loved ourselves well enough in order to be able to have something to give away. Hence, we ought to love others AS we love ourselves. Here, Jesus presumes that loving others is preceded by loving ourselves in a proper way.
There are wonderful "profiles in courage" of individuals who have made difficult choices to uphold this proper hierarchy of love. I want to point a few of these out this morning for your edification and to help us all reflect upon how we live up to this great challenge.
First, we consider those who love God above all.
• Think of the teen or the college student, who in spite of the moral decay surrounding them at school, remains committed to living the virtues of purity and chastity. Their peers scoff at their "old fashioned" values but these young people know that it's not about "old fashioned" values, but living the demands of the Gospel and being authentic disciples, rooted in the Truth.
• Consider the elderly person who makes it to Mass Sunday after Sunday in spite of frail health and physical limitations. Coming to Mass is the highlight of their week and they look forward to receiving Holy Communion time and time again.
• We admire the businessman who closes on Sunday even if his competitors remain open. He would rather pass up the opportunity to make extra money so that he can go to church with his family and spend the day with them, sanctifying their Sabbath.
• Then there are those heroic grandparents, parents, siblings and friends of individuals who, in spite of a Catholic upbringing, refuse to marry in the Catholic Church. These relatives and friends of these individuals who reject our Lord and the Church refuse to attend their wedding because their first allegiance is to God. They will not compromise their Faith so as to keep a false peace in the family. They would rather endure the animosity of those who reject our Lord, rather than betray Him. These are individuals who have truly met our Lord. Of course, this does not apply to persons who have formally left the Catholic Church. Rather, it applies to persons who still consider themselves Catholic but are not interested in participating in the Church's life.
When we think of loving ourselves in an ordinate way so as to make gifts of ourselves to others, we consider the importance of good physical and mental health. Moreover, we ought to consider our spiritual health. Frequent confession, daily prayer and Scripture study, recitation of the rosary and other devotions, a yearly retreat, a steady diet of spiritual and educational reading, and some active apostolate if possible all constitute the life of a person who loves themselves in a proper way. At times, we find the unfortunate situation where you have parents who want to have their child baptized in the Church. And yet, these parents, who are not in a valid marriage, have no intention of trying to regularize their marriage. They treat baptism as an insurance policy in case the child should become ill or worse, die. And yet, they have no intention of caring for their own soul. There's an intrinsic paradox here - the desire for baptism without the desire to raise the child in the Faith by the witness of a credible example of life. How do such parents expect to give to their child that which they themselves do not possess?
We then turn our attention to loving others. One example stands out: the love of parents - honoring our father and our mother. Think of the tragic phenomenon of the nursing home. It's the one place I don't like to visit. It's not because I don't love our shut-ins. It's because my heart breaks to see so many elderly persons who have been brought to the nursing home and left there to die. They rarely get visitors or phone calls or mail. At times, I am the only person they see all week. These persons often feel abandoned and are near despair. This is particularly difficult for Asians and Hispanics to understand. Why? It's because the elderly are venerated and they die at home as part of the family. Children come home from school and they greet and have a snack with their grandparents in a backroom. Grandparents are surrounded by loving families and they are never made felt to be a burden to the family. My dear grandmother often thought that the fact that she would move from home to home among my mom's siblings was a blessing to the children so that she could grace them with her presence. For this reason, you'll rarely find an Asian or Hispanic person in the nursing home - it's not in the culture. And so if we say that every life is precious and every life has dignity, shouldn't this apply to more than just the unborn? Shouldn't this apply to our beloved elders?
Lastly, this hierarchy of love asks us to consider our motivation behind our love of God. How often do I find myself loving God because I fear I will go to hell if I don't? Or how often do I hear people complain to me that they don't get anything out of Mass, as if religion was about what WE get out of it. What every happened to coming to Mass to adore and thank God? What every happened to receiving Holy Communion - doesn't that still count for something? People who say that they don't get anything out of Mass after they have just received Holy Communion make me wonder if they believe in the Eucharist. Can we say today that we love God simply because He is God? That without Him, I would not exist - I would not even be a figment of anybody's imagination. Do we love Him for His own sake? If we do love him with pure hearts, do we then appreciate that it is God's love for us that gives context and meaning to all human love? After all, it is God who teaches us to love Him, ourselves properly and others as ourselves.
In this month of October, when we honor the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who on this side of eternity loved God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit more than we could every imagine was possible - let us ask her to teach us how to love Him so that her Immaculate Heart may reign in our own.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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