Love, Freedom and the Holy Spirit, Monday of the 30th Week of Ordinary Time (I), October 25, 1999

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College
Immaculate Conception Chapel
Monday of the 30th Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
October 25, 1999
Rom 8:12-17; Lk 13:10-17

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus affirmed that the greatest commandment of all was to love God and the second greatest was to love our neighbors as ourselves. On these two imperatives, he stated, all of the law and the prophets is based. In other words, therefore, love is the interpretative key of the entire Old Testament. Each of the commandments, to be appreciated fully or to be appreciated at all, needs to be understood through this prism. Every commandment is meant to help us to love – to love God with all we’ve got, to love ourselves as God loves us, and to love all those in his image with that same love.

In today’s Gospel, love is again the interpretative key, for we see clearly what happens when those who fail to appreciate the centrality of love in divine revelation look at the commandments and religious life. The chief of synagogue and his fellow hypocrites criticize Jesus for healing a woman 18 years a cripple, because he happened to do it on the Sabbath day. The sabbath was a day of strict rest, they claimed, and thus Jesus was actually sinning by doing a good deed on that day. But Jesus, as he does elsewhere in the Gospels – and as Pope John Paul II recently affirmed in Dies Domini – brings them back to the true meaning of the Sabbath. Man was not made for the sabbath; rather the sabbath was a gift for man, precisely so that he would be able to grow in love of God and love of neighbor. The sabbath was meant to make us free from external pressures so that we might be able to worship and love God, and have the time to help others out of love. The sabbath was not made to shackle us but liberate us to love. The chief of the synagogue and his comrades were greatly mistaken in their understanding and application of the 3rd commandment because they had forgotten that love was the interpretative key of the entire Law. So, too, we risk falling into the same trap if we make any commandment an end-in-itself, rather than a means to deepen in love.

Love is likewise the interpretative key of the first reading. St. Paul summarizes all of moral and spiritual theology under two principles, living under the spirit of slavery-of-the-flesh-and-fear and living under the Spirit of God, a Spirit that makes us and convinces us that we are indeed children of God. To make Paul’s contrast clearer, we can borrow an expression from tomorrow’s first reading. The difference is between living in a spirit of slavery to ourselves and living in the spirit of the glorious freedom of the children of God. The Father has sent the Holy Spirit to set us free. Why? Precisely so that we might be free to love, to love God, to love ourselves and to love others. In the beginning, he made us free so that we might love, because no one can ever be forced to love. After the fall and the dawn of the age of slavery to the flesh, the Father sent the Son to free us from this bondage, to make it possible for us to love again. And thereby he showed us both how much he really loves us and what real love is, the full gift of self – laying down one’s life for another. It is only when we are freed from the spirit of slavery to ourselves that we can really give of ourselves to God and others. It is only when we are so liberated that we can truly rejoice in God. Only in this latter state we can truly cry out – Abba, Daddy! – like loving children, as most of us did as care-free little kids when our fathers returned home from work.

Love, however, is much more than an omni-effective Scriptural hermeneutic. Love is also the interpretative key for each of our existences. The Little Flower’s great personal insight – that her vocation was to love, to be love in the heart of the Church – obtains equally for each one of us. Our vocation, too, is to love. Our call is to freely lay down ourselves in imitation of the Lord out of love for the Father and for all those whom he loves so much. This is the vocation of every child of God, and this is the way each of us will collect on the wonderful, unmerited inheritance that St. Paul describes, if we suffer and are glorified with Christ.

The whole purpose of this seminary, and the sole reason each of us is here, is that we might be formed to love with the priestly heart of Christ. Our theological studies are meant to help us know Christ better so that we might love him more and love more like him. Our pastoral work is designed to be the occasion so that we might love him in others. Our rhythm of life, the expectations the faculty proposes to us and on which they evaluate us, the counsel we get, the sacraments we’re so privileged to receive, the proximity we have to the living Peter – all of these are meant to be occasions for us to grow ever more into the image of God, who is Love. Love is the divine interpretative key of all of this. Too often, however – we must admit – we look at these daily gifts through other, distorted lenses.

At this Holy Mass, we can start again. God shows us once more just how much he loves us in the great Eucharistic kenosis we’re about to share. This great act of love, the source and summit of our lives, inspires and invites us to live out our vocation to love by wholehearedly following the Lord’s lead, for, as we sing each time We Survey His Wondrous Cross: love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all. God love you!