Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jesus said to his apostles:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is a righteous man
will receive a righteous man’s reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because the little one is a disciple—
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
Hearing these words of Our Lord’s may be a little difficult for some of us. How can he claim that we should love him so much that to love someone else more makes us unworthy of his love?
The answer is simple. He is the God who is love. He is goodness itself, and so any love we have for persons or things who are good and loveable comes from him as its unique source, and this love we have for his creatures must return to him. To be sure, he tells us that the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbor are practically the same commandment. St. John is especially insistent on this point in his epistles. But even so, we must love all that is not God for his sake, and never apart from him.
Christian love is very unlike modern notions of equality and freedom. Because divine charity is the source of all order and all ranks in creation. This means, first that we only love the things that are not God insofar as we love him in those things.
It also means that we are to love others more the closer we are to them. Love of neighbor means precisely love of one who is close to us. Thus our parents are first, and then our own children and spouses, and then our friends with whom we seek to grow in love by the mutual pursuit of good things. There are also other bonds that are privileged, such as our devotion to our homeland and our fellow citizens, our comrades in arms, our fellow workers in any profession or industry, and those who share our innocent interests and culture.
Yes, we must love everyone with a love of benevolence, meaning that we never choose evil in thought, word, or deed for anyone, but the love of concrete doing good for others, called beneficence, touches mostly those whom we can love up close.
Mother Teresa had a man who came to Calcutta from the American Midwest to work in her home for the dying. He asked her if he could stay permanently to help her. She responded, “Aren’t there the poorest of the poor also in the city you come from? Go home and start from there.”
The commandment of love, the new commandment to love each other as Christ has loved us, is what we call a “positive” command. Such commands are more all-embracing than negative commands—those that begin with “Thou shalt not.” These are easy to interpret: we may never use God’s name in vain, we can never murder, commit unchaste acts, steal, or lie. But when we are told to do something positively, especially the commandment of love, then we need to reflect and discern and choose how we shall fulfill such an injunction. This requires and alert and prayerful spirit.
The circumstances of our state in life give us some guidance; for example, if we are married or courting, or are bound by religious vows, but mostly the commandment of love is the great playing field of our freedom under God and his holy ones. There is literally a universe of good thoughts and deeds and words with which we can fulfill the commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
This is a great adventure. It is no reason for confusion or scrupulosity. The mere fact that there is no limit to love makes us free from the thought that there are a bunch of precise prerequisites we have to fulfill. At each and every moment of our lives, even when we are at our lowest and saddest, even (and especially!) if we have broken one of the big negative commandments, there is always a work of love we can do. Making an act of contrition (just say it even if you don’t feel like it!) is an act of great love.
Even when our Lord tells us we have to do something especially difficult, like loving our enemies, he immediately indicates the simplest act of love we can accomplish in that trying situation. He tells us right away, “Pray for those who persecute you.” If you do that, you are already on the way to the greatest act of love: merciful forgiveness.
And then we will be like Christ, the God who is Love. And what could be better than that?