Saturday, October 25, 2014
What does it mean to love your neighbor?: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
(Listen to this homily here.)
Last week I preached about some thoughts about our mission from the book Rebuilt. I mentioned that our mission is simple: to love God, love our neighbor, seek the lost and make disciples. Providentially, the Gospel today is one of Jesus’ mission statements: “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.”
Today I would like to speak about what it means to love our neighbor.
Starting with the book of Exodus, we may observe that the Old Testament founded what it meant to serve and showed how serious God takes outreach to the poor: “Thus says the LORD: ‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” Why were the Israelites to care for those in need? Because they were themselves in slavery and destitution for 400 years. Because of this, the Jewish religion always proclaimed justice for the foreigner, poor and destitute.
The Golden Rule—to love our neighbor as ourself—was actually an instance of Jesus quoting the Old Testament. It was first uttered in the book of Leviticus. This is a book many find boring or skip. While it is full of precepts and legalities which are foreign to us, it describes the heart of biblical religion which is relevant today.
The prophets were great champions for the needy. Their major theme—justice.
The life and teaching of Jesus consistently were directed to the marginalized. He reached out to sinners, tax-collectors, prostitutes. He healed the blind and the lame and fed the hungry. One of his most well-known parables—the Good Samaritan—was an answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The true neighbor was neither the priest nor the Levite who walked away from a broken man. The neighbor was the one who showed compassion and went out of his way to care for someone in need. When you see someone that is homeless, different or in need, do you simply walk by? Or do you, at the very least, acknowledge their presence as a person, give them a smile and say hello?
The apostles followed Jesus’ lead and focused their ministry on healing the sick and feeding the hungry. They held all of their possessions in common, giving their personal earnings to support the faith.
This pattern has been followed consistently in our 2000 years of existence. At the close of the 19th century Pope Leo XIII gave the Church a revolutionary document on social concerns in Rerum Novarum. Speaking of personal property (which we have a right to), “When the demands of necessity and propriety are met, the rest belongs to the poor.” What do you give to the poor?
In the past forty or fifty years, there have been many movements in the Church focused on social justice. Many of these focus heavily on political action and are wedded to the extreme left. This has left many on the right sour about the very term—social justice. To be clear, the Church does not fully endorse either the left or the right, but it has always endorsed social justice—or rather social charity.
I have personally experienced division between Catholics in these camps while I attended college at St. Scholastica. On the one end there were those who sought social change outside of faith. On the other were Catholics inspired by faith, prayer and the sacraments that didn’t often serve.
I observed a great example of growth on both sides when I worked at St. Scholastica the past two years as a part-time chaplain. I worked with a man named Nathan Langer who I knew years ago while I attended college. As a punk in college (with long hair!) Nathan and I didn’t get along well. I was in the faith camp, he was in the social justice camp. Yet when we worked together years later, we realized we had both grown. I had grown to love our Church’s Catholic social teaching and reaching out the poor. Nathan grew in understanding how important traditions in the faith were to students.
What originally drew you to live a Catholic life? Are you inspired to make a difference in the world and are active in service? Don’t forget to pray! Works without faith is no different than a humanitarian. Are you drawn to the beauty, truth and sacramental life featured in Catholicism? Don’t forget to serve! Get out of the pews and make a difference!
Both paths—service and faith—meet at the cross, where the Catholic Church has always stood. This is the place where love of God and love of neighbor come together in perfection.