One day, an expert of the law asked Jesus about the greatest commandment; and Jesus answered by pointing out that there were actually two: “to love God with our total self and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He also added that the second was like the first (cf. Matthew 22:37-39).
Today, many of us learn that, because of Jesus, 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.’”
However, some who are paying closer attention to this Word of God for the first time might dismiss the whole point, saying that St. Paul must have had a personal agenda.
Even so, besides the fact that it makes no difference who is teaching us the truth in the Bible, it is all inspired by God, let us pay attention the following solemn words of Jesus during the Last Supper: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. John 13:34
God’s Word coming to us from the Letter to the Romans (13:8-10) 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 sojourn on this 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 the number of prayers recited, of Holy Masses attended, of favorite devotions prayed, of wearing scapulars or blessed medals, or of any other helpful religious article. All those nice things, and more besides, can be helpful, of course, but can also create complacency and a false sense of security so that one would be inclined to base his/her salvation on something, good, but that doesn’t require the complete sacrifice of self as Jesus did on the cross.
To borrow Jesus’ words from last Sunday: we would be trying to “save” our life and wind up “losing” it when the only way of finding 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 unquestionable, because it is a matter of life and death—mine and yours.
Here it is, so clear and unquestionable: “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.”
But we do not really think that God has us in mind when He addresses the wicked. He must be targeting some big sinners out there. Regrettably, NO. He has us in mind, including me, including other priests and bishops and deacons.
Let us face it: we are all more than wicked in God’s eyes. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him?” Matthew 7:11
Yes, the warning is for all of us: We can die in isolation, spiritual isolation included. We can die by carving a comfortable niche for ourselves apart from the Community and/or by starting our own brand of religiosity. We can die by being self-centered, self-absorbed and self-reliant.
But we live by gathering in the name of Jesus as opposed to satisfying personal preferences; by unselfishly agreeing about anything for which we are to pray; by praying in Jesus, with Jesus and His Body, i.e. with all of the others as a Community of one mind and one heart. We live if we are deeply convinced of our wickedness and of our pressing need to convert, to return to God, daily, and if we, routinely, question our stances, choices and ideas. Consequently, we live by being good listeners of God’s Word and by being even better doers of that Word because it is always the Word of life.
We begin to live as soon as we are not held back by fear of “losing” our life. We live by considering others as more important than ourselves and by placing their wellbeing ahead of our own. We live by carrying out Jesus’ new commandment of loving to the point of self-immolation for our neighbor.
This is the core of our faith in action. Most of the rest is trimming and decoration, if not 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 myself and you about complacency, spiritual stagnation, and the pitfall of individualism 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. But, to be quite frank with you, unable as I am to assess the work of God’s grace inside our hearts, I gather that I have failed in large measure since some of you think that fighting to end all abortions is just one of the many issues that should concern us instead of being the preeminent issue there is since, without life, all the other issues are moot and pointless.
Honestly, at times I feel like St. Paul. But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?” Romans 10: 16. Presumptuous me: Even if I did everything that the Lord has commanded me, I would still be an unprofitable servant. (Cf. Luke 17:10).
But, I would be less unprofitable to my Divine Master if, more often, I had put into practice what I had preached to others, I had left wickedness behind and had returned, daily, back to the Lord. My dear friends in Christ, we have been reminded today that there is a divine linkage between heaven and earth and that linkage is Christ Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God. Because of this wonderful linkage, because divinity and humanity are both present in the Lord and in each one of us, today, we shall pledge to live out the new commandment also by correcting, encouraging, supporting, forgiving and praying for each other so that the Lord may stay with us and lead us into His Kingdom.