The Whole Law, Standing on One Foot – A Homily for the 31st Sunday of the Year

Pharisees Question Jesus, by J. Tissot (1886-94)

Hillel the Elder, sometimes referred to as Rabbi Hillel, was a Jewish religious leader who lived shortly before Jesus’ time. There is a famous story told of him in which he was challenged by a potential convert to teach him the entire Torah while “standing on one foot.” In other words, can you distill the essence and present it succinctly?

That same theme may be behind the question that is raised today by the scholar of law, who asks, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

In answering while “standing on foot,” Jesus recites the traditional Jewish Shema:

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד.
Šĕmaʿ Yisĕrāʾel Ădōnāy Ĕlōhênû Ădōnāy eḥād.

Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is Lord alone!

The fuller text Jesus cites is from Deuteronomy:

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. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today (Deut 6:4-6).

Jesus then adds, also in common Rabbinic tradition, The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

Do not miss the point that the discussion of the greatest “law” centers on the word “love.” Most of us miss this connection between the law and love.

Particularly in Western culture, we tend to put love and law just about as far apart from each other as any two things can be. For us, the law is about police officers and courtrooms, about forcing people to do things under threat of some penalty. Love, on the other hand, is about doing things willingly, because we want to rather than because we have to.

As Jesus insists and the ancient Jewish Shema articulates, love and law are in fact together; the law is an articulation of love.

Consider that a man who really loves his wife does not need a law to tell him that he may not physically or verbally abuse her but rather must support, protect, and encourage her. Nevertheless, though he may not need the existence of the law in writing, he is in fact following the law of love when he observes these and other norms. There is a language of love, a law of love, an outworking of love’s works and fruits. In the end, love does what love is, and love is supportive, enthusiastic, even extravagant in keeping its own norms and laws. Love does what love is.

Thus, when asked about the law the Lord just says that we should love. Yes, love God passionately, with your whole heart, soul, and strength. As you do this, you will love what and whom He loves, for this is the natural fruit of love. The more one loves God, the more one begins to love His laws, His vision, what He values. Yes, all the commandments flow from loving God. Real love has its roots; it has its laws, methods, and modes.

Here, then, is the whole law, standing on one foot: love God. Let His love permeate you completely and every other commandment will implicitly flow from this love.

When we love God, we stop asking unloving questions like these:

Do I have to pray? For how long?
Do I have to go to confession? How often?
Do I have to go to Mass? How often? Where can I find the shortest and most convenient one?
Do I have to read God’s Word?
Do I have to make God’s teachings the priority of my life, overruling all else?
Do I need to honor and care for my parents?
Do I need to respect lawful authority and contribute to the common good?
Do I need to respect life from conception to natural death?
Do I need to work to cherish and safeguard the lives of others?
Do I need to live chastely, reverencing the gift of sexuality that is at the heart of human life and family?

Love does not ask whether we must respect each other enough to speak the truth in love, to be men and women of our word. It does not wonder whether it is acceptable to steal from others or to fail to give them what is justly due. It does not wonder whether we should be generous to the poor rather than greedy, or whether to be appreciative and satisfied rather than covetous.

No, love does not ask questions like these, for it already knows the answer; it lives the answer.

Love is the law, standing on one foot, and all the rest is commentary.

God is merciful and does supply the commentary: in His Scriptures and in the vast Tradition of the Church. Praise God for it all.

The saints say, “If God wants it then I want it. If God doesn’t want it then I don’t want it.” Is that the way most of us talk? Is that the way most of us talk? Many of us are heard to say, “How come I can’t have it? It’s not so bad; everyone else has it.” That doesn’t really sound like lovers talking does it? Somehow the saints knew the law of God and could say it standing on one foot. How about us?

All the commentary is nice, and surely needed, but don’t miss the point: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

Love is the law, and the law is to love.

A Picture of Brotherly Love in a Commercial

There’s something interesting about the love between brothers and the way in which they show it. There’s a combination of competitiveness and deep love: “I get to hassle you, but no one else had better do that!”

In the video below, although the older boy continually reminds his younger brother who’s in charge, there’s actually some underlying respect in his actions. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you can take it. I’m just trying to prepare you for life. There’s always going to be someone bigger and stronger than you are, so stay humble!”

When someone else torments the younger boy, however, the older brother steps in. Without uttering a word, he conveys this message: “I’ve always got your back.”

At times, Jesus was pretty tough on His Apostles, but I suspect the situation wasn’t so far removed from what this video shows. Jesus was saying, “I’m getting you ready for something that you can’t handle right now. And remember, I’ve always got your back” (see John 16:12 and Mat 28:20).

Enjoy the video.

What Is the “Dark Energy” That Scientists Seek to Measure and Define?

In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was not static but was in fact expanding outward from some point of singularity. At first his fellow scientists ridiculed his theory, labeling it with the term “the big bang.” Even as late as the 1960s I remember being taught in school that the universe was eternal and fixed. That “settled science” has since given way to the current view that the universe is expanding outward—quite rapidly, in fact.

There is more, however: a mysterious factor called “dark energy” complicates things. If we think of the analogy of an exploding Fourth of July firework, we observe that its rapid outward expansion decelerates as the force of gravity slows and then finally halts its outward motion. Similarly, as our universe expands outward we would expect to see some slowing in the rate of its outward expansion as stars and galaxies exert their gravitational forces. However, measurements indicate that expansion is not slowing down; it’s speeding up. Many scientists attribute this to “dark energy.” It is called “dark” because it is poorly understood. Its effects can be observed, but what “it” is remains a “dark” or mysterious reality.

Hmm, the universe is speeding up as it expands. This is rather counterintuitive!

So, what is this dark energy that causes the universe to expand ever more rapidly?

I would like to propose an answer not from the physical sciences but from the realm of theology, speculative theology at that. As such, my answer does not dwell on material or efficient causality but rather on formal and final causality. (Material causality focuses on what is changed; efficient causality focuses on the way something is changed. Formal causality focuses on the active agent that causes the change; final causality focuses on the reason that this agent of change acts.)

The answer is love. God, who is love, created all things in love by the powerful effect of His love and Word diffusing outward. Love does not diminish but intensifies and multiplies as it is shared. Love is effusive of itself. It seeks to share and multiply. Adam and Eve are told to be fruitful and multiply in marital love. Yes, love expands and intensifies if it is offered and received generously.

In a finite world, we tend to think of everything in it as part of a zero-sum game. So, if I take something, there is less of it for you. Love is not that way. Hugs multiply when shared. A small act of kindness can have great effect, far beyond its initial limited scope. Knowledge is this way, too. We think that if we learn one thing, then the number of things to learn decreases; in fact, the questions simply multiply and grow more urgent.

As a picture of love, consider the Easter Vigil. From one small flame atop the Easter candle every other candle held by the faithful in the church is lit and shared, and yet the flame of the Easter candle is in no way diminished or dimmed. It is “a flame divided but undimmed.” As that light goes outward, the church brightens more rapidly as the light is shared by more and more people in the congregation. Yes, the speed at which the light (Christ) goes out increases as it is shared by more and more. This is a small picture of our universe.

This is why the universe expands more rapidly as it goes outward: Love, God’s love!

Please understand the humility and lightheartedness with which I offer this explanation. I speak as a “theologian” and look to formal and final causalities. I am under no illusion that the physical sciences can accept my answer; they deal primarily in material and efficient causality and must stay within those limits and work with those premises. Theology, however, based on revelation, can enter into formal and final causality.

To you who believe I have this message: Do not ever forget that everything you see in the abundance of the universe and in its astonishing size and speed is rooted in a creative act of love by God, who is love. You are not simply walking around in a machine; you are walking about in an act of love that is sustained by love.

Yes, love, that is the answer!

The Love of the Law and the Law of Love – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

This Sunday’s readings teach a proper understanding of God’s Law and its relationship to our hearts. The readings go a long way toward addressing the false dichotomy that many set up between love and the Law, as though the two were opposed; they are not. If we love God, we want what He wants and love what He loves. The Law describes well what God wants and loves. Indeed, the Law is letting love have its way.

God is Love and His Law (no matter how averse we are to “rules”) is ultimately an expression of His love. In all the readings today, God asks—even commands—that we let love have its way. Let’s look at four teachings on the relationship of Law to God, who is love.

I. The PROTECTION of the Law – Note that the text from today’s first reading frames the Law and the obedient hearing of it in terms of a promise of God, seeing the Law as a doorway to the loving blessings and promises of God. The text says, Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”

So, the Law comes with a promise. It is the basis of life and the doorway to the further blessings of the land. Many today see God’s Law as prison walls, as a limitation on our freedom to “do as we please.” The walls are not prison walls; they are defending ones.

Every ancient city had walls, not to imprison its citizens but to protect them from the enemy. Within the walls there was security and the promise of protection. Outside the walls lurked danger; there was no promise of safety there.

It is like this with God’s Laws. For those who keep them, they are a great source of protection; they also contain the promise of ultimate victory. Outside these protective walls there is every danger and there is no promise of victory.

In his famous book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton wrote,

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground …. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased [1].

God didn’t give the Law to take away our fun, but that we might find life and happiness. The devil is a liar; he tells us that we’ll be happier if we sin, that God is limiting our freedom by hemming us in with His Law. Sin does not make us free. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Indeed, how much suffering and pain would vanish if we all just kept the commandments? Most of our wounds are self-inflicted, by insisting on journeying outside the walls of God’s loving and protecting commandments.

Moses reminds us that our decision for or against the Law brings either blessing or curse:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut 30:15-20).

II. The PRECISION of the Law – Regarding the Law of God, Moses says, In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

We might liken Law to a set of directions to a destination. If you give me directions to get to your house, I am probably not going to get there if I only follow half of them. The compliance must be complete to bring me to the right place. Similarly, we are directed the follow the Law of God wholly. Scripture says,

  • Instruct me O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them (Ps 119:33).
  • I intend in my heart to fulfill your statutes always to the letter. I have no love for half-hearted men, my love is for your law (Ps 119:112-113).
  • For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

Here we must see God as a healer who is exacting and precise not for His sake but for ours. Imagine a man with two broken legs who goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “We’re going to aim for 50% here. I’ll set one leg but leave the other one broken. Don’t worry about the broken leg; that’s why God gave you two!” We would surely hold such a doctor in contempt. God, who is our healer, points to full health, not partial or crippled health.

When Jesus says, You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48), He is indicating the kind of healing He offers. St. Paul adds, [God who] began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

Thus, the precision of the Law is taught to indicate the healing power of God’s Law with grace.

III. The PRIORITY of the Law – In today’s gospel, Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees, saying, “[You] teach as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Now, as then, many people set aside the priority of God’s Law in favor of human thinking. Politics has become a pernicious influence in this regard. Many Catholics of both parties are more passionate about their political views than about God’s teachings as revealed through Scripture and Church teaching. If there is a conflict between what God teaches and the political party’s view, guess which gives way and which gets unquestioning allegiance?

Be it questions of abortion, immigration, or same-sex “marriage,” all too easily Catholics will turn a deaf ear to what God teaches. They never rebuke their own political party when correction is needed, and even cheer as their political leaders champion positions contrary to God’s Law. Too many Catholics place political priorities, popularity, human traditions, and human agendas over God’s Law.

The Lord Jesus goes on to say, Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus says, [You] make void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do (Mk 7:13).

Be very careful. The pernicious effects of partisan political thinking, worldviews, and mere cultural preferences have caused too many Catholics to cease to be the leaven, the prophetic voice they are supposed to be in this world. All political parties, most worldviews, and many cultural trends need purification. A Catholic must be a Catholic before he is a Democrat, a Republican, or a Libertarian; before he is a fan of a celebrity; before he raves about the latest trends. None of these things typically stand blameless before God, and the unquestioning, unqualified, and silent allegiance from Catholics and other Christians toward such worldly things is a huge problem. We are too easily compromised and have often elevated human teachings and movements above God’s Law.

To all of this, the Lord gives rebuke and reminds us that His Law must the standard by which everything else is judged. A Christian should see everything by the light of God’s Law, exposing error and evil, approving goodness and truth wherever they are found. Nothing has priority over what God teaches.

In the end it is a question of what and whom we love more: God and His Law or this world and its ways of sin and compromise.

IV. The PLACE of the Law – The Lord goes on to indicate that our fundamental problem can be that the Law of God is not in our heart. He warns that the heart, as the locus of human decision and action, must be the place of His Law for us. The Lord says, Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.

Hence, we need to have God’s Law in our heart. It is not enough to have a cursory and intellectual awareness of His Law; it must drop the foot or so from our intellect to our heart.

What is the human heart? While there are ambiguities in the biblical text distinguishing mind and heart, this much is clear: the heart is the deepest part of the human person, the place where we are alone with our thoughts and deliberations. The heart is the place where we discern, ponder, and ultimately decide. The heart is “where we live.” It is in this deepest part of us that the Law of God must find a home.

Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart of the individual that come the behaviors that determine our character and our destiny. It is here that the Law of God must find a home. It will only find a deep home in the heart through prayer and meditation; through the careful, persistent, and thoughtful reading of God’s revealed truth, coupled with gratitude and love of God.

It is no mistake that the summary of God’s Law is simply, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as your very self.” It is only love that unlocks the door of our heart. In loving God, we begin to love what and whom He loves. To love God is to love His Law. Scripture says,

  • My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times (Ps 119:20).
  • Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors (Ps 119:24 24).
  • The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold (Ps 119:72).
  • For I love your commands more than gold, however fine (Ps 119:127).
  • I open my mouth and sigh, longing for your commands (Ps 119:131).

Yes, in the end, the Law comes from love, the God of love, who is Love. Thus, it is love that unlocks the Law. It is love that makes us realize that the Law is a gift of God’s love. He gives us His law to protect us, to guide us, and to heal us. Therefore, He asks us to make His Law our wholehearted priority.

Love Endures All Things, as Seen in a Commercial

In his classic description of love, St. Paul says, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:7).

I remember discovering this when I was in the 7th grade. A very pretty girl needed help carrying some heavy books; I had wanted to meet her and saw my chance. I gladly introduced myself and asked if I could help. Those were some heavy books, but I carried them gladly.

Love bears and endures all things. At that age it was just a crush or infatuation, but if even imperfect love can do that, how much more will love that is more mature and perfect gladly bear burdens and hardships?

Think about that as you view this amusing advertisement.

On the Cosmology of Fireworks

One of the great paradoxes of creation and our existence in God’s world is that many blessings are unlocked by explosive, even violent, forces. The cosmos itself is hurtling outward in a massive explosion. Here we are, living part way through that explosion.

When I consider the fireworks on the Fourth of July, I often think that each of those beautiful, fiery explosions is a miniature replica of the cosmos. Everywhere in the universe, the burning embers we call stars and galaxies glow brightly as they hurtle outward at close to one hundred million miles per hour. Yes, from one great singularity, God sent the power of His fiery, creative love expanding outward, giving life, and seeming almost limitless. The cosmos is unimaginably large, but its creator is infinitely large.

Even here on Earth, a relatively cool and stable bit of dust compared to the Sun, we stand upon a thin crust of land floating over an explosive sea of molten, fiery rock. The Book of Job says,

As for the earth, out of it comes bread; Yet underneath it is turned up as it were by fire (Job 28:5).

This fiery cauldron produces the rich soil in which we grow our very bread. The smoke and gases of the fires provide essential ingredients of the atmosphere that sustains us. The molten fires beneath us also create a magnetic field that envelops Earth and deflects the most harmful of the Sun’s rays.

Yes, all around us there is fire with its explosive violence, yet from it come life and every good gift.

To small creatures like us, God’s expansive love can seem almost violent. Indeed, there are terrifying experiences near volcanos and from solar bursts that remind us that love is both glorious and unnerving. It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31).

In some of our greatest human works, we too use violent means. The blades of our plows cut into the earth, violently overturning it. We raise animals and then lead them to slaughter for food and/or clothing. We break eggs to make omelets. We stoke fires to cook our food and warm our homes. We smelt iron and other ore we violently cut from the earth. Even as we drive about in our cars, the ignition of the fuel/air mixture in the engine causes explosions, the energy from which is ultimately directed toward propelling the vehicle.

Violent though much of this is, we do these things (at least in our best moments) as acts of love and creativeness. By them we bring light, warmth, and food. We build and craft; we move products and people to help and bless.

Yes, there is a paradoxical “violence” that comes from the fiery heat of love and creativity. The following is an excerpt from Bianco da Siena’s 14th century hymn to the Holy Spirit, “Come Down, O Love Divine”:

Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming
.

Fire—can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Let the fire burn; let the seemingly transformative “violence” have its way. It makes a kind of paradoxical sense to us living in a universe that is midway through its fiery, expansive explosion of God’s love and creativity.

Disclaimer: I am not affirming gratuitous violence for selfish and/or merely destructive ends. The term “violence” is used here in a qualified manner, as an analogy to convey the transformative and creative power of love phenomenologically.

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On the Paradoxical Connection Between Love and Law – A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

In the Sunday Gospel, Jesus cuts right through the modern Western tendency to place love in opposition with law, and law in opposition with joy. Jesus joins all three concepts and summons us to a new attitude.

I. Connections – Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.

Note how the Lord joins the three concepts of love, law, and joy. This is precisely the opposite of what Western culture does. The best that Western culture will admit of law is that it is a necessary evil; more routinely it is viewed as an unloving imposition by the powerful on the weak, the hierarchy on the laity, the (evil, oppressive, pharisaical) Church on decent people.

Whereas the modern world disconnects law from love, Jesus links them. How do we both experience and show love? Jesus says that we do so by keeping His commandments. He sets forth a vision whereby we, having experienced God’s love, desire and rejoice in His commands. We also show love to the Lord through this very obedience and joyful adherence to His commands. This loving obedience goes even further by setting forth an abundant joy through the very keeping of those commands.

Again, this is completely contrary to modern notions. According to the modern world, a “loving” God has few or no rules. He merely affirms, encourages, accepts, and includes—or so goes the thinking.

The real Jesus is far more complex. He is surely loving, especially of sinners. He encourages, includes the outcast, and so forth, but He also speaks of sin and rebukes it. He embraces the sinner but directs him to “Sin no more.” He sets forth a demanding moral vision even as He shows mercy. In this Gospel, Jesus joins love and the law, saying that the law brings joy. They are not opposed. It is not an either/or, but a both/and. Jesus was not just the “affirmer in chief” who went about saying nothing but pleasant things. In fact, He often held many contrary ideas in tension and balance.

Consider the following portrait painted by Ross Douthat in his book Bad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics.:

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a [careful and] wise ethicist the next. … He promises to set [spouses against one another and] parents against children, and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. … He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping.

Douthat goes on to conclude:

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. … [Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy…. The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus.

The main point is that Jesus, who is love, does not hesitate to teach on many moral topics and to warn sinners of judgment. He both personally and through his inspired apostles speaks with clarity about anger, greed, malice, neglect of the poor, divorce, fornication, adultery, impure thoughts, homosexual acts, lack of faith, revenge, dishonesty, the sin of human respect, false and worldly priorities, and countless other matters.

In the Sunday Gospel, not only does Jesus link love to the keeping of the commandments, but also says that the keeping of the commandments leads to joy.

Of this, I am a witness. God’s law gives joy to my heart. As a priest, I live as a celibate, like Jesus, and my life is very fulfilling. I have been faithful to my celibate commitment without fail. I have not strayed from proper boundaries. I do not view pornography. I am not in any way sexually active. In all this I am not repressed; I am not sad or lonely. My life is joyful; I am fulfilled and see my celibacy as a gift. To those who cannot marry, whether because they are homosexual, too young, or have not met the right person, I say that God can and still does bless you. Living celibately can be fulfilling and joyful for those who are temporarily and/or permanently called to it.

The Church cannot and will not affirm or call good what God calls sin, whether it is greed, violence, or (more controversially) homosexual acts or illicit heterosexual acts. In so doing we are not being any more unloving, repressed, or sad than Jesus—and He is none of these things. Neither can we affirm any other acts or attitudes that the Bible calls sinful. These things are all taught in love and they bring joy to those who will accept them.

The Lord is no liar, and He promises that love, His commandments, and joy are all interrelated. I am a witness that this is true.

II. The Core – The Lord says, This is my commandment, Love one another as I have loved you. While it is true that the Church and all of us as individuals must speak the truth, we must speak it in love. We are not out to win an argument, to overpower, or merely to criticize. Our goal is to love. It is not helpful, and quite likely harmful, to correct people whom we do not first love.

Hence the Lord’s command to love one another is at the core of any preaching or teaching task. There are many today who declare that they do not experience love from the Church, only “denunciation.” It is difficult for the Church to convey our love to a large number of people, to a nation, or to a culture. To the degree that we have failed to love or to convey that love, we must repent and strive even harder both to love and to express that love.

That said, the mere fact that we announce God’s law and summon others to it does not make us unloving. As we have seen above, Jesus links these concepts. There is no doubt that some will take offense no matter what we say or how we say it, but the fact that others are angry or hurt does not necessarily mean that we have done or said something wrong. Jesus, who was sinless, offended many and was a sign of contradiction both then and now.

As for the Church, we must never fail to ask for a deepening love for all, even for those who hate us, misunderstand us, or misrepresent us. The core of Jesus’ teaching is this: “Love one another.”

Jesus goes so far as to say that we must be willing to endure martyrdom in order to speak the truth to others. He says, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Are we willing to endure hatred? Are we willing to be spat upon and mocked? Are we willing to be called hateful, bigoted, homophobic, backward, repressed, intolerant, and so forth? Jesus was willing because He had the kind of love to stay in the conversation even when many (though not all) hated Him. What are you willing to bear to proclaim the truth in love?

III. Camaraderie – Jesus also links friendship to the knowledge of His law. He says, You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

Here is another connection Jesus makes that the modern world rarely does. The world thinks of rules, laws, and commandments in terms of slavery and subservience. Jesus, however links these to friendship. A friend knows what his friend is about and gladly seeks to understand and support him. Scripture says, Happy are we, O Israel, for what pleases God is known to us (Baruch 4:4).

True friendship means seeking to know and understand one’s friend and to accomplish what is important to him. Many today call themselves friends of Jesus but give Him little more than lip service. A true friend of Jesus is delighted to know His will and to accomplish it.

IV. Call – Jesus says, It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. In these final lines, we are reminded that the Lord, who has chosen us, can and will equip us to live His law, to bear fruit in the keeping of the commandments, and to be someone whom the Father can trust with blessings.

To be rebellious and resentful is to be untrustworthy of further blessings, but here again the Lord stresses that the keeping of the commandments is linked to love and to further blessings.

The commandments bring joy; they are rooted in love and bring blessings. Do we really believe this? Or will we accept the worldly thinking that places these in opposition with each other: love and law, law and joy, and law and friendship? The choice is ours. As for me, I am already a witness that the law is love, joy, and friendship. How about you?

This song rejoices in the Light of Jesus, the clear Sun (Son) of Righteousness, who shows the way to the Father:

The Enduring Love of God – A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

The readings from Sunday Mass speak to us of our desperate condition and how God’s abiding love has not only set us free but has lifted us higher as well. God was not content to restore us to some earthly garden, paradise though it was. No, He so loved the world that He sent His Son, who opened Heaven itself for us and has given us a new, transformed, and eternal life.

Let’s look at some of the themes and ponder how God demonstrates His ardent love for us and persistently works to lift us higher. If there are any problems, they are not from God; they are from us.

I. ProblemsIn those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple.

Here we see our repeated infidelity, worldliness, and impurity. It is not as though we have had just a few bad moments; we have been consistently, persistently sinful. The cup of human wickedness never seems drained. This is what God has been dealing with in the long and often sad tale of human history.

Are there good chapters? Certainly, but any honest look at human history will reveal that there is something deeply flawed in human nature. We are living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Thrice fallen! This is what God is dealing with. Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.

II. ProphetsEarly and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy.

God’s first attempt is to call us through the prophets and through His Word. Like any loving Father, He does not seek merely to punish, but to instruct. Perhaps we will hear and mend our ways.

Have we? Is the presence of God’s Word among us a saving remedy? Again, the answer is mixed, but in general, we have responded poorly.

To some extent Jesus’ call to love has led to greater healing in this world. The light of faith, which once informed the Western world, gave rise to, love for the poor, respect for human dignity, hospitals, the university system, and the scientific method. The barbarians of ancient Europe were given faith, and many of them found unity in the bosom of the Church, in more stable governments, and in respect for just law.

Unfortunately, too much of human history, even in the Christian era, has been marked by violence, war, lack of forgiveness, injustice, unchastity, and a lack of commitment to the truth of the Gospel.

Yet God continues to send His prophets in and through the Church. Can the world really say that St. John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI have not been prophets? How about Saint Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, Venerable Fulton Sheen, C.S. Lewis, and countless others?

Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.

III. PunishmentsTheir enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power.

Punishment is not God’s way of venting anger; He does not seek vengeance.

The purpose of punishment is to allow us to experience the effects of our sins in smaller ways so that something worse does not befall us. Thus the ancient Babylonians afflicted Israel, and God punished and purified His people.

God may well permit great suffering to come upon us, not to vent His anger but rather to summon us to repentance, lest something worse befall us, namely the eternal fires of Hell.

We humans are a difficult case. With the decline of the West one would think we’d have come to our senses by now. Our families are ruined, our birthrates have plummeted, our educational system is in steep decline, our economies are out of control, we have debts we cannot pay, and we seem incapable of chastity or of making commitments and keeping them. Yet we stubbornly persist in our path away from God and His gospel of truth and freedom.

Will we come to our senses or will we vanish like empires before us? That remains to be seen, but the Church will persist; though punished and pruned, she will endure.

Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.

IV. PurposeAll this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.”

Sin causes damage and that damage must be repaired. We must understand that sin is not just the breaking of abstract rules; it causes real harm.

The Christian term “reparation” refers to the repair that must be made for the damage caused by sin. The verse in today’s reading talks about healing the breach caused by sin.

While God never withholds His love, He must journey out onto the wayward paths we have taken in order to lead us back. This is a work of God’s, not just a wave of His hand, not just a legal declaration.

We have done more than disobey a legal precept; we have strayed far away and a journey of reparation must be made. The Lord Himself will shepherd us back!

Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.

V. Persevering – (from the Sunday Gospel) For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Thus is fulfilled the great and passionate love God has for us. His own Son comes and finds us in all our wayward places and leads us back.

Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.us.

VI. Promotion – (from the Epistle) God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ—for by grace you have been saved—raised us up with him.

Thus is our redeemed state even greater than our original justice. We have been raised up with Christ. Grace has brought us higher than we ever were before.

Now no mere earthly garden is granted, but Heaven itself.

Despite our ruinous state, God does not remove His love; His love for us remains ardent.

VII. Peril – (from the Gospel reading) – Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

Many who love to quote John 3:16 (God so loved the world …) stop before getting to the lines above. Yet they are critically important to the overall passage because they remind us that we must welcome the saving love of God.

God has done everything to help us and to summon us to Him, but He does not force the deal. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20). He does not barge in; we must open ourselves to Him.

But some do not open! Why? Because they prefer the darkness to the Light. To them, the Light is harsh and convicting. It exposes their deeds for what they are: wicked, sinful, and unjust. Pride and obstinacy keep many from answering God’s call. They reject the saving love He offers and the many ways He has reached out to them.

Here, then, is the peril of human free will. God offers, but some reject Him, preferring sin and darkness. God permits this rejection because He wants our love to be offered freely. Love cannot be forced; it must be given freely. God wants to save us and lift us higher. The peril is that many prefer wickedness, darkness, and earthly pleasures. They would prefer to “reign” (they will not) in Hell rather than serve in Heaven. The peril comes from us, form our obtuse hearts. It is not from God.

For those of us who do open ourselves to Him, God’s love is ready to lift us higher. He offers us eternal life, the fullness of a life that grows richer every year until it opens to one so full and beautiful that eye has not seen nor has ear heard of the glories waiting for us (cf 1 Cor 2:9). Praise God! Rejoice!

I know that this song isn’t religious, but transpose it to a higher key, the way the Song of Songs does the Bible. Consider these lyrics as referring to the Lord and how His love satisfies all of our desires and lifts us higher:

Your love, is liftin’ me higher
Than I’ve ever been lifted before
So keep it up, quench my desire
And I’ll be at your side forevermore.

Now once I was downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
But then you came and he soon departed
And you know he never showed his face again
That’s why your love is liftin’ me, higher, and higher …

I’m so glad I finally found you
Yes, that one in a million
And with your loving arms around me
I can stand up and face the world.