29 October 2017

I command you to love!

30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

I'm here this morning to check your obedience! Let's see how well you do. I command you to stand. I command you to clap your hands. I command you to say hello to the people around you. I command you to sit. So far, so good. One last command: I command you to love one another. Ah, not so easy, uh? It's a bizarre command! Loving one another is not as simple as standing, clapping, saying hello, and sitting, is it? Surely, loving is a behavior. It is something we can do. I hope, it's something we do everyday. But it doesn’t seem to be that sort of behavior that can be demanded of us. And yet, that's exactly what our Lord is doing: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” You shall love. We seem to get commands that forbid certain behaviors. Do not kill; do not covet or steal; do not commit adultery. Worship no other god but the Lord. These make sense to us as basic commands. But what does it mean for us to love God and to love our neighbor? If the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments, then I think we had better get this right! 
What Jesus is doing here is truly astonishing. Basically, he takes a lawyer's question – which of the 248 observations and 365 prohibitions of the Law is the greatest? – and says that what is absolutely fundamental about the Law and the Prophets is that we love our God like a father and that we love our neighbors like we love ourselves. Jesus fulfills Moses' Law of Stone with the Law of the Heart. He moves the center of our moral lives from legal compliance to loving obedience, from mere procedural observation to perfection in charity. From the Law carved on the tablets to the Law carved into our hearts, Jesus orders our moral lives to the Divine Love of the Father for His Son in the Holy Spirit. As members of the Body of Christ we participate in the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity, loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with them loving everyone else as we love ourselves and our own. In charity – works of mercy, acts of compassion, labors of love – we show the world the love of the Blessed Trinity for us, for all of His creation, and we bring to perfection, to completion everything that He has made us to be. Not just good boys and girls. Not just morally pure robots. But truly free, truly liberated men and women who celebrate their slavery to God’s will. The virtue of charity – the good habit of loving God and neighbor – makes your will holy, that is, charity divinizes your will, makes your will God’s will and you flourish as a creature growing closer and closer to the Father.

Now I'm channeling Thomas Aquinas! But it is vitally important that we understand that our moral lives are not simply a matter of crossing all our moral “T’s” and dotting all our moral “I’s.” There is more at stake here than being good boys and girls. Certainly, being morally good is important. It's impossible to behave immorally and love God and neighbor at the same time. But do we understand that our moral lives, that is, our lives in Christ, are not given to us by God b/c we behave morally? Your ability, your need to act with charity, to love God and neighbor, to be compassionate to others is God’s gift to you for your use in the service of His greater glory. We are graced with the need to praise, to thank, to bless the Lord!

Jesus says that you are to love God will all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. You are to love God from the very center of your being, with everything that you are. With your heart you will love God intimately, passionately. With your soul you will love God with the breath He breathed into your body at your creation. And with your mind you will love God with His gift to know His Truth, His Goodness, and His Beauty.

None of this is possible without God giving you a share in His Divine Life, a piece of the life of the Blessed Trinity. We have done nothing to deserve it, nothing to merit it. Nor can we. It is a gift. Freely given. That is love. The freely given gift of living with God here and now. You live a truly liberated, truly freed moral life when you act out of this freely given gift of the Divine Life.

And Jesus wants you to understand that you live the Divine Life more perfectly when you love us as you love yourself. Now, what does this mean for you, for us tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.? At the very least it means that you do not think of the rest of us as tools for your use, as instruments for your work or toys to play with. You do not act as if we are here merely to benefit you or to serve your needs. It means that you look at us as fellow creatures, images of God, likenesses of the Trinity, and you think of us and treat us as the divinely gifted, much-loved children of the Father that we are. It means that you, all of us must move beyond the relatively easy moral life of stony laws and come to live fully, perfectly in the much more challenging life of love, imitating our Lord in His works of mercy, receiving the Holy Spirit with joy, and becoming models for all believers. That’s moral perfection, that’s a life lived fully in divine love.

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