Last week I was speaking to the men at St. Leo’s lunch. The lunch is held here every Tuesday at 11:45 to study the upcoming Sunday readings. We utilize the Lectio Divina method of study- reading, meditating, contemplating and prayer- of the scriptures. We look for a sentence, or a word orphrase, just something, that catches our attention. What was it that did that? Does it comfort us? Or does it challenge us? And then we talk about that attention grabber and try to understand it better.Each person might react to something different. That is great because we all react to something different. What lesson are we being told and taught? How does it apply, and how can we implement it, in our lives today?We want, and need, to make our relationship with Christ better because, let’s face it, we are all sinners. And we, sinners, are called to bring others- who are also sinners- closer to Christ.
Let’s fast forward to the end of the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus appeared to the disciples in what we refer to as “The Great Commissioning”. Jesus appears to the disciples and sends them out instructing them “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, andof the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”and concludes with “And behold, I am with you until the end of the age.” Jesus reassures the disciples, and us,of His steadfastlove and support. He did not abandon them.Hehas not abandoned us over 2,000 years later. But I digress because today’s Gospel is from Matthew 22, six chapters prior to the end.
This week’s Gospel carries on from last week’s gospel. Last weekthe Pharisees- a Jewish sect that commands strict observance to Jewish traditional and written law- tried to entrap Jesus. The Phariseesconsidered themselves superior in matters of Jewish law. They are questioning Jesus about the legitimacy of paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus deftly turned the tables on them last week and, as we just heard, He does the same this week.
Today’s Gospel begins with the Phariseestesting Jesus asking Him which law is the greatest. The Jewish faith had 613 laws. The Pharisees are supposed to be the experts on the law. They think they know which law is the most important. They want to know if Jesus, a carpenter, knows which law is most important. He answersthese experts in an unexpected way telling themthat the first “and greatest” law is to “…love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus then tells them that the second law is similar“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”In other words, everything else is dependent on these two laws.
The second law- love your neighbor as yourself– is what really struck me during St. Leo’s lunch. And it is a challenge. It makes me- and should make us- uncomfortable. First, we must decide who is our neighbor. It is everyone. No exceptions. I believe that is clear from the last part of Matthew’s gospel that I referred to a moment ago. Jesus said, “all nations”. That love of neighbor is difficult for so many of us when we are hurt by the words or actions of others whether we know them or not. Self-defense, maybe even revenge, is a natural ‘go to’ mode. Ask yourself,is that what Jesus would do, or want us to do? No. In fact, He did just the opposite. At His crucifixion He called out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (LK 23:34). He is calling for God’s mercy on the soldiers who are have crucified Him, killed Him, and divided up His garments. That is what He means by, “love your neighbor”.We are born in His image and likeness, and that is the kind of person He calls us to be. Remember those ‘WWJD’ bracelets meaning What Would Jesus Do? That is the question we must ask, and answer, in accordance with that second commandment to fulfill it. It is not always going to be easy or obvious. The answer will often be difficult to see and do. If Jesus, in His humanity while dying on the cross, begged God to show mercy to the soldier executioners, well then, I do not think our mercy can be tested that deeply.
Today’s modern world of social media, cell phone cameras and video’s etc. can put everything we do, or say, in a public forum. Itcan be recorded and potentially stored forever in the cloud- not the heavenly cloud. It canbe used in a derogatory manner later. It can cause a reaction, not necessarily a welcome one, perhaps nasty, or personally degrading or demeaning. That can trigger yet another reaction and it just goes on and on and on. The never-ending grudge of all grudges. That is not what we are called to do. We are called to do the opposite- to love our neighbor. When we do that, they will experience our love through our words and actions. Hopefully, that will enable them to see their own capacity to love withinthemselves andthat will bring out their desire to show their love to others.
What do we do when we get a negative, adversarial reaction etc. to something we did or said? It is how we handle that reaction that will determine if we are going to be Christ like, or human, in our response. I have a Jewish friend of mine for over 30 years. We have many things in common that we like. We care about each other and our families. One thing we are not in agreement on is politics. We have some lively discussions and yet we do not let that bother our friendship. He recently told me that regardless of any differences he still loves mefor who I am, and that our friendship cannot be damaged by our differences. He also bemoaned the fact that he recently lost a particularly good friend because oftheir differences in political opinions. I assured him that could not, would not, happen to usbecause politics and politicians will come and go but friendships should be everlasting and ours is. That is the easy example.
A more difficult example is one I had with an extended family member. Sarah and I both come from big families and, when you start including our extended families, I think we rival the size of the combined Wills and Evangelisti families here at St. Louis. I recently received a comment from an extended family member who did not like my views on abortion. He made the comment that he thought I “had made a deal with the devil” because of my stand on abortion. He was shocked that I did not consider the lives of immigrant children “kidnapped and separated from their families by our govt.living in cages”more important. The fact is I did not address that because I was speaking about the murder of innocent children in the womb of their mothers. I told him that, even after all these years, if that is really what he thought of me, then he really did not know me very well. That was the only comment I made to him about me. I did tell him that I thought the deal with the devil had been made between the pro-abortion Catholic politicians soliciting for the support, votes, and money of the pro-abortion lobby. He is not catholic so he may not have thought of it that way. His replied that he believes I am a good person with a kind soul. I think that is his way of making amends for his previous comment about the “deal with the devil.”At least that is how I choose to consider it. I did not reply to his last missive but instead chose to close that chapternever to be mentioned again.
Lastly, these last few weeks and months we have been inundated with politics. It just seems to get nastier. My homily last month said that our faith is being challenged on many fronts. Nowhere does it seem to be under more attacks than in Washington D.C. There are Congressional representatives who are Catholic. They have been baptized Catholic,but they ardently support and promote abortion. There are Catholic Senators who do the same. These public legislators cause “moral confusion” (a USCCB term) among faithful Catholics by receiving Holy Communion. It is my understanding that is in violation of the tenets of our faith as outlined in para. 2271/2272 and 2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Many legislators have used their office to attack Catholic nominees to various positions, but particularly against Catholic nominees to the judiciary. The basis of those attacks was thenominee’s faith. Nothing else. The legislators feared the nominee would let their judicial rulings be determined by their faith and not the law.Personally, I do not believe that the nominee would do that, and the nominee denied it. Also, and again it is just my opinion, that would not be so bad because man’s law should not try to supersede God’s law. Abortion is man’s law and in violation of God’s law.
One senator verbally attacked a judicial candidate because the candidate is a member of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide Catholic laymen’s fraternal organization over two million strong. The Senator’s attack was because the Knights voice strong opposition to abortion. Of course they do. It is a Catholic organization. As kids today would say to that Senator “Duuuh”. That same Senator conveniently ignored that the Knights were founded to provide works of charity and support to widows and orphanages. Today local branches respond to disasters around the world with physical labor, supplies, and money helping those affected irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, or color. Those knights are living examples of today’s gospel in action.As a footnote, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, Fr. Michael J. McGivney, was beatified today/yesterday Oct. 24, 2020.
These are just the recent prominent attacks against our faith. It seems that it is no longer considered that a Catholic can approach the law with an impartial view. It seems that people are afraid of Catholic teachings and morals influencing our laws.Jesus was attacked, and put to death, for that “crime”. Jesus forgave His persecutors and called on His father to do the same. In todays Gospel he calls on us to love our neighbors which means we mustlove and forgive our persecutors. At times I find that awfully hard to do. I know if I pray to God that He will give me the strength to do it. I could go on with more examples of how to love our neighbor, but today we have a speaker from Catholic Charities who, I am sure, can do a better job.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.” (MT 5:7). “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (MT 5:10). These are just two components of the Be Attitudes on how we are called to live our lives and love our neighbors.
May our Almighty, glorious, and ever merciful God bless you