Homily: Be Ready for the End


The liturgical year takes us on a journey from the birth of Jesus in Nazareth to the eternal reign of Christ as King over all of renewed Creation. So the beginning of the liturgical year is the first week of Advent, as we begin preparing ourselves to receive the infant prince of peace. And the end of the liturgical year, which is next week, is the Feast of Christ the King. So our readings today, like the last few weeks, focus on the end.

We remember that the inspired word of God operates and communicates on multiple levels. And sometimes it is challenging to figure out the multiple levels. Jesus here is actually answering two questions at the same time: What will happen at the end time of the Temple? and What will happen at the end time of the world? For Jewish listeners, it makes perfect sense that these two questions (and answers) would be interwoven. The Jews would’ve seen the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as an event having cosmic significance. The Holy City of Jerusalem, and the Temple in particular, were not just images of the true, heavenly Jerusalem and Temple, but also participated in the reality of Eden, the primordial garden of Creation. Prophecies of the New Jerusalem and the new Eden occur together in the writings of the Prophets. The Temple was decorated exteriorly with images of the cosmos, with stars and other heavenly bodies; and it was decorated interiorly with images of nature, trees and fruit. Thus, the Temple was a representation of the universe (a microcosm), and the universe was a great sanctuary (a macrotemple). So Jesus is at the same time talking about the destruction of these two realities.

And it’s important, because there are two things in this reading that people point to in their denial of the divinity of Jesus.

Jesus describes the destruction as preceded by a time of great tribulation, the sun and moon being darkened, the stars falling, and the earth being shaken. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” And people today will point to that and say, “Well, here we are, the world is still here, time is still going, Jesus was clearly wrong, therefore Jesus isn’t divine.” If we look through the Old Testament, the language of tribulation and even cosmic upheaval are used in describing political turmoil, of the destruction of a great city or empire: Egypt, Babylon, Jerusalem. What did happen during the lifetime of those Jesus spoke to directly? Forty years after Jesus’ Ascension, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and millions of Jews were slaughtered. So Jesus was not wrong in his prophecy: in this, he wasn’t talking about the destruction of the world, but of the Temple and the holy city, which came to pass just as he had said.

So what about the greater destruction, that of the world? Jesus says, “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels… But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And here, also, people today will point to and say, “How can Jesus be claiming to be God, if the Father knows when the world will end, but he, Jesus, the Son, doesn’t know? Aren’t the Father and the Son one in mind, will, and being?”

I had to do a lot of reading and thinking to formulate my response to this challenge. Some scholars said that Jesus did know, but it was not for us to know, so he just said he didn’t know. To me, that sounds like they’re saying he lied, and that didn’t work for me, because Jesus never sinned. So building on what I found: Jesus is the perfect unity of his divine and his human nature. As the eternal Son of God, he was in perfect unity with the Father. But in his human nature, the scriptures say he advanced in wisdom, and in favor with God and men. As a child, he learned to speak, he learned to read and write, he learned the Scriptures and Tradition of his people. As man, living in time, he learned things. His intellect, his wisdom, his will, were perfect, but in his humanity, the quality of his knowledge was perfectly true, but the quantity of his knowledge was not perfectly exhaustive. He could not know in his humanity, in his human brain, all that he knew in his divinity. There is an infinite amount he knows as God. But he could not know all that as man. What God willed himself to know as man had to be focused on what he came to do, and to reveal to us, for our salvation. The plan for the end of the world was not for him in his earthly mission as man to reveal, so it was not provided to him to know, as man. I’m of course speaking on the edges of the mystery of Jesus’ interior nature, which is not fully revealed to us. So hopefully that solves the puzzle of this verse, without error or compromising our faith in Jesus’ divinity. Jesus did not know, he did not lie, and yet he is the human and divine Son of God. Both/And.

For a fuller treatment of this idea, I highly recommend this article by Catholic author and speaker, Jimmy Akin.

Per Brant Pitre: Jesus gives an image of the fig tree. Once the branches become tender and they start to put forth new growth, like green leaves in the late spring, you can tell that summer is near. So also when you see these things taking place—tribulation, wars, rumors of wars, all this suffering and distress—know that he is near, at the very gates… Now it’s unfortunate that the lectionary reading ends at this point because Jesus gives a second parable right after this: the parable is of a master who goes away, leaves his servants in charge of his house, and then is going to come back to the house at an unexpected hour when the servants don’t know and the servants aren’t ready for it. So the fig tree image emphasizes that you should know and you should be ready, whereas the master and servant parable emphasizes that you don’t know and you won’t be ready if you don’t keep awake or watch… So in short, Jesus here is talking about two events: the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. One of them will happen within a generation, and you should be able to tell when it’s coming. The other one is going to happen at a time and a day when no one knows, and so we need to always be ready.

In this parallel story of the destruction of the Temple and of the world, we are also given the theme that new life—renewal—requires enduring suffering. The turmoil of the crucifixion was necessary before the glory of the resurrection. The destruction of the Temple gave way to the true Temple, the body of Christ, the Church. The turmoil of the end of time will pass into the Eschaton, the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and new earth, the manifestation of the Kingdom of God, where the Son of David–son of God and son of Mary–will reign, and his kingdom will have no end.

Before we go to the first reading, I just want to make a quick comment about our second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews. Our reading tells us, “Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering… those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But [Christ] offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God… For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.” Remember that the author of this letter is trying to encourage Jewish Christians, who might feel pulled back to their Jewish traditions, that Christianity fulfills what Judaism promises. The priests of the Old Covenant offered oblations (that is, bread sacrifices) and sacrificial lambs, as the prefigurement of the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God, the true bread of the new covenant. This sacrifice was offered by Christ in the giving of himself for our forgiveness. We don’t re-sacrifice Christ in the celebration of the Mass! We re-enter into that single, sufficient event of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, which he himself told us to do, throughout time, in memory of him. The priests of the New Covenant are priests in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ—priests in the order of Melchizedek—offering bread and wine to the Most High God, which become his body and blood, the bread of life and the chalice of salvation, given for the forgiveness of sin.

So, where did the image of the turmoil and tribulation that would accompany the cosmic destruction in our gospel reading come from? From the writings of the prophets. Our first reading today is taken from Daniel: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress” Here we have the first scriptural mention of St. Michael the Archangel, the great prince and guardian of the people of God. The Church, as the new Israel, the New Covenant people of God, has a long history of devotion to St. Michael.

In 1886, after receiving communion during Mass, Pope Leo XIII was given to mystically overhear a conversation between Satan, who said he would destroy the Church if given enough power and time, and the voice of God, who permits Satan to choose a single century in which to work his worst against the Church; he chose the 20th century, and God privately revealed the then-future events of the 20th century to Pope Leo. Image result for st michael prayerPope Leo then composed and added the Saint Michael Prayer to the celebration of the Mass, to ask his intercession for the protection of the Church and her people, built on this Old Testament image of Michael as the prince and protector of the People of God.

The practice of offering this prayer with the Mass ended in 1964, arguably right before the decades in the 20th century that the Church would need it most. But with recent events and situations in the Church as they are (much of which is the fruit of what happened in the decades after the St. Michael prayer was dropped!), many individual parishes, even in our diocese, have been reintroducing the prayer. After a number of requests from the faithful of the parish, and after talking with the diocesan director of liturgy, who offers this prayer in the Cathedral parish, I have decided that we in our parish will be offering this prayer, also. Beginning next week, we will have prayer cards in the pews, and extras available to take home.

It’s sometimes tempting to get worked up about the end of the world: what will happen and when, is this it now? But we can also say, “Where has the year gone?  How can it be so close to the end already?” The readings encourage us to count time carefully, to be aware of its passage, to meditate on our mortality and the passing of all things, and to think soberly of the end and the final judgment. Jesus, and the Church following his example, gives us the best guidance: always be ready, always be at work doing the Father’s will. We might not be the generation who will see the end of the world, but we will definitely see the end of our life, and come possibly without any warning before the great judge, before whom we will be called to give an account of our stewardship of his truth, love, and blessings during our time here in this world. Let us always be ready, because the end may always be near.

Horizontal Rule Cross

Homily: Poor Widows Rich in Faith


“If I might just put in my two cents” is a way of saying that I have the smallest suggestion to make, just the smallest thought for your consideration, in my most humble opinion. Two cents, or two pennies, are the smallest denomination of coin in our culture. In England at the time of the writing of the King James Bible, the smallest denomination of coin was the mite. So our Gospel story today is often called The Widow’s Mite, for her two coins of the humblest amount. That’s the second half of today’s gospel.

In the first half, Jesus is giving a warning to his disciples against the example of the scribes. The scribes were the theologians, the bible scholars, those who could read and write the sacred language of Hebrew. And in a religiously-dominated culture like first century Judah, the scholars were pretty popular and influential men. And they enjoyed (to a fault) the popularity and influence, the honor and respect, paid to their office in society. They took advantage of their esteem, wearing long lavish robes with long tassels, showing off that they made their wealth by their knowledge, not by manual labor.

They were the opposite of what Jesus was teaching disciples about authority and power. True exercise of influence flows from love and humility, it is focused on the good of others. The scribes were focused on the good of themselves. To augment their income, they would take commission from lengthy prayers, in a show of piety.

And with that, Mark transitions into the second half of our gospel reading. Jesus just pointed out to his disciples that the scribes “devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” Then he sat and watched as people entered the Temple and gave their offering. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that while the rich gave large amounts, out of their excess wealth, this poor widow gave the smallest amount, but it was great because it was the greater personal sacrifice, a greater act of faith that God would provide her with what she would need.

It’s become a popular progressive interpretation of this reading that Jesus isn’t praising the poor widow, but criticizing the Temple system under which she felt obligated to spend her last coins, leaving her destitute, to satisfy her commitment to God. And that’s a convenient interpretation, if that fits your agenda. But that interpretation only works if you ignore everything else Jesus said about money, detachment, sacrificial generosity, and trust in God for your daily bread.

Jesus didn’t condemn the Temple system, he condemned the abuses against the Temple system. He condemned appropriating the court of the Gentiles as a market place. He condemned scribes who were more interested in leeching off the respect of the people (including widows) than in serving the sacred Word they studied. He condemned Sadducees who manipulated the law to protect their wealth. He condemned Pharisees who cared more about ritual purity than being tender and merciful to the suffering and the outcast. The Temple was where the faithful came to give glory and thanks to God. It was the earthly image of the heavenly temple. It was the precursor of the New Temple which would be His body, and our bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit, and his mystical body, the Church. And if people had a corrupted image of the Temple, they would corrupt all the images flowing from it.

Corruption, pride, selfishness, impurity, greed: sounds familiar. Temptations to sin which are problems now, were problems two thousand years ago, too. These are not condemnations of the Church, but condemnations of abuses against the Church. 

And so that progressive interpretation of this gospel reading doesn’t work. What does work? The interpretation that has been applied to it throughout Sacred Tradition: Jesus is pointing out the sacrificial generosity and trust of the poor widow as their example, against the bad example of the scribes. Someone who makes $20,000 and gives 5% to the church is making a more generous sacrifice than someone who makes $40,000 and gives 5%,  even though it’s more, because the less you make, the higher percentage is eaten up by necessary expenses, just to get by. We have widows on social security putting in their 10 or $20 every week, and families with pretty well-paying jobs putting in the same 10 or $20.

Did the Temple need this widow’s pennies? No. The Temple was decorated with gold. It was the economic center of Jerusalem. The giving wasn’t about the receiver. The giving was about the giver. This is this widow’s last two coins. What did she choose to do with the last of her money? She chose to make an offering to God. As opposed to the outward show of piety of the scribes, the widow quietly, humbly, and with great faith, expressed in her actions that she indeed loves the Lord our God with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind, and with all her strength. Not because she gave generously, not because she was buying a favor from God, but because our outward action, her choice, was in harmony with (at peace with) her inner disposition of simple, perfect trust in the Lord.

Per Dr. John Bergsma: In many ways, this widow was willing to do what the rich young man (Oct. 14th, 28th Sun. in OT) was not: that is, to give up her worldly possessions to possess God.  This is the act of faith we, too, are being called to make.

I particularly like this, from St. Bede:

Again, in an allegorical way… the poor widow is the simplicity of the Church: poor indeed, because she has cast away the spirit of pride and of the desires of worldly things; and a widow, because Jesus her husband has suffered death for her. She casts two mites into the treasury, because she brings the love of God and of her neighbor, or the gifts of faith and prayer; which are looked upon as mites in their own insignificance, but measured by the merit of a devout intention are superior to all the proud works of the Jews. The Jew sends of his abundance into the treasury, because he presumes on his own righteousness; but the Church sends her whole living into God’s treasury, because she understands that even her very living is not of her own desert, but of Divine grace.

To help us to see this, the Church chose our first reading to be a more ancient and almost parallel example: the Widow of Zarephath. There was a terrible drought. WidowOfZeraphathThe prophet Elijah was on the run from the lukewarm king Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel, and God directs Elijah to the pagan city of Zarephath. At the entrance of the city, he sees this widow. I always get a little kick out of this dialogue, because this widow and her son are down to nothing, one last little morsel before they die of starvation. And Elijah tells her, yeah, ok, but first make me a cake.

It is a test of her faith: Is she going to be afraid that God can’t provide, or will she trust that even if she gives her last meal to the prophet that God through his prophet will care for her family. The reason I picked that image for the header of this reflection is because it captures the same hesitation and soul-searching—am I sure  this what God’s calling me to do?—before making her generous, sacrificial choice. 

Notice the first line of Elijah: “Bring me a little water to drink.” That might make you think of Jesus in the Gospel of John where he says to the Samaritan woman (another non-Israelite woman being invited to faith) to give me a drink. So you have this invitation to provide hospitality/kindness for this holy man of God. And in return, the woman receives a superabundant outpouring of nourishment (for the widow of Zarephath, an unemptying supply of food; for the Samaritan woman, the fountain of living water). 

Then Elijah gives her a promise, from the God of Israel, that their jar of flour won’t go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth. And this woman does what Elijah says. And sure enough, the Lord’s promise through Elijah is fulfilled.

But what an incredible act of faith of this poor widow of Zarephath! And God rewarded her act of faith superabundantly, providing her with her daily bread miraculously from a jar and a jug that never went empty until the rains replenished the land, and the city could finally grow more crops. She and her son had almost nothing, and gave all they had at the service of their faith in God.

Remember this story of the widow of Zarephath. We’ll hear about her again the first Sunday in February, when we’re in next year’s Lectionary cycle, going through the Gospel of Luke. Just after Jesus reads the mission of the Messiah from the scroll of Isaiah, he says, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.” Jesus is proclaiming (and the people understand that he is proclaiming, when they drive him out of town) that the mission of the Messiah is not just to Israel, but to the foreign nations of the gentiles as well. 

Per Dr. Brant Pitre: Also too, I might point out, on the spiritual level, what might bread and oil point to? Those are both sacramental images. We receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is made from flour that never runs out, which has been offered since the Last Supper and which will be offered until the end of time. What about the oil? Think about the sacred oils that are used in the rights of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, anointing of the sick. All of those oils flow from the offering of Jesus on Calvary and we’re never going to run out of them. So you see here a prophetic prefiguration of the unending abundance of the sacramental life of the church.

That’s also the widow in the Gospel reading: giving not out of their surplus at the end of the month, but giving up front and trusting God to make it work. Of course, you can’t trust God at the beginning of the month and then not follow his will with the remainder, or it might not work out. We don’t put the Lord God to the test. We’re called to trust God in our hearts. We give out of our need in generosity, trusting that God will provide for our needs. It isn’t a deal, where we put out up front and God had better pay out a good return so we can get things that aren’t part of his plan. That’s a good way to set up our faith in God to fail.

Also, last thing. This instruction to sacrificial giving in faith is not in conflict with holy stewardship. We are called to be good, prudent stewards of our resources. Everything belongs to God. Everything comes from Him, the best we can do is cooperate with what He gives us. God says to humbly and trustingly—prayerfully—give Him His part first. Then He will give you guidance, if you listen to Him, for what you need with the rest.

I’m not a financial advisor, I’m a spiritual advisor. If you’re in a situation that isn’t working out, go get a financial advisor. But be steadfast in spiritual giving being a non-negotiable. Not because we can buy our way into heaven. But quite the opposite: because we need to grow in our faith and trust and obedience (and gratitude) toward God and our dependence on Him, to get into heaven. Jesus speaks about our disposition toward money a great deal, because that certainly gets our attention. We will put our treasure where our heart is, and our heart will follow where we put our treasure. God desperately wants us with Him. If we put our treasure there, our hearts are sure to follow.

Horizontal Rule Cross

Homily: First Things First


I sort of feel the need to apologize for not posting my All Saints’ Homily. Not to the point of *actually posting* my All Saints’ Homily, obviously. But you’ll just have get by. It was a busy week. 

Also, while I don’t usually comment specifically on the image I search the internet to find for the header to my posts, this one was the trifecta: First, it fit the theme of the post. Second, it references the book I mention, was was very important to the path of my life (The Seven Habits). And Third, it’s from the Art of Manliness blog, which is awesome in its crusade to promote authentic, healthy, virtuous masculinity. 

What is the most important thing? If you had to sum up what human life is about—what should be at the core of the well-lived life—what is that? Better question: Is that how you live your life? Do you make your choices every day in pursuit of the most important thing? Or is something else grabbing the focus? Do you just live from urgency to urgency? Are you carving out the time and priority to say ‘no’ to lesser things, even when they’re good things, so you can focus your life on developing the best, the most important thing; about being a human person; about being you?

Maybe your life is just going from urgency to urgency—putting out fires, but not really making much progress. Henry David Thoreau is often quoted as saying, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with their song still inside them.” How does that happen? Because they don’t put first things first.

The most important book in my own personal life has been “Seven Habits of Highly Image result for seven habits of highly effective peopleEffective People,” by the late Stephen Covey. It’s not that it’s more important than the bible; but if I hadn’t read the Seven Habits when it was the right book at the right time for me, I wouldn’t have had the conversion experience, the renewal of faith, and the re-organization of my life, to make the bible and my Catholic faith important to me. Stephen Covey wasn’t Catholic, he was a Mormon, but what was important was how he integrated the importance of God and faith into the fabric of the well-ordered and well-lived life. “Putting first things first” is in the top three of the seven habits of highly effective people. I mentioned this week during the mass of obligation [nudge, nudge] for All Saints’ Day that November is like the unofficial season of the last things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell). There’s no better way to prepare for the last things than to contemplate the two most important questions: (1) What is the most important thing; and (2) Am I being proactive about putting and keeping that most important thing at the core of my life and my choices?

In our Gospel reading, one of the scribes asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Of course, we know by faith that Jesus is God, and so what God says is the most important thing, is probably something we should pay attention to. So what does Jesus, the divine and only begotten Son of God, say is the most important thing? “Jesus replied, ‘the first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

This is a brilliant answer (of course), but we have to unpack it to see why. The Jews had 613 precepts of the Law of Moses, which expanded on the Ten Commandments. It was common in Jesus’ time to measure up a rabbi by how he prioritized and summarized the law succinctly. So the scribe asks Jesus how he reads the law: what is the essence of the law? Most of us, perhaps if we were asked what the most important commandment of the Law was, might have said the First Commandment: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.” And that would be a pretty solid answer. If you break any commandment, you also break the first one, because you put something else ahead of perfect obedience and reverence to God in your life.

But Jesus doesn’t draw from the moral tradition of Jewish Law: he draws from the liturgical tradition. Every Jew prayed morning and evening prayer, and these prayers included the Shema, which is Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which starts with the words “Shema, Israel,” (“Hear, O Israel!”), Related imagewhich happens to also be our first reading for today. Every Jew knew this passage by heart, like the way all Christians know Matthew 6:9-13 by heart. That’s the Our Father, which is part of the Church’s morning and evening prayer.

The Shema identifies three ways to love God: with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength/might. And Jesus adds another one: and with all your mind.

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart. God must be the first love of our heart, second to none. Anything else we love, is because it is an expression of God’s love, and in obedience to God’s love. The heart is the seat of the human will and of the human emotions. So we set our will to choose to remain steadfast in our love of God above all things. Love has an emotional component, yes. But love is primarily a function of the will. Love—and faithfulness—is a choice. Love the Lord your God with all your heart.

Love the Lord your God with all of your soul. Soul here is a translation (through the Greek: psyche) of the Hebrew word nephesh, which means life.

From Wikipedia (because I was curious): Nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁ‬ nép̄eš) is a Biblical Hebrew word which refers to the aspects of sentience, and human beings and other animals are both described as having nephesh. Plants, as an example of live organisms, are not referred in the Bible as having nephesh. The term נפש‬ is literally “soul”, although it is commonly rendered as “life” in English translations. A view is that rather than having a nephesh, a sentient creation of God is a nephesh. In Genesis 2:7 the text is that Adam was not given a nephesh but “became a living nephesh.” Nephesh then is better understood as person.

The soul is the unifying and animating principle of your body. Your soul is the spiritual component that defines your body and holds it together as a living body, and gives you life. Not just that, but sentient life, human life. You are to use all of the faculties of your human nature in service of (and in pursuit of) your first love, your love of God. Love the Lord your God with all of your soul.

Love the Lord your God with all of your strength. The Greek word there means all your might, your effort. So this is something that requires a great deal of effort, energy, endurance, discipline. It requires participation. It’s not passive, like a spectator, sitting in the nose-bleed seats (in the back pews). You actually have to struggle and strive to enter through the narrow gate; you have to commit and engage. You have to dedicate to God, in your love of Him, all your energy, intention, and power. Love the Lord your God with all of your strength.

All three of those elements are in Deuteronomy, but Jesus adds a fourth:

Love the Lord your God with all of your mind. The Greek word here means our understanding, our thoughts. Jesus adds this element of loving God with the intellect, with reason, with truth, of loving God with the mind. Something new is being required, to meditate, to contemplate, to understand, and to teach the gospel. Be able to articulate and explain and share your faith in the gospel, your love of God. Love the Lord your God with all your mind.

This, Jesus says, clearly, is the most important thing. And Jesus is perfect, the Word of God. So we (literally) can take it as gospel truth, that the most important thing that we need to have at the forefront of every moment and every choice, is “THE LORD our God is Lord alone! You shall love THE LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Jesus then couples that first command, from Deuteronomy, with a second, from Leviticus. “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” What does that mean, this second commandment? First we have to consider what it means to love yourself.

You acknowledge that you want what is good, even if you don’t exactly deserve it. You want to be shown mercy and leniency. You want things to work out in your favor. Most of all, you want God’s mercy, and to spend eternity in God’s presence, not excluded from it. Not because you’re perfect, you make mistakes, but you’re more than your mistakes, and you want others, and God, to look past those mistakes, and to love you for who you are. You want a minimum of suffering, and a maximum of happiness. Ok then. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All that good stuff—you need to want that for your neighbor! Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and he responded with the story of the Good Samaritan: Everyone is your neighbor, especially those in need, those who are most vulnerable. And even more difficult, he says to love your enemies and your persecutors (and especially the ones who really get on your nerves…)

In Christianity, there’s something even greater going on here—because everyone who is baptized is a temple of God (and even those who are not baptized are still loved by God, and made in His image). So Jesus, the image and presence of God, is in us, and in our neighbor. In Christ, these two most important commandments are folded over into one, because the holy worship of God inspires us to serve others, and holy service of others inspires us to worship God! The first commandment—to love God—we do so by serving our neighbor. And the second commandment—to love our neighbor—in doing so, we serve God. St. John teaches us in his first letter (1 John 4:20), “If anyone says that he loves God while he hates his brother, he’s a liar! For if he hates his brother, whom he can see, how can he love God, whom he cannot see?

If your worship of God in church doesn’t send you to serve others… you have to ask… is it then really the worship that God is asking of you? It may be beautiful and reverent. It may fit the rubrics of Sacred Tradition. But if it’s not making you a holier, more patient, more generous, more virtuous person, be skeptical.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Put first things first. This should be first, at the heart, of every choice, every day. This is the most important thing.

Horizontal Rule Cross