Archive for October, 2008

On Loving God

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

 

October 26, 2008

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ex 22: 20-26; 1 Thes 1: 5c-10; Mt 22: 34-40

Dc. Larry Brockman

How do you love God?  How do you love others?  Who are you being called to love?  Have you ever thought about these things, really thought about them?  Today’s readings challenge you to do just that.   

Jesus says today that the whole law and the prophets depend on just 2 commandments:  To love God and to love your neighbor.  Jesus talks about loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul.  In other words you need to desire what God desires – this is the heart.  Then value and understand all things the way God does – this is the mind.  And finally actively live in accordance with those desires and that understanding, choosing what God would choose in your place – this is the soul.  That’s loving God- being in communion with what his desires and his will are for you.  And, you can be sure that God loves you back, because God is love.   

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Because you must love your neighbors as you love yourself treating them as you would want them to treat you, regardless of how you feel. 

Usually, we associate love with some pleasant feelings, intense and delightful emotions.  But the Greek word Jesus used for love means something much deeper.  It is the word “agape”, and it refers to the type of love that means desiring union with something that is good in itself.  If you love a person, it means you love spending time with them, getting to know them, and sharing the experiences of life with them.  Sometimes, that can be hard, because it means giving selflessly of yourself.  You see, there is simply no guarantee that your love will be returned.  This is Christian love: not a passing, self-indulgent emotion, but a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third. 

Now, there’s an interesting contrast between the first and the second reading that sheds light on real love.  Jesus was quoting the Old Testament, so, loving God and neighbor are basic to both the Old and New Covenants.  In the first reading, love of neighbor is demonstrated by following a set of rules.  Today, we hear about rules that call for treating foreigners, widows and orphans properly.  But, there are 631 rules in the Jewish Torah, some of them quite complex and detailed.  They were structured so that people would be able to do right in the eyes of the Lord.  It reminds me of secular Governments.  There’s a rule for everything, and when folks find a loophole, then a lower level set of more rules is passed.  And so, Government keeps plugging loopholes.  There’s something missing, isn’t there?  It’s called love.  You can’t legislate love; it has to be experienced; it has to be lived.   

Contrast the first reading with Paul’s message to the Thessalonians.  Paul gave his life to the mission he received from Jesus to preach to the Gentiles.  But that is not all.  Paul lived the theology he preached as well.  It was not a theology of “the law”.  All of Paul’s epistles talk about freedom from the law.  But rather, it was a theology of imitating Christ.  That’s what he means when he congratulates the Thessalonians, because they, too, gave up their former ways, and became imitators of Paul, just as Paul was an imitator of Christ.  Unlike Paul, they don’t go out and preach to the nations.  They live their lives in place, in Thessalonia, but now they live them as imitators of Christ- Christ who loved the Father, and loved his neighbor as himself.   

Now, there’s talk of the Thessalonians having to abandon idols.  That seems so remote from today’s times.  After all, we don’t have stone idols or gold idols, do we?  But wait- an idol can be anything that you become obsessed with.  Something that blinds you from loving God the way I mentioned earlier.  Sometimes jobs, football, shopping, and yes, even the responsibilities of life, can do that.  They are our idols.  And as for imitating Christ, wouldn’t it be simpler to just have a few rules, rather than be in tune with God’s will for us?  Deep down, in your heart, God speaks to you about his will for you.  There’s somebody He is especially calling you to love, maybe somebody in your family- perhaps an estranged spouse, an aging parent, a brother, or a wayward child.  But it may also be a neighbor- somebody who’s lonely, or sick, or in an institution, or even somebody in prison.  Whoever you are being called to love. do it now. 

Recognizing Your Blessings

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

 

October 5, 2008

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 5: 1-7; Phil 4: 6-9; Mt 21: 33-43

Dc. Larry Brockman

Have you counted your blessings recently?  Have you even recognized your blessings recently?  Both the First Reading and the Gospel tell us that we have such Blessings.  How so?   

Well, consider that we, the people of God, are the vineyard that is talked about in the parables today, and that God represents the Landowner in both of them.  What does the parable say that God does?  He plants the vines on fertile ground, and He does all that can be done to nourish and encourage the vines to grow and bear fruit. 

Now I’m quite sure that God doesn’t make junk.  So, that means each of you is chosen by God to be capable in the way he intended.  Yes, each of you is a special vine hand selected by God to grow in the environment that God wants for you.  So that means each of you has been planted on fertile ground, and that you are truly blessed.  But do you recognize that for what it is?  And have you responded by bearing the fruit God is hoping for? 

It’s fair to say that most people are constantly searching for fulfillment in their lives.  So, if you are honest, your answer is that you have not borne all the fruit God hopes for.  And I think there are two reasons for that.  First, it’s hard to recognize the blessings you have been given when you are focused on the blessings that you would like to have instead of the ones you actually do have.  It’s like you’d rather be an apple tree than a grape vine.  And when you don’t grow apples, you get upset.  Yet, that’s looking for something that’s not intended for you.  If your time and energy are focused on your goals, not God’s goals, you are not recognizing your blessings.  For most people, the fact that you are where you are right now means that you are in the environment God intended for you.  So, the proper focus is on your family, your job, the situation around you, and the things that you naturally do well- right where you are.  Note also that God is persistent.  God will keep nourishing you along the way, hoping, and expecting the best; hoping you will bear fruit in the environment He has placed you in.   

Second, in order to bear really good fruit, you have to extend yourself.  Think of a vine that does not spread out roots.  It will languish and bear poor fruit; it may even falter and die.  In the gospel story, God keeps sending his servants to call into accountability the tenants who are tending the vineyard.  Three times these servants were sent.  Yet the tenants keep abusing God’s servants, and finally they killed the owner’s son, because these tenants refused to give the landlord his due.  It can be like that in our lives as well.  We can resist the messages that God keeps sending us on how to extend ourselves, and persist on pursuing our own agenda instead.  Then, when things happen in our lives that seem to be going against us, we build up resentment, resentment which can lead to the same offense the tenants committed- killing God’s son by abandoning Him and trying to take control over life for ourselves!  It can be the pursuit of your comforts (like a larger car or bigger TV); or your leisure time (like too much lunch time with the girls or too much football on TV); any one of a number of things.  But it is something where your focus is on yourself rather than on the mission God has in mind for you to extend yourself.  Then, when things don’t go your way, you build up resentment and slowly, kill God’s son rather than change the focus of your life to seek God’s will and bear more fruit.   

St. Paul said this to the Philippians:  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things.”    Well, this is how you can extend yourself:  By doing something that builds the values Paul is talking about above where our society has fallen down.  That means getting involved in something outside of your own life that contributes to these values.  It doesn’t have to be a major commitment, but what is important is a start.  Today for example, we are signing up people to get involved in our Right to Life Activity.  Consider getting involved in that.  Start by joining the Right to Life sidewalk chain outside the Church from 1:30 to 2:30 this afternoon.  Also, in a couple of short weeks, we elect our Government.  Get to know where the candidates stand.  Make sure the candidates meet Paul’s criteria on the issues- important issues like right to life, education, and health care.  And get involved by helping the candidate that fosters these values.  Then there are opportunities to help with a new Hospital Visitation Ministry, or with St. Vincent de Paul, or other social service ministries in the parish.    

Now I know some of you may be thinking that you can’t find a connection between the feeling of restlessness or resentment you might have over your misfortunes and the positive effects of the two recommendations I have just made, to be satisfied with the blessings God has given you, and then go one step further by getting involved in something selfless outside your daily comfort zone.  But listen to this from the second reading from Paul:  “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, then the God of peace will be with you”.  That’s what we are all looking for- the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding, and that is the connection.