Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, the framework for this homily I put together six years ago and it’s there that I am beginning today, updating to this present time.  Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law and the other readings confirm this notion. That may sound easy as it rolls off our tongues, “Love is the fulfillment of the law,” but we need to ask ourselves just what that means and how would it look in our lives, yours and mine if we lived as though we believed it!

Would it mean that if I truly love—behaving in a loving way; I wouldn’t have to keep any laws—does the act of loving supersede the law?   In the best sense, laws are intended, to make life more orderly, fair, safe, and just for everyone.  What I as an individual think and believe—is that how we should do things? or do I need to take what others think into account as well?  What ultimately should be the measure for how things are done?

We see in the first reading today that God knows how things should go—that indeed each of us must listen to the Word and respond accordingly.  Ezekiel’s task is to make sure that the Israelites hear the Word.  What they do with it once it has been preached to them is apparently their business—their choice. God will not force anyone to hear the Word and act accordingly.  Our loving God simply offers and then we have to choose.

We get a strong message in all the readings today of how God would like us to respond.  That is the beauty and the heartbreak of it—that God loves us so much—wants us to choose the most loving way for ourselves and others—but will never force us.  Psalm 95 proclaims the message, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts!”   This psalm gives us the sense of a very relational God, one who shepherds the flock.  The people who originally heard this psalm were a pastoral community—they were shepherds and they understood their connection to the sheep as a very intimate one because they would literally lay down their lives for their sheep—this was their livelihood—and if God’s love for them and for us was/is like that; wow!– that is a wonderful thing!

Our responsibility then, is to not harden our hearts, but trust that all will be well in our lives even when things seemingly aren’t.  A God who loves us in such an intimate way will never leave us, but will walk with us, loving us until we find the way out of darkness as the first hymn today so beautifully spoke of—sending us comfort and assistance in the form of family-friends-colleagues.

You each were invited to take a stone today when you arrived—a reminder to us that our hearts are sometimes made of stone.  The Scriptures throughout the year give us several times to reflect on this theme—that we basically need to “soften up!” Perhaps the stone can be a part of your reflection this week in that regard, as we continue to make the efforts to “get out of our boat.”

In today’s reading from Romans, Paul says that our only debt to another is to love them.  In that loving, we have fulfilled the law. Will that loving always be easy? No. Sometimes it will mean speaking the truth even when that is hard, as Jesus instructs in the gospel today—sometimes the law doesn’t go far enough, doesn’t keep everyone safe, isn’t just for all and lacks mercy. Pope Francis said as much yesterday in Colombia.

So, this brings us full circle to my original question to all of us—what would it look like in our lives if LOVE truly, every time, fulfilled the law?

  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, we would take care of our poor; no one in this great country or around the world would ever be without the basics of food, clothing and shelter. And the thing is, our world is capable of feeding, clothing and sheltering everyone—we just have to decide to do it!—to make it a priority.   And this underscores the importance of making alliances around the world so that we can get to the root causes of why so many people suffer needlessly.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, we would wage peace, not war—we would find a way to talk to each other, both as countries and as individuals—again the need for making alliances. We wouldn’t be wasting time playing school boy games, flexing our muscles as our response to aggressive actions, at home and abroad.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, the seminaries would stop teaching male clerics that Jesus is only fully manifested in this world through men. It is time that ordained male clerics stand in unison with their female colleagues and friends, proclaiming the Christ that they see there! In fact, it is time that men across our world, those in power and control take a second look at the women around them and see their capabilities and give them equal pay for equal work. Our Church leaders could be instrumental in this task—“Shortage of priests”—indeed! Yes, there is work to do so that the Jerome Kulases of this world would stop proclaiming untruths about women, namely that, “there are no women priests” as he stated this past week in a letter to the editor of the Winona Daily News.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, everyone, absolutely everyone would be welcome at the communion table—no exceptions.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled; the responsibility to pay for the benefits of freedom would be equally shared in our country—that the rich and the big corporations wouldn’t be exempt.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled; the president and Congress would do the work of the people with compassion and justice for all—a current example is the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). In another letter to the editor this past week, in both the Winona Daily News and The Post, author Jean Gunderson wrote about the ability we have as a nation to do the right thing for the greatest amount of people, citing current programs that make life better for the disadvantaged among us, including DACA. In conjunction with our question this week of determining what LOVE perfecting the law would look like, Gunderson’s use of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. seems appropriate: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Friends, the days when life was really simple–do 1-2-3 and heaven is a shoe-in are really over, if that was ever true at all. In following Jesus’ admonition to love one’s neighbor, Paul takes this to mean, everyone—not just the neighbors and family members we like and agree with, but the cranky, disagreeable and aggravating ones too!

When we go that extra mile to follow the law to love over following the law to obey, we really have chosen the harder part as Paul suggests—that is why he can say that love is the fulfillment of the law.  Our brother Jesus, it was suggested by one of you, was the first, perfect example of living completely the law to love.  Love can be very satisfying—it was designed by our loving God that way to allow us to have a heavenly experience even here on earth. Love can also be very demanding at times—there will be crosses to carry as we heard last Sunday from Jesus, but if we truly are about loving in his footsteps, then we will be willing to carry the crosses.