Loving God and Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Jesus sums up the commandments in the Gospel today in two statements: to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. When Jesus says something in a Gospel passage, of course we ask ourselves where are we in relation to what he says. Today then we ask ourselves how are we doing in love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and how are we doing in loving our neighbor as ourselves.

When we think of how much God has done for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us and how much God loves us we are left with only one response, praise and gratitude and love of God. I think the saddest thing of all is if someone rejects God and does not allow God into one’s life. We have been created by God with a soul that is meant for God for all eternity and if anyone rejects God they reject the truth about who they are. “Only in God will my soul be at rest,” says one of the Psalms and how true it is. Only in God will we be happy. To deny God or God’s role in my life would be to deny the truth of who I am. How do the lukewarm and indifferent make Jesus feel? He told St. Faustina, the Polish Saint of Divine Mercy,

“These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by.' The last hope of salvation for them is to flee to My Mercy.”

It is part of our very being, to praise and thank and love God. If we forget God in the midst of all our activity, what a great loss we have suffered and made Jesus suffer in Gethsemane. But when we remember God’s love for us and all he has done for us, our only natural response is to love God in return. The command in the Book of Deuteronomy, which we heard in our first reading today (Deut 6:4-6), to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and repeated by Jesus in our Gospel (Mark 12:29-30), is what we want to do when we see what God has done for us and how God loves us. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the only response to God who loves us so much. We want to love God by praying every day, celebrating Mass here every Sunday, reading the Scriptures and spiritual books, receiving the sacraments, because we will not be happy if we do not love God. In fact we discover that when we love God we become much happier because the more time we spend with God, the more we receive the life of God and that life uplifts us, heals us, renews us and invigorates us. So in fact we discover that the more we love God the happier we are. We discover that the more we love God, the more we get a foretaste and glimpse of heaven here on earth. When we live the command we heard in our first reading from Deuteronomy, and repeated by Jesus, we are happier and already begin to live a little bit of heaven here on earth.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today” (Deut 6:4-6)

In fact that Scripture passage was part of the daily prayer of devout Jews at the time of Jesus.

Jesus sums up the commandments in the Gospel today in two statements; to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We have been thinking about loving God and now I want to reflect on loving our neighbor as ourselves. You would think that when Jesus says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves we would just go and do it. But sometimes we almost have to be taught by someone in our own time how to love our neighbor as ourselves. I think there is one person in recent years who above all has shown us how to love our neighbor as ourselves and that person is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now a canonized saint. Again and again she has spoken about seeing Jesus in others. What we do to others, we do to Jesus. She helped people is the most awful circumstances sometimes.

One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the Sisters: “You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worse.” So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only: “Thank you” - and she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: “What would I say if I were in her place?” And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said: “I am hungry, I am dying, I am cold, I am in pain,” or something. But she gave me much more, she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face.
(Acceptance Speech for Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
Also given at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday February 3rd 1994.)

Loving like this is finding God hidden in the other person, like the parable that Jesus taught about finding the treasure hidden in the field. Loving like this is not judging but being merciful and trying to understand the other person. Jesus said the Spirit is mightier than the flesh and so with Jesus with us there is no room for fear but we can witness the truth with enthusiasm, with love and humility. How was Mother Teresa able to love and witness as she did? She said she gets her energy from prayer. She wrote,

“To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”

Malcolm Muggeridge, was a British journalist, author and media person, and he wrote Something Beautiful for God (pages 41-45) when he was not a Catholic which is an account of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Muggeridge and his film crew were filming the nuns picking up the dying from the streets and bringing them to a home for the dying. Muggeridge wrote,

This Home for the Dying is dimly lit by small windows high up in the walls, and Ken was adamant that filming was quite impossible there. We had only one small light with us, and to get the place adequately lighted in the time at our disposal was quite impossible. It was decided that, nonetheless, Ken should have a go, but by way of insurance he took, as well, some film in an outside courtyard where some of the inmates were sitting in the sun. In the processed film, the part taken inside was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused…Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying is overflowing with love, as one senses immediately on entering it. This love is luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. (pages 41…44)

(story of another photographic miracle when a priest brought a hospital patient Holy Communion) At the time Muggeridge wrote Something Beautiful for God he was not a Catholic but about a decade later he converted to Catholicism and meeting Mother Teresa was largely responsible for his conversion. When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, we are filled with light and miracles happen.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2018

This homily was delivered in a parish in Pennsylvania.

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