Practicing What We Preach
St Lawrence Distributing Alms (Fra Angelico)

Practicing What We Preach

It is useful to start by recalling the incident in which an expert of the law asked Jesus about the greatest commandment; and how Jesus answered by pointing out that there were actually two: “to love our God with our total self and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He also added that the second was like the first. Today, many of us learn that, as revealed, the first commandment has been “absorbed” by the second: “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…all commandments are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (cf. Romans 13: 8-9)

Some who are paying attention to this Word of God for the first time might dismiss the whole thing by saying that St. Paul, not Jesus, “summed up” the first commandment into the second. Well, besides the fact that it makes no difference who is teaching us the truth in the Bible, as it is all inspired by God, listen to what is placed on Jesus’ lips during the Last Supper: “I give you a new commandment, love one another the way I loved you.” (John 13: 34)

God’s Word coming to us from the Letter to the Romans (13:8-9) is therefore the core, the heart of our entire faith in action.

I say “faith in action” because this is exactly what we are going to be judged on at the end of our stay on earth: concrete love of our God present in the least of our brothers and sisters will determine our eternal salvation, or damnation in case of failure. It is not a question of number of prayers recited, of Masses attended, of favorite devotions prayed, of wearing scapulars or blessed medals, or of any other helpful religious article.

All those nice things that I mentioned, and more besides, can be helpful, of course, but can also create complacency and false security so that one might be inclined to base his/her salvation on something, seemingly good, but that doesn’t take a disciple of Christ to implement the new commandment, i.e. his/her self-immolation in union with Jesus on the cross. To borrow Jesus’ words: we might focus on trying to save our life and wind up losing it when the only way to find life is by “losing it” for Jesus’ sake, i.e., by loving each other as he loved us on the cross.

I hope that this message is clear and even blunt, because it is question of life and death, mine and yours. “If I (God) tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you (priest) do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (cf. Ezekiel 33:7-9)

Let us face it: we are all wicked in God’s eyes (cf. Matthew 7:11). As such, one can die from isolation, spiritual isolation included. One can die from carving a comfortable niche for himself/herself apart from the Community and/or by starting his/her own brand of religiosity.

One can die from being self-centered, self-absorbed, self-contained.

But one lives by assembling as a Community in the name of Jesus (as opposed to by satisfying personal preferences); by agreeing about anything for which we are to pray; by praying linked to Heaven in Jesus, with Jesus and linked with His Body, i.e. all of the others as one mind and one heart.

One lives if one is deeply convinced of one’s wickedness and of the pressing need to convert, to return to God, daily, and, daily, to doubt one’s choices and ideas.

Consequently, one lives by being a good listener of God’s Word and by being even a better doer of that Word because it is always the Word of life.

One begins to live as soon as one is not held back by fear of losing one’s life.

One lives by placing oneself constantly in a humble and docile listening mode so that one is always ready not to do one’s will (mistaken at times for God’s will) but by carrying out God’s law, Jesus’ new commandment of loving to the point of self-immolation for our neighbor.

This is the core of our faith in action. There is nothing else that is of vital importance. Most of the rest is trimming and decoration, if not useless, hollow fluff.

In my preaching, I sincerely hope to have made the comfortable uncomfortable by urging them to look inside their hearts, and the uncomfortable comfortable by pointing out to them the infinite mercy and love of our God. I hope to have warned you about complacency, spiritual stagnation, and the pitfall of individualism (each one doing his/her own thing) within the Body of Christ. I hope also to have kept the fluff to a minimum and fed you the solid food of God’s Word. Yet, to be perfectly honest with you, unable as I am to assess the work of God’s grace inside our hearts, fully aware that I cannot hold a candle to St. Paul, I must face the possibility of having failed almost completely. But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?” (Romans 10:16) Hence, those who think that they have all the important answers already and refuse to listen, will have to deal directly with God in due time.

Personally, I must aim at putting into practice myself what I have preached to others: i.e. to leave my wickedness behind and return, daily, back to the Lord. My dear friends in Christ, we are reminded today that there is a divine linkage between heaven and earth and that linkage is Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God. Because of this wonderful linkage, because divinity and humanity are both present in our Lord and, through him, in each one of us, we shall pledge, today, to continue to correct, to encourage, to support, to forgive and to pray for each other so that the Lord may stay with us and lead us into his Kingdom of undimmed light and endless glory.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin