30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 26th 2014
Ex 22:20-26; 1Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
The call to joy
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbour as yourself.”
I recently read a story of an 80-year old Chaldean Catholic Iraqi widow named Victoria whose city of Caramles was overrun by the ISIS fighters. Unable to escape with other Christians because of her age, she spent several days hiding in her home, praying with a few of her friends. Speaking of this ordeal, she will later say, “Prayer sustained us.” When she eventually went out in search of food and water, she was confronted by the ISIS fighters who threatened to kill her if she did not convert immediately to Islam. Victoria and her friend Gazelle replied, “We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy, we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith, then we are prepared to die here and now.” They ISIS fighters miraculously spared their lives.
These women had lost everything in this senseless war but in the midst of these hardships, they chose to love God in constant prayer and to even share this message of love to those who did not consider them worthy of living simply because they were Christians. They put the only thing that they had left – their lives – on the line to speak so boldly of God’s loving plan to communicate His love to unworthy humanity. These women could act with such heroism because for them, love of God and neighbour was more than a mere Commandment but it was a necessary path to the joys of paradise: “Paradise is all about love.”
What happens when we too choose to love God and neighbours with all that we have to the very end? We may still have hardships but we will also have a deep interior joy. This is what we see in the case of the Christians in Thessalonica in today’s Second Reading. They had heard the word of God and “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven.” They abandoned their previous idolatrous and selfish lives and chose to pattern their lives on that of Jesus and the Apostles: “You became imitators of us (the Apostles) and of the Lord.” This conversion brought them two things – affliction and deep joy: “Receiving the word of God in great affliction with joy from the Holy Spirit.” They were exteriorly afflicted by non-Christians and interiorly afflicted in their struggle to persevere in the new life that they had received. The joy of the Spirit remained with them as long as they persevered in faith and love in the midst of their hardships, becoming “models for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Today’s Gospel passage comes right after Jesus had corrected the Sadducees’ rejection of the Resurrection of the dead. Jesus reminded them about the ability of God to raise the dead by stating that He (God) is “not God of the dead, but of the living.” This living God calls us to love Him and others because He wants to share with us His own beatifying life even as we travel through the hardships of this present life. The Commandment to love God and neighbours, and indeed all the Commandments, are indeed avenues to enter into the joy of the Lord. We cannot consider the Commandments, especially the Commandment of love, apart from the big picture of God’s love for us and His desire to share with us His own joy.
The First Reading reminds us that freedom and relationship with God comes before the Commandments. God set the Israelites free from bondage and entered deeper into a relationship with them before He gave them the Commandments. Their failure to be compassionate to the alien, widow or orphan was more than breaking a Commandment but it was to act as if they have never experienced the joyful freedom of being set free from bondage: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” The continued joy of the Israelites depended on how faithfully they reflected God’s compassionate love to the less privileged in their midst.
In Jesus Christ, God has freed us to love and offered His Son to us as a model of love for us all. The grace that flows from the Son of God to us is to bring us to love the Father and others like Christ did. It is in loving like Christ that we share the joy of His Spirit. Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy?”(Jn 16:20) Jesus loved Father and we all with all that He had to the very end. He was responding more to the Father’s beckoning to fullness of joy with Him than obeying a Commandment in a time of hardship: “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the Cross.” (Heb 12:2)
Are we joyful people? We are materially and spiritually blessed yet we lack joy because we fail to use all to love God and neighbour to the very end. We use them for our own selfish wants and we lose joy. If we are lacking this joy in the midst of plenty, let us ask ourselves, “What was the last time that we did something out of love for God? When was the last time that our fidelity to the Commandments was driven more out of love for God than for personal gain or satisfaction? How much love for God is behind our life of prayer? When was the last time that we performed a concrete act of love for our neighbours? How faithfully do we apply all that we have and all that we have in loving service of God and neighbour?”
The greatest hymn of joy in the New Testament is the Magnificat of Mary. It is a hymn that shows us the source of Mary’s deep joy: “My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” She experienced this deep joy when she followed the prompting of God’s grace to visit her relative Elizabeth and to remain with her for three months. She chose to love God and neighbour to the end with all that she had. Her joy did not come from merely receiving the God-man in her womb; but she entered into this abiding joy by giving all of herself to God and others through love. How perfectly Mary’s life reflects the words of Pope Francis about joy: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born out of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (Evangelii Gaudium, #6)
The Commandment to love God and neighbour is further engraved in our hearts as we encounter Jesus Christ sacramentally in today’s Eucharist and He brings us to pattern our lives more closely to His. Because we are infinitely loved by God, we must remember that it is not just another Commandment but an invitation to joy, that deep interior joy of the Lord that abides in us even in the midst of this world’s hardships.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!