30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; October 25, 2020
Readings: Ex 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-4;47,51; 1 Th 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
Love your neighbor as yourself. That is what is most important right? It doesn’t matter what you believe, just how you treat other people. That is what people say these days. Of course, Jesus said that the first commandment is to love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
We really do need to learn how to think and not just swallow down half-baked retorts, slogans, half-truths, and lies, whatever their source.
If you are going to treat another person well, you need to have some idea of what is good for that person, both as a human being and in his particular circumstances. You need some knowledge, you need to get past changing fashion and opinion, indeed, since left to itself the light of the human mind is so dim, you need light from God – you also need his strength in order to do what you know is right. To treat another person well, you need to know that he is created in the image of God, redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, and called to sanctification in the Holy Spirit and to eternal life. To treat another person well, you need to have some understanding of the law of God, which while it does not flatter our desires, shows us the path to our true good.
Yes, believers fail to live up to their beliefs, but without right faith, we will go astray, in the way we treat others, out of ignorance of what is truly good. When we cut ourselves off from the light that comes from God, we end up approving evil, even doing so in the name of love.
If we do not want to remain with vague words about love today’s 1st reading from Exodus actually gives us a starting point. It tells us some things that are definitely contrary to love of neighbor.
We can make this concrete with present day examples. It is also good to give examples that are personal, love is personal, corporations and governments are impersonal. Unfortunately, we have tended to substitute impersonal government and corporate action for personal action. Persons have been reduced to being mere consumers of goods and services.
So the employer who hires an illegal alien, pays him below the minimum wage, demands that he work overtime at the same low rate, and warns him that if he complains he will be deported, is personally oppressing the alien.
There is new type of “widow” that has become all too common in our age: the single mother. There are new types of “orphans”: the children of divorce. Motherhood starts at conception. So, the boyfriend who bullies his pregnant girlfriend into having an abortion wrongs both ‘widow’ and ‘orphan’.
Or we could consider the teenage boy who is confused in his sexuality; he too is like an orphan; indeed very often he has lacked the presence of a strong and loving father. He goes to a counselor who tells him that he should embrace being ‘gay’. The counselor has wronged the orphan who put his trust in him.
The predator who, on the internet, solicits and obtains from some vulnerable person explicit photos and then blackmails that person, threatening to publish the photos on the internet is engaged in a form of extortion.
In all these cases, someone who is stronger, in some way, takes advantage of someone who is weaker. Human laws can prohibit some of these actions, but not all. And even the prohibitions of human law are not always effective. The law cannot be always present to stop things from happening nor always apprehend and bring to justice the malefactor. So many people engage in criminal exploitation of others because they think they can get away with it.
They certainly do not love their neighbor as themselves and, whatever they believe, they do not act as though they believed God to be real. When powerful people lack true fear of God, we are all in trouble. No human law can put a check on their predatory behaviors.
We must tell the powerful that mighty men will be mightily tested, for the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, nor show deference to greatness; because he himself made both the small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty. (Wis 6:6-8) And Our Lord declared: Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required. (Lk 12:48)
Now contrariwise, there is a sort of person, who when no one is present, when there is no obligation of the law, when there is not even any real moral obligation, when there is no personal advantage to be gained, finds a weak and vulnerable person in his power and far from taking advantage of the person, helps the person. That is the sort of person who lives in the presence of God and loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind.
Laura Wolk is a law clerk at the US Supreme Court. She is also blind. Years ago when she first arrived at Notre Dame Law school she was expecting to find the assistive technology she needed to keep up, but the bureaucracy failed her. Without the help she needed she found herself struggling to keep up. One of her professors in her first semester was Amy Coney Barrett. Inspired by Judge Barrett’s graciousness and warmth Miss Wolk turned to her for help, though with little expectation; even if Judge Barrett helped her navigate the bureaucratic channels of the university it could have been weeks before the technology was made available to her, weeks in which she would fall farther and farther behind in class. When she met with Judge Barrett, she let out all the vulnerability she felt because of her blindness. Judge Barrett replied, “Your problem is now my problem.” Laura Wolk does not know what Judge Barrett did, she only knows that the technology promptly arrived.
Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be a faithful Catholic, showed the quality of true mercy, which can be commanded by no human law, true mercy that fulfills the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. True mercy that I would dare say is really only possible by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. True mercy that is possible really only to one who has experienced the mercy of God in his own life.
Something more remarkable about this particular incident is the display of the quality of mercy in the midst of a bureaucratic system that tends to discourage personal responsibility, makes it easy to pass the buck, and puts roadblocks in the way of stepping up personally to help another person.
Amy Coney Barrett is of course a lawyer and a judge. In her opening statement before the Senate she affirmed: “Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life.” (Opening Statement) Neither, for that matter, is any other part of the government.
Actually, laws should foster (foster, not make, not compel) the sort of life that produces the sort of people who are capable of acting well, even when the law is not ‘present and watching’ so to speak. Laws should foster the practice of virtue, but, as I said last week, the cradle of virtue is the home, the family. Laws should foster the well-being of marriage and family life: that is lifetime marriage between one man and one woman and the life of family in which children are born and raised by parents who are married to each other. Laws should not undermine true marriage by showing approval to disordered forms of sexual union.
Again, it is no accident that Amy Coney Barrett stated, “My parents modeled for me and my six siblings a life of service, principle, faith, and love.” (Opening Statement)
In this very political season attempts are made to politicize ‘love’. Hashtags containing the word ‘love’ often carry very political connotations, very often directed against true marriage and family life, while those who oppose the political message are characterized as ‘haters’.
Unfortunately, part of the reason for that is that we have come to look more and more for government to solve all of our problems. The more government acts, the more persons become passive.
The commandment to love God and neighbor is not political, but personal. Governments and corporations do not love, persons do. Persons can organize in their love; they can and should love the common good that binds them together and in which they share. Nevertheless, it is only persons who love.
The Church is capable of loving because at the root of her deepest reality, she has a personal subject working in her and through her, Jesus Christ, the head of the body, and the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church. A royal government is even capable of love, insofar as the whole government is embodied in the person of the king. Modern secular governments, however, are incapable of love. That means that the more the scope and reach of government expands, the more the realm of love is reduced. Love loses.
Finally, we need to look to the source and origin of love.
When I meet with couples preparing to marry, I will often ask them if they want a love that is strong, stable, and lasting. They reply, “Yes.” Then I point out to them that these are not the characteristics of human love: we are weak, changeable, and mortal. We never really know how we will do when our love is put to the test. No, these are the characteristics of divine love and we must turn to God to receive the strength, stability, and permanence of his love.
We must turn to God, who give us his love through Jesus Christ his Son and through the gift of his Holy Spirit. We must turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, and from which the live-giving waters of the Holy Spirit flow forth to us. Indeed, since Jesus Christ is very God, we must love him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind. Only then will we truly be able also to love our neighbor as ourself.