The Courage to Love God with All We Have, 3rd Friday of Lent, March 24, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Casa Maria Retreat House, Irondale, AL
Retreat for Laypeople: “Be Not Afraid”: Living our Faith with Parrhesia
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
March 24, 2017
Hos 14:2-10, Ps 81, Mk 12:28-34

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • A retreat is an opportunity for God to press a reset button on our spiritual life, to give us a fresh start, to renew us. A retreat in the spiritual season of Lent, which is meant to help us in going back to the foundations of our faith, turning our backs on sin, spiritual worldliness and what keeps us from God, and turning them to God, to his kingdom, to the Gospel, is particularly powerful. And the readings of tonight’s Mass are particularly powerful in helping us to examine how we’re doing in Lent and in life.
  • Depending upon how we number Lent today is the midpoint of the season. If we excluded Sundays, as the Church traditionally does, today is the 21st of 40 days. If we include Sundays, it’s the 24thday of 46 days. And we remember what happened at the start of the first half on Ash Wednesday: God made a special appeal to each of us through the Prophet Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart.” He asked us to “rend our hearts,” to rip them open to receive the gift of his loving merciful in a consequential way and to share that love with others in almsgiving.
  • That brings us to today’s Gospel. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responds, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,  with all your soul,  with all your mind,  and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Today Jesus reminds us that the whole point of the Lenten season, the whole point of the Christian life to which Lent is meant to restore us, the whole purpose of this extraordinary Jubilee, is to return with our whole heart in love to God, and not just our heart, but to return to him with our whole soul, mind and strength as well, to receive his mercy without any obstacles and then to learn how to let that mercy we’ve received become the way which we respond to others.
  • It’s important that we truly confront what Jesus is asking of us. There are many Christians who believe they love the Lord simply because they have good thoughts about God, they admire him, they think that he’s kind, merciful and generous. But Jesus is calling for much more than this. Love is more than having good feelings or impressions about another; love is the unconquerable benevolence that leads to willing, to choosing consistently, the good of the other for the other’s sake. Love is opting as a habit to sacrifice oneself for another, putting someone else ahead of us, like Jesus would say during the Last Supper and put into action the following afternoon: laying down one’s life for one’s friends, in little ways or supremely. There are many Christians who love God to the point of sacrificing for him, but as today’s Gospel shows us, it’s not enough to sacrifice some of the time, financial resources and talents that he’s given us for him and his glory. It’s not enough to give God some of their mind, heart, soul and strength. Jesus is calling us to love God with all we’ve got. Today he says that that’s worth more than all sacrifices. To get to that type of love requires a deep conversion on our part. It means that our hope is not just to be good people but to be really holy people.
  • And on this retreat in which we’re going to examine many ways in which God is calling us not to be afraid, but to live our faith with courage, we cannot fear responding to God’s call in this way.
  • We should make this practical.
    • Jesus calls us to love him with all our mind. How much of our mind do we dedicate to God? Do we try to think as God thinks in our decisions? Do we truly fill our minds with his thoughts through prayer and reading the Bible and good spiritual books or do we fill them with the world’s thoughts through reading the paper more than the Bible and surfing the internet or watching television more than we pray?
    • Jesus likewise calls us to love him with all our heart. Do we really love God more than we love everything and everyone else in our life? Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel that we’re not fit to be his disciple unless we love him more than our family members, more than our stuff, more than even our own life. This is obviously challenging but do we try to love him with all our heart?
    • He calls us to love him with all our strength. How much effort do we make to love him? Do we battle through distractions in prayer? Do we prioritize Mass and adoration and really strive to pay attention?
    • He calls us to love him with all our soul. That means he wants us full of grace. Do we seek to stay free of all sin or do we compromise with sin and give in to gossip, complaining, holding grudges and the like? Do we take advantage of the opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession so that whatever in our soul is not of God can be forgiven? Do we have plans to receive his mercy on this retreat, at the end of the worldwide day of the 24 Hours for the Lord, when Pope Francis has essentially opened up a world-wide confessional?
  • In the Gospel today, however, Jesus goes a step further that that challenge to courage to love him with everything we are and have.. He tells us that our love for God will be shown in our love for neighbor. Jesus elsewhere does say not “Love me as I love you,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.” When he asked St. Peter after the Resurrection, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” and Peter replied that he did, Jesus didn’t say, “Great! That’s all I wanted!” Rather he said, “Feed my sheep. … Feed my lambs. … Tend my sheep.” Peter’s love for Jesus, just like ours, would be shown in our love for others. That means today that Jesus is calling us to love our neighbor, to love the other people in this chapel, to love our family members, to love strangers and even enemies with all our heart, all our mind, all our souls and all our strength. We begin by seeking to love others with our minds and think good things about them, noticing their good points rather than their weaknesses, giving them the benefit of the doubt rather than thinking the worst. We love them with our heart, which means with affection, including those who are difficult to love, and making the effort to care for the wounds of their heart. We love them with our strength, including when it requires summoning the strength to forgive them and making the effort to help them with deeds. And we love them with our soul, caring in a special way for their souls as well, that they be full of God.
  • To paraphrase the end of the passage of the Prophet Hosea in today’s first reading, this is the “straight path” that the Lord wants us to take. This is the path that those who are “just,” who are in a right relationship with God, take. As demanding as the path is, the Lord calls us to it because he knows that this is the path of happiness. Someone who is loving the Lord with all he has and loving neighbor is the one who is really filled with joy and peace and Jesus wants us to have that joy. St. Therese Lisieux once famously said that we cannot become half a saint. That there’s no way to become holy and eternally happy giving God fifty percent. We need to give him everything. That’s the type of restoration that Lent seeks to bring about in us.
  • But how do we do this? How can we actually love God and others with everything we are and have? Is God calling us to something impossible? Is it even possible to command us to love; can love be forced? The answer to these questions was given to us in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass when we turned to God and said, “Pour your grace into our hearts, we pray, O Lord, that we may … obey by your own gift the heavenly teaching you give us.” God gives us his own love to make this type of love possible. Pope Benedict spoke about this in his beautiful encyclical Deus Caritas Est, the twelfth anniversary of whose publication the Church celebrated last week with a conference in the Vatican. He wrote, “The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given. … on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter that has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. … Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighboor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love.”
  • Someone who united this love for God and for neighbor in a courageous way was Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, the 37th anniversary of whose martyrdom the Church marks today. He was always known for his love for God and for the poor. Becoming Archbishop, God asked more of him, when people started assassinating his priests and his people. On March 23, 1980, he preached a homily asking the members of the armed forces not to carry out any order contrary to God’s law. “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression,” he said. He was killed the next day as he celebrated Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, despite being warned that his life was in danger. He had already had bombs placed underneath his pulpit that failed to detonate. . He rejected the offer of military bodyguards, saying, “I don’t want protection as long as my people are not given protection. With them, I want to run all the risks that my vocation demands of me.” Like Christ he prayed for his executioners in advance. In one conversation with a newspaper reporter, he said, “Can you tell them, if they succeed in killing me, that I pardon and bless those who do it? But I wish that they could realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop may die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never die.” Like a good shepherd, with love for God and God’s flock, he courageous gave all his mind, heart, soul, strength and blood. And he’s praying for us to follow our example.
  • He died in Mass because it’s the Mass that strengthens us to be martyrs. God gives us himself. The way we grow in the love of God with all we are and have and the love of neighbor with all we are and have is through the Mass. Here at Mass God “pour[s] [his] grace into our hearts, … that we may … obey by [his] own gift the heavenly teaching” he gives us. God the Father gives us his mercy, he gives us his help, he plants within us Jesus, the Incarnate Love of the Father, so that we may receive the Father’s love, incarnate in Jesus, love the Father in communion with Jesus and love others with the very love of Jesus. Today let’s ask Jesus to help us to pray this Mass with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and to be strengthened by Jesus in the Mass to “do this in memory of” him, giving our bodies, our blood, our sweat, our tears, our mind, heart, soul and strength in mercy for the good of others as Jesus has given all he had for us and our salvation. Praised be Jesus Christ!

The readings for tonight’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 HOS 14:2-10

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
“I am like a verdant cypress tree”–
Because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

Responsorial Psalm PS 81:6C-8A, 8BC-9, 10-11AB, 14 AND 17

R. (see 11 and 9a) I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
An unfamiliar speech I hear:
“I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
O Israel, will you not hear me?”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
I would feed them with the best of wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.

Verse Before The Gospel MT 4:17

Repent, says the Lord;
the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gospel MK 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.