Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Here is a reflection I wrote for Sunday August 30th, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B. Sorry it has taken me so long to post it.

The readings:

First things first.

Last summer I was in Guatemala studying Spanish at a school that teaches students from all over the world. A couple were seminarians like myself from the US. A good number were nursing or med-students from various American universities, and a good number were European students who had an interest in learning Spanish. One of these students was a young Swiss gentleman named Kenny, who was there with his girlfriend. We got to know each other, played soccer together and went out a few times in the evening with other students. One night, Kenny began politely asking me questions about the Church's teaching on marriage. He admitted that he and his girlfriend were already intimate and wanted to understand why the Church teaches that a couple should wait until marriage. I told him we had to put first things first, God's love and our relationship to God before we could discuss moral teaching.

I am cautious when it comes to discussing moral topics with people because it is important to remember to keep first things first. And in our faith the thing that comes first is not the lists of commandments and precepts, important though they are. Rather the first thing we must keep in mind is who God is and who we are in his plan. We must recall that God our Father willed us into being out of nothing, creating the earth and all that sustains us, that He made us for a life of divine communion in Him, and that He sent His Son to redeem us when we had fallen into sin, and he sent His Holy Spirit to communicate to us that redemption and to sustain us in our Christian lives. So, first things first. God so loved the world. God so loves each one of us. And this love comes all before we could do anything to warrant this love. Rather it was given to us, as St. Paul says in Romans chapter 5, while we were still sinners. And the fact that we don't deserve God's love is not meant to make us feel like scum, though it may remind us of where we have failed to respond to this great love, rather it is meant to show us the magnitude of God's love so that we will have greater confidence to approach our loving God for forgiveness when we see that we have sinned against Him.

So God loves us. “Yes, Jesus loves you.” If you grew up in the 70's or 80's and went to Religious Education like I did, then you probably remember hearing this phrase often. Unfortunately what we didn't hear too much of was what this means exactly.

What it means is that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, not to condemn the world, not to tell everyone how awful and bad they were and how God would not love them unless they shape up, but He sent His only Son that the world might be saved, that He might take upon Himself all of our sinful humanity so that through His passion and resurrection He might redeem us and have us enter into a life of intimate communion in the Holy Trinity. It means that God loves us so much that He gives Himself to us. He is to us a providential and merciful Father. He is our Lord and Savior who teaches us and shows us the way to life in God. He is our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who helps us to see when we have sinned. Yes God points out to us when we have sinned not to condemn us but because sin separates us from Him and he wants instead for us to live with Him. So His correction, His pointing out our faults is an act of mercy. But the Holy Spirit also reminds us to trust in God's mercy and to have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to come back to Him Who alone can truly give us life. The Holy Spirit also gives us the strength to live out our Christian lives, fortifying us with His gifts, helping us grow in virtue by His fruits, and putting us at the service of others through the charisms He gives us so that we may live out God's will of loving others as He has loved us.

God loves us and loves us graciously and without measure. Now most people when faced with someone who is generous are moved within themselves to express their gratitude and even to imitate that generosity. We've all experienced this. Someone entering a store ahead of us holds the door while an elderly woman, who needs a hand, slowly exits the store with her walker. When we see the goodness of the other person we some how feel good too and maybe we even hold the door for someone else as we enter because we just say “What that guy did was good, and I want to be like him.” The same thing happens to us when we come face to face with the enormity of God's goodness and love for us. Seeing God's love we ourselves spontaneously want to be like God and love.

In order for us to allow God to love us, we have to take time to get to know God as a friend. This is why the Church instructs us to come to mass at least every Sunday. We may not like to come to mass. We may even think it a drag that we have to come. But if we recall, at some time in our lives we thought it a drag to have to eat our vegetables or to have to go to bed early so as to get enough rest. Only later when we understood that our parents were obligating us to do things that were good for us, like taking a bath or a shower, did we learn to do these things on our own because they were good for us. Likewise, as we grow in our relationship with God, we find that there is a reason for being obligated to come to mass. At mass we encounter God in an intimate way that we don't have access to at home. We can pray, and this is certainly encouraged, especially if we pray by reading the Bible, but at mass we encounter the Crucified and Risen savior in the Eucharist we have just received. Entering once again into Jesus' passion and resurrection, we receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we can go forth from here to love others and give witness to God's presence in the world by how we treat others, by how we love.

God loves us and gives Himself to us so that, loving in return as He does, we can live in communion with Him. Obviously we cannot love as much as God, but just as God gives His entire self to us in love, we too can give ourselves entirely to Him in love. And God even tells us how to give ourselves to Him. Whatso ever you do to the least of my people that you do unto me. Love your enemy. Do not look for your worth in vain and false things but in my love. Do not pray, fast, or do acts of charity with the intention of being seen and being praised but simply for love of me. Love one another by being patient and kind and meeting the needs of the poor in as much as you are able and where you are not able, meet their needs by your prayers and by your loving presence.

So then, God's commandments are not ways in which we can earn God's love, but ways in which we can foster our relationship with God, ways in which we can stay away from sin and all that would separate us from God's love, and ways in which we can imitate God's love in our own lives as we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Our following the commandments and precepts of the Church is to be our response to God's love.

So today, let us recall as the first reading reminds us that God in His love has drawn near to us first, even while we were sinners. Let us pray that we may see and keep in mind the many blessings and good things we have received from God, as the second reading reminds us, so that when we do live out the commandments and precepts of our faith, we may not be like the Pharisees in today's gospel, but rather keep in mind first things first. God's love for us. Then our gratefulness to God's love and then our imitation of God's love through a living out of our faith with that very same spirit of love that God has given us.

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