30th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - Cycle A - 2001-2002
First Reading - Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Second Reading1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel - Matthew 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."
In today's Gospel, we find Jesus confronted with a test from one of the Pharisees. Our Lord is asked to answer a simple question regarding the greatest commandment. His answer, as we all know is quite simple: first, we must love God above all things and then love our neighbor as ourselves. We would be remiss if we let this line of Scripture pass us by without a more careful examination.
What Jesus is setting up for us today is what is called the proper ordering of charity or the proper ordering of love. God is first; the individual or himself is second and other people are third.
God is a very jealous God. He takes a backseat to no one. He demands that we love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole mind. When we must choose between the law of God and human respect, God insists that He be placed first. When the law of society contradicts divine law; divine law must be our first level of accountability. We see this played out in our own parish by courageous individuals: persons, who for example, will not re-marry until a Catholic tribunal has first declared their prior marriage null. We see it with parents who will not attend the marriages of their children, when they are not performed with the blessing of the Church. We see it with individuals who vote for pro-life candidates, even if more negotiable items (such as taxes or education or social security) would make a candidate who is "pro-choice" more attractive. We even see it with the grandparents who take their grandchildren to Mass because their own children will not meet their Sunday obligation. This is the Faith being lived in our midst daily and we ought to take inspiration from such persons, who are moved by the Holy Spirit and are faithful to the Church, often at great personal expense.
Jesus then orders that we love our neighbor AS ourselves. The presumption is that we must love ourselves before we can love others. All human love is merely a participation in divine love - a love that desires one's salvation. Sometimes, this is counterintuitive - to love ourselves before others. This kind of self-love is proper and necessary for the old Latin saying, nemo quod dat non habet applies - you can't give what you don't have. In other words, we can't love others until we love ourselves in a proper way.
Lastly, Jesus says that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. From time to time, you will hear people say that they love their spouse or their child to the point of giving their very lives for them. This is admirable and selfless, to be sure. Yet, that love cannot truly occur unless the individual has his proper ordering of love set up: God first; self second, others next. In the end, we must always maintain a proper ordering of charity - all human love only makes sense in light of our primary love for God. It is only in our love of God that all other loves and motivations to do good find their meaning.
That is why later on, when Jesus says that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends, he also says that He, as God, calls us no longer slaves, BUT FRIENDS. This is why martyrdom is so revered in the Church - the martyrs lay down their lives for their ultimate friend and Lord - Jesus the Christ.
And finally, a word to the parents of our soon to be newest members of the Catholic Church - Michael and Mia. So begins once again for you as parents the high adventure of fidelity to the Faith. You know quite well that your children are not yours in the ultimate sense - Michael and Mia are children of God who have been entrusted to your care. This is a magnificent and awesome responsibility - a sacred trust - one I know that you do not take lightly. God the Father has chosen to use each of you as His instruments to provide for the Catholic formation of these little ones. What is about to happen in just a few moments is that at the moment when I say the words of baptism and pour the water upon those little foreheads, original sin will be wiped away and the Holy Spirit will infuse a special character on the souls of these little ones. They will be filled with the virtues of faith, hope, love, justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude and they will receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. These seven gifts will be sealed permanently when your children are confirmed later on. The rest of the story for these children is how they will live their lives according to the great gift they received this morning. Much of the story and how it is written will involve you, the parents and the Godparents.
One of the great effects of these infant baptisms is that it demands that each one of us here who are baptized look deep down within ourselves to see how each of us lives up to our baptismal dignities. We are all called to be saints. It is baptism that set this in motion for us. Let us pray that each of the baptized present here today will return to that same childlike innocence that each of these infants manifest here.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all of your patron saints, may you be found each day, guarding the baptismal dignities of your children with vigilance so that on that last day, they will be met with the consoling words of Jesus who will say to them, "Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master."
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!