Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 25, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40

In today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus the Lord seriously reminds His people that they were once aliens and poor, and that reminder easily applies to us. “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.

“My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword.” God pays special attention to the cries of the poor, and we must do the same. God goes so far as to reveal that death comes to those who oppress the alien and cheat the poor. We conclude that our work of reaching out to the poor demands immediate and persistent attention.

We do our best to make our place in this world a comfortable home for our families. While this is a good and moral thing, it can tempt us to forget that we are just travelers passing through this world. Our true home cannot be found on this earth, and any riches we accumulate here cannot compare with the riches God has in store for those who love Him. Meanwhile, we have firm obligations in justice and charity to our fellow human beings. The Scriptures and the Liturgy remind us of this.

The readings speak to us today of these obligations to God and to our neighbor regarding a very difficult and complicated moral issue that has current political ramifications for our society: immigration. The Gospel shows us that Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor includes advocating for the truth that all human beings, including immigrants, have a dignity that is insulted when they are mistreated or used for selfish ends. When this mistreatment occurs, God is offended. Undocumented immigrants currently are being taken advantage of by proponents of two opposing and extreme political factions. On the one hand, there are those in our society who accept undocumented immigrants within our society because they can be employed as cheap labor without legal accountability. On the other hand, there is another faction that would accept the undocumented in our society because they can serve as likely and dependent voters prone to manipulation for a particular political party or persuasion.

Our nation’s immigration problem is due in part because of our unwillingness or indifference to address the moral problem of seeing immigrants not as human beings with families but only as political or economic objects of utility and exploitation for two extreme and conflicting agendas. We can fail in our advocacy for the humanity of undocumented immigrants by ignoring the problem because of its complexity. We can do so through lazy naivete that would prompt us to throw open our borders with disastrous effects. In the opposite extreme we could fail by attempting to chart a path of national isolation and preoccupation with ourselves whereby we ignore our responsibility to be a good neighbor to other nations. When mass migration is upon us, we must recognize that many things have gone wrong first in international relations. We need to address issues in other nations and with other nations so that mass migration does not become the only and desperate option for so many of the world’s poor. Such international issues include genocide, religious persecution, human trafficking, civil war and insurrections, drug cartels, and terrorism.

As our Holy Father Pope Francis taught in 2018 in his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon, and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.”

In the Gospel today, the Pharisees, a religious party, continue to try and find a way to trap Jesus and to use Him to show their superiority over the Sadducees, the other opposing religious party, whom Jesus had previously embarrassed by exposing their hypocrisy. Of the many commandments the Jewish people had, the Pharisees wanted to know which is most important and what others they can ignore. Jesus gives a double answer to their question, both parts being common knowledge for all Jews: Love God completely, with your whole self and being and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus calls them back into the real demands of discipleship. It is a call that frustrates each political and religious faction: the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

This double commandment of love appears several times in the New Testament — more than the times that Jesus speaks about the 10 commandments. But do we understand what this commandment asks of us — or even better, demands of us? At the very least, it demands that we treat others — all others — with common human respect and decency, which we do not always do. It means that we cannot ignore the plight of others because it inconveniences us. In his Divine Comedy, the medieval poet Dante depicts Hell not as a furnace of flames but rather as a place of barren frigidity. This is an apt depiction of Hell because Hell is an indifference that is the complete rejection of the unconditional and non-consuming fire of God’s love that governs eternal life.

By Jesus bringing together love of God and love of neighbor, He is uniting the facets of authentic love in one object with two aspects. In other words, if one wants to love God, one must love his or her neighbor. If one wants to love his or her neighbor, one must love God. A Christianity that leaves one or the other out of the equation is not Christianity but becomes warped into either a theocratic or socialist ideology that dehumanizes and exploits everybody. When we follow Christ’s command, like Jesus with the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospel, we will inevitably frustrate the extreme political factions of today.

As Saint Paul writes of our true destiny in his first letter to the Thessalonians from which we read today: remember “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God and to await His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.” In the end, we all will be judged only by love. It will not be how much Scripture we can cite that will save us in God’s judgment; it will not be how much we know about theology; it will not be a judgment according to our piety or by our moral compliance. The simple question that we can expect to hear from God is “Did you love?” And “did you let yourselves be loved?” The love by which we will be judged is not the love of affection or even of friendship. It is the love that the Old Testament prepared the world to receive and to embrace — the unconditional love of Jesus in the mystery of His Cross. The sacrificial love of the Cross and our share in it is by what we will be judged. It is Jesus’ perfect love of God and neighbor offered to us as a new commandment.

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