Paying the Debt of Love, 31st Wednesday (I), November 8, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for the Faithful Departed
November 8, 2017
Rom 13:8-10, Ps 112, Lk 14:25-33


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Today in the Gospel Jesus does something extraordinary. St. Luke tells us that “great crowds” were traveling with him. He had fixed his face on Jerusalem (Lk 9:51) and was on a long way of the Cross; they, like the apostles, thought or at least hoped or wondered that they were on a triumphal procession for him to be recognized as Messiah and unite the people to drive out the Romans. Jesus turned around to the crowds and didn’t say, “How nice of you to come!” Rather, out of love he challenged them to know what they were signing up for if they were prepared to follow him all the way. He wanted them to count the cost of discipleship and be willing to pay it, knowing that to obtain the pearl of great price won’t come on the cheap.
    • He tells us that to follow him as his disciple to salvation, we have to do three things. First, we need to “hate” father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and  sisters. The Hebrew word for “hate” doesn’t mean “detest,” but rather “put in second place” or “knock down a peg.” Jesus, after all, calls us to honor our father and mother, not despise them. But we have to make sure that they don’t become gods in our life, that if there is ever a choice between what God is asking of us and what our parents, or husband or wife, or children are asking of us, that we say “God’s will be done” instead of “My loved one’s will be done.” And we need to remember that if we do “hate” them in this way, we actually will love them more because we will love them in God.
    • Second, Jesus says one needs to hate “even his own life,” “carry his own cross” and “follow” Him. We need to account Jesus’ life more valuable than our own, in imitation of him who deemed our life more valuable than His. This is the faith that led the martyrs directly to heaven. If we love our comforts, our life in this world more than we love God, then we won’t be completing the work of salvation because Jesus clearly taught us that to save our life we must lose it and that unless we fall to the ground and die like a grain of wheat we won’t bear the fruit of salvation.
    • Third, Jesus says one must “renounce all his possessions.” We must renounce the stuff that possesses us and then as good stewards use everything we have and are for God and his service, giving of ourselves together with our things for God and others, because if we cling to possessions we will not be able to fit through the eye of the needle to salvation.
  • In buttressing the conditions of the completion of the work of our salvation, Jesus employs two analogies that point to the cost of discipleship. He says that to build a tower, we need to calculate the cost and get the proper supplies lest we not finish what we began. Likewise, to win a battle, we have to know whether we have the resources to defeat the enemy. In building the tower toward heaven, we have to have the supplies of the detachment he’s describing from ourselves, our loved one’s, our possessions and our life to finish the job. In fighting against the twenty thousand troops of the evil one, we have to divest ourselves of whatever will hinder us in battle, whatever earthly desires the devil can use against us. We won’t be able to finish what’s been started unless we count the cost and pay the cost, knowing that in the biggest picture of all, this is the wisest and greatest deal in life, the pearl and treasure worth more than everything else. We also need to know that Jesus never calls us to something — especially something this hard — without providing the means necessary to do it, but his help doesn’t eliminate our sacrifice; rather it just makes it lighter and sweeter.
  • Today in the first reading, St. Paul tells the first Roman Catholics and all of us, about the cost that needs to be paid, about what we’re really signing up for if we follow Jesus. It’s a clear continuation of what we pondered yesterday in meditating on the 20 ways he described we needed to “let [our] love be sincere.” Today he says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” Not only is this a statement against amassing financial debt — words that are very important today in a culture that doesn’t save but charges beyond their means on credit cards, or borrows way beyond our means as a national government (although not so relevant among those who have taken the vow of poverty!) — but it is a reminder for us that we do have a debt to love one another. Loving one another is not a good suggestion by Jesus. It’s not even just a command. It’s a debt to pay, it’s a real duty, it’s something we owe others. This might seem strange at first to think we owe everyone a debt of love, but when we take seriously Jesus’ words that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him (Mt 25:31-46), then it’s easier to understand if still hard to do: because we owe a debt to Jesus for everything — for our life, our salvation, our gifts, etc. — we pay that debt in the way we love each other. St. Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, wrote in Love and Responsibility that the other is someone before whom the only worthy response is love. This debt is paid, first, in keeping the commandments. Today St. Paul lists the “second tablet” of the Decalogue, focused on love of neighbor, reminding us that the “one who loves one another has fulfilled the law” and “love is the fulfillment of the law.” Jesus said something similar in St. Matthew’s Gospel when he reminded us that all the law and the prophets, including obviously the Ten Commandments, hinges on the love of God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and the love of our neighbor as we love ourselves.
  • How are we doing in paying that debt to everyone we meet? We often think that we are loving others by the simple fact that we wish them good things or don’t hate them, but love is a sacrifice of ourselves for the good of the other as other, and we need to ask ourselves whether, when we look at each other and at others in general, we find ourselves in a real debt of love for them that we feel impelled within to pay. Just like St. Therese Lisieux, each of us is called to be love in the heart of the Church, to love others with the love with which Christ has loved us first, and to do this concretely. There are lots of ways that we could apply this to our lives, but I’d like to focus on a few.
    • First, if we’re really loving others, do we ever tell them we love them? Do you ever say to each other, here in this convent, “I love you, Sister!” I’ve discovered in my priesthood, both personally and in the lives of others, that many never say those words “I love you” except to family members. But we have a debt of love to everyone, and if we’re saying it practically to no one, do we really love them? Our vow of chastity is a gift precisely to help us to love with white-hot purity of heart; it reorders our capacity for eros to keep it loving, pure (seeing God in others) and pious (reverencing God in others) and is meant to unleash our capacity for philia (love of friendship) and especially agape (Christian self-sacrificial love). I’m convinced that if we’re afraid for whatever reason to say the words “I love you” to friends, to fellow sisters, to people that we serve, then we’ll almost certainly be afraid regularly and fearlessly to put that love into body language. When St. Paul says “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another,” the verb he is using is agape. I wish in a sense that English was rich enough a language for us to be able to say to others, “I agapo you” or I “phileo you” so that when we say “I love you” people would never think that we mean eros in violation of our vows or priestly promises. Jesus himself shows us this when he says to us during the Last Supper, “Just as the Father loves me, so I love you,” and he wants us, having been loved by him, to say to others, “Just like Jesus loves me, I want to love you” and “I love you with the love of Jesus.”
    • Second, if we’re really loving others, we’ll be making willing sacrifices for them. Jesus’ love led him to lay down his life for us, and all love is a reflection of that basic nature of love, which is a willingness to say no to ourselves to say yes for another, to do all that we morally can for another. We need regularly to examine ourselves on this point, asking: Do I sacrifice for this person next to me? Do I recognize that that sacrifice is something I “owe,” that it’s a debt I’m paying, that the other is worthy of it? Do I make the time for the person? Am I patient and kind? Do I count the cost of loving and wait for a quid pro quo?
    • Third, if we’re really loving others then, as St. Paul said yesterday, we’ll be doing so “with affection.” Jesus of course calls us to “love our enemies,” to sacrifice for their good, but with our neighbors who are not our enemies, with our siblings, our fellow Christians, the people we serve, we are called to do more. Many times we can “love” people but not “like” them, and I’m not sure that in those cases we’re really loving sincerely the other person as person. Jesus as God loves a cheerful giver, so he loves an affective lover, friend, Christian self-giver. It’s not enough to sacrifice. But God wants us to sacrifice from the heart, not just “paying a debt” that we owe to someone reluctantly, but with passion freely doing something for someone we either naturally or with effort want to treat with great warmth. I love the story of St. Therese’s treatment of the curmudgeonly old sister whom nobody really cared for, and how, through loving her with affection, she changed for the better in her relations with everyone. To me, it seems obviously that that old sister was just wanting for real human love, for friendship, for agape, for the love of Christ mediated through his Mystical Body. Everyone needs that.
  • To strengthen us to love like this, Christ himself comes as Love incarnate to make his abode in us and help us to love like him. This is where we get the resources to build the tower and win the war. This is where we choose to unite with him in praying for all our family members, where we bring our crosses and receive his strength to yoke ourselves to him by means of them, to die to ourselves so that he may live, and to detach ourselves from worldly goods to find in him our treasure. In the Psalm we prayed, “Blessed the man who is gracious,” who “lavishly he gives to the poor.” Jesus graciously gives himself to us each morning in our poverty. He says by this gift “I love you” with all I am and have, and then he sends us forward to love not just like that but together with him. We prayed in the Psalm, “His generosity shall endure forever,” and one of the ways it endures is when we receive his loving generously to overflowing and pay that generosity forward in the affectionate, verbal and nonverbal way we imitate his agape and philia in the way we treat each other.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ROM 13:8-10

Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill;
you shall not steal;
you shall not covet
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Responsorial Psalm PS 112:1B-2, 4-5, 9

R. ( 5a) Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
R. Alleluia.
Blessed the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commands.
His posterity shall be mighty upon the earth;
the upright generation shall be blessed.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
R. Alleluia.
He dawns through the darkness, a light for the upright;
he is gracious and merciful and just.
Well for the man who is gracious and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
R. Alleluia.
Lavishly he gives to the poor;
his generosity shall endure forever;
his horn shall be exalted in glory.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia 1 PT 4:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of God rests upon you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”