30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Thinking about your daily life as a follower of Christ, what is the one thing you have the most difficulty doing consistently? Personal prayer? Forgiving your neighbor? Being patient with adversity? Suffering well? If you are like me, you will say “loving God, self, and neighbor.” Thankfully, I inherited my mom's amicable nature, her “live and let live” attitude toward life. It takes a lot of rile me up, and I don't hold grudges. Over the years, I've developed a Stoical philosophical approach to disaster, disease, and the general chaos of living in New Orleans. Living in a religious community with ten other friars has also helped me learn how to handle the temptations of homicide. Practice makes perfect, even in avoiding murder! But the one area where I struggle mightily is caritas, love. And the reason for this is pretty simple: I am not yet a saint. Thanks be to God, Jesus provides everything necessary for the Saint Becoming Process. He orders each one of us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . .You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, dying on the Cross, he shows us how it's done.
“You SHALL love the Lord, your God. . .You SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.” Singular, second-person imperative. An order. Not a suggestion, or a plea, or a prediction but an order, a command. And a strange command at that. Usually, we think of commands in connection with actions. March! Sit! Wear a mask! Stay six feet apart! Pay taxes! So, when our Lord commands us to love, what is he commanding us to do? How are we supposed to act? I mean, isn't love a feeling, an emotion? Isn't it a passion that either just is or isn't there? I love my family and friends, but I know them well. How do I love a stranger? An enemy? How do I love God Who is not a being but Being Itself? Jesus commands us, “Agapēseis. . .” You shall agapē. You shall always and everywhere prefer and will the highest possible Good for God, neighbor, and self. . .in that order. You obey the Lord's command to agapēseis by converting, by turning your intellect to the Truth and your will to the Good, always and everywhere doing the greatest possible Good Thing for God, neighbor, and self. This is the foundation for the Law of Moses and the whole of the Law of Love. This is how you and I become saints: sacrificial love, love expressed perfectly from the Cross.
What keeps us from that Cross? That is, what or who in this world tempts you away from loving perfectly? More often than not it is the Self who lures us away. My needs. My feelings. My hurt. My wants. My reputation. My fears. My prejudices. My work. Me as an idol whom I worship b/c I am – obviously – the source and summit of My universe. NO. You and I belong to Christ. We are his Body in this world. His hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice. We are his flesh and bone sent to do his work and accomplish his mission. Anything that stands in the way, anyone who stands in the way, stands in the way of our Lord's command to love perfectly, sacrificially. If you yourself stand in your own way, then there is nothing to do but move yourself aside. Turn around and come back to Christ. Turn around and run back to the only one who can give you what you need to be perfected in love. Health, wealth, reputation, career, stuff – all of these crumble to dust when you do. Sic transit gloria mundi! Thus passes the glory of the world! You and I must die in this world before we can live forever in the next.
And this why agapēseis is so difficult to obey. I have to die to love you perfectly. To will the greatest possible love for God, for you, and myself, I must die in sacrifice. I must sacre facere – make holy – everything I am and have. All of my thoughts; all of my words; all of my deeds; my heart, my mind, my soul, my body. All of it must be oriented toward understanding the Truth and willing the Good so that I become a living sacrifice, another Christ on the Cross for the salvation of the world. If this sounds narcissistic – I must become another Christ! – remember you and I were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, living, dying, and rising with him. You and I were strengthened by the Holy Spirit. At every Mass we celebrate, you and I make of ourselves an offering to the Father through Christ. You and I eat his flesh and drink his blood, becoming him whom we eat and drink. The only way any of us can ever come close to loving perfectly in this life is to lose ourselves in the life and death of Christ, allowing him to love perfectly through us, hoping, that on that Last Day, standing before the Just Judge, it is Christ's face he sees in ours. Wear the face of Christ now, so that you might wear it forever.
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