The Two Greatest Commandments, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 23, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 23, 2011
Ex 22:20-26, Ps 18:2-4 47 51, 1Thes 1:5-10, Mt 22:34-40

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

THE TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS

  • In responding to the question of the lawyer in today’s Gospel — “what is the greatest of all the commandments?” — Jesus tells us very clearly the most important things we need to do in our lives. If we do everything else but don’t do what he tells us, we will not have lived life well, and we would not have passed the test of life. We’ve been created in the image and likeness of God and we cannot find happiness unless we become truly loving. This was the great teaching of Blessed John Paul II, whose first feast day the Church celebrated yesterday. As a bishop during the Second Vatican Council, then as the Archbishop of Cracow and finally during his 26+ years as our Holy Father, he sought in all his writings and teachings to stress two points: that it’s only in the mystery of Jesus, the incarnate word of God, that the mystery of man takes on light and his supreme vocation made clear, and that man cannot find himself except through the unselfish gift of himself in love to others. In other words, Christ reveals to us the real meaning of our humanity — how loved we are by God that he sent his only Son to die for us so that we may live — and we cannot become fulfilled unless we enter into Christ’s own self-giving love. We need to enter into Christ’s love for the Father and Christ’s love for others if we’re ever going to find happiness.
  • Christ gave us the commandments precisely to help us to do that. In the last sentence of the Gospel, he says that all the law and the prophets “hang” on the two-fold commandment to love God and to love others. The commandments teach us how to love and we cannot be truly loving unless we keep the commandments. This is so different from the way many of us often look at the commandments. We view them as restrictive, rather than liberating. Many of us can claim that we violate the commandments precisely because we love, as if the commandments stifle real love. But this is a great deception. During the Last Supper, Jesus told us, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (Jn 15:17) and “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).
  • We see this very clearly in a quick study of the ten most famous commandments God gave us:
  • How could we ever claim to love God if we’re worshiping idols or misusing his name?
  • How could we claim to love him if we don’t come to worship him on the day he calls his own?
  • How could we ever love our parents if we dishonor them?
  • How could we claim to love others if we hate or kill them?
  • How could we love our spouse if we cheat on him or her?
  • How could we truly love another if we use them for our sexual pleasure and risk their eternal salvation?
  • How could we love someone if we’re stealing from them?
  • How could we love someone if we’re lying about them or lying to them?
  • How could we really love someone if we’re envious rather than happy about the good things they have in their lives?
  • The commandments train us how to love and we’re simply not loving God or others if we’re breaking them. Keeping the commandments, however, is just the beginning of the Christian life. We can avoid breaking the commandments, after all, simply out of a fear of hell or a fear of getting in trouble. Merely not violating the commandments is not the same thing as loving God and neighbor, not to mention loving God with all we’ve got as loving our neighbor just as much as we authentically love ourselves. That’s what Jesus is calling us to in today’s Gospel. When people look at you, or me, or any other member of St. Anthony’s or the Catholic Church, they should see — they have a right to see — someone who has given 100% of his heart, 100% of her soul, 100% of the mind to God and is seeking to love others as God loves us and them. They should see someone who never thinks that he or she can love God or others “enough,” but rather someone who is so smitten with the love of God who loved us first that he or she becomes inflamed with that love for God and others.
  • There are many ways to apply this teaching to our life, but insofar as we are now in the immediate preparation to begin to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal (and today’s full family catechesis is dedicated to these upcoming changes at the Mass), I wanted to apply these teachings to the “source and the summit of the Christian life,” which is the Mass. The questions I want to examine are whether in the whole experience of the Mass we are seeking to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and whether we are seeking truly to love our neighbor.
  • Let’s begin with the total love of God. At the Mass not only do we receive God’s love in his word and particularly in the Son of God’s body, blood, soul and divinity, but we are also called to love God in return, and not just love him “a little,” or love him enough, but to love him with all we’ve got. If we are really seeking to love God at Mass, then certain behaviors would flow:
  1. We’ll look forward to the Mass with great longing and excitement, the same way anyone who loves another waits to be united. Because we love God, we’ll prepare. We’ll dress up. We’ll try to arrive early. If people who love the Pats get to the game early, prepare for the game, even dress appropriately for the game in warm clothing or team uniforms or the like, we who love God should so all the same or more. If we don’t, it’s not necessarily a sign that we don’t love God at all, but it is a sign we don’t love him with all we have.
  2. When we arrive at Mass, we’ll really show our love for God through our reverence. This is God’s house. This is God who meets us. Our love will show in how we genuflect before him. Our love will show by how enthustiastically we sing. Our love will show in how much of our heart we put into our responses. Our love will show in our attention when he speaks to us through his holy word. Our love will show in how we pray the prayers of the faithful and the other parts of the Mass. Our love will show in how reverent we are when we come to receive him in Holy Communion. Our love will show in how frequently we receive the Sacrament of Confession so that we can always receive him with 100% of our soul. Our love will show in the thanksgiving we make after Holy Communion. Our love will show by how we reverence God within us throughout the rest of the day.
  3. The fundamental purpose of the new translations is not just to make them more accurate to the original Latin and especially to Sacred Scripture. It’s to help us to become more reverent. The language is going to be more elevated, to help us to remember that God is God, not our equal, and to open our eyes to the mysteries we celebrate. Even the simple response that will change, from “and also with you” to “and with your spirit,” is meant to help us to remember that the Holy Spirit is meant to fill our spirit with himself and that we’re not greeting a “mere mortal.” But we’re now opened to the reality of God in another and we seek to reverence God in the other.
  4. Also with regard to the Mass, if we are truly loving God with all we’ve got, then we’ll have the deep desire to attend Mass not only when we can “fit it in” among other activities, not just when we have to, but every day. We may not have the chance to come to Mass every day because of work or school, but we should have as much desire to be here with God as a young couple wants to spend time with each other. Otherwise we really don’t love him about all other loves.
  • But the Mass is also an occasion of loving others. Some of this happens in our parish but nowhere near as much as it should. Love means sacrificing oneself for others and we need to ask whether we do that enough.
  • Do we treat others with this love? Do we know others’ names? Do we go out of our way to reverence them the way we reverence Christ? That’s when we’ll begin to pray the Mass as we ought to.
  • This two-fold commandment of love finds its highest expression in the Eucharist, Pope Benedict said in his encyclical on love in 2006: “In sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants. As Saint Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. … Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself. … Eucharistic communion includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist that does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.
  • When Jesus through the priest at Mass says the words, “Do this in memory of me!,” the “this” is not just the celebration of the rite of the New Passover, which is the Mass; it’s also his call to break our bodies, to shed our sweat and blood, out of love for others. We could have no greater love for our neighbor than to give of ourselves out of love for them in life and in death. All the law and the prophets hang on this two-fold commandment of love, and therefore the Eucharist, which helps us to put both into practice, is the synthesis of everything Jesus has ever taught.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1EX 22:20-26

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

R/ (2) I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R/ I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R/ I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.
R/ I love you, Lord, my strength.

Reading 21 THES 1:5C-10

Brothers and sisters:
You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit,
so that you became a model for all the believers
in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth
not only in Macedonia and in Achaia,
but in every place your faith in God has gone forth,
so that we have no need to say anything.
For they themselves openly declare about us
what sort of reception we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols
to serve the living and true God
and to await his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

Gospel MT 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”