Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s the Law!
Everybody wants simple easy answers to their questions. Some answers can be found using Google, like what day of the week you were born. It is absolutely amazing how much information is available using any device connected to the internet. However, some answers cannot be found, like, “How do I keep a straight face when my wife asks me how those jeans look on her?”
Answers to the main questions of life cannot be Googled. Questions like, “Why do I exist? Why is their evil in the world?” Or even, “How do I raise this particularly difficult child?” do not have simple answers.
The Pharisees who questioned Jesus in today’s Gospel reading were trying to get him to give a simple answer to the question that the scholars of Hebrew law debated: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” There were 613 of them in Hebrew Scripture. Which was the most important?
Jesus responded to the lawyer’s question with two quotations from the Torah. The first quotation came from the Sacred Jewish Prayer called the Shema Israel. This was a prayer contained in the sixth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy 6:5 and recited by pious Jews every morning and evening, "Hear this, O Israel, Shema Israel, God is One. You shall love your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind." The second quotation came from the Book of Leviticus, 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We can't just love God part time, we have to love Him with everything we have. We can't just be good to our neighbor sometimes, we have to be good to others always.
This was not the easy answer the lawyer was seeking. Jesus’ answer was not a particular law, not even two particular laws. His answer demanded a new lifestyle, a way of living that draws us so close to God that we become His presence for others.
The poet Maya Angelou was once asked what her lifetime goals were. She answered that she wanted to become a Christian. Maya Angelou was a Christian. Her point was that Christianity is an ongoing process of becoming. Everyday we take steps to becoming a Christian.
And everyday God uses people to find Him.
There is a story about a college girl who was in great distress because she had loss a sense of God in her life. Her grandmother was very much the spiritual leader of the family, so the girl visited her and complained, “Why doesn’t God let me feel His presence? If only I could feel Him and know that He has touched me.”
Her grandmother said, “Pray to God, right now. Close your eyes and pray to him. Ask Him to put out his hand and touch you. But no matter what happens, keep your eyes closed.” The girl closed her eyes and prayed fervently. Then she felt a hand on her hand. “He touched me. He touched me,” she cried out, her eyes still closed. Then she said, “Wait, this hand feels like your hand.”
“Of course it is my hand,” her grandmother said, “That’s how God works.” He takes the hand that is nearest and uses that.”
I want to speak with you about a saintly American woman whom God used to touch others in the normal, every day ways. Her name was Dorothy Day. She lived most of the last century from 1893 to 1980 and is sometimes called the saint of the third millennium. Dorothy did not begin her adult life as a holy person. She embraced the loose lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties and what was then the wild scene in Greenwich Village in New York City. She was no Mother Theresa. In fact, she was the antithesis of Mother Theresa.
But then Dorothy found God. Actually, He was always there. She just stopped shutting him out of her life. She became a fervent Catholic, a dedicated Christian. She led a reform within the establish Church of America to reach out to the poor, the needy and the desperate. She was a crusader for social justice, a pacifist and even an agitator, at least in those areas where she saw the local and national government existing only for itself.
There is talk Dorothy Day should be canonized, made a saint. She would have been completely repulsed by that thought. In fact, even during her life when people suggested that she would be made a saint by the church, she would say that she didn’t want to be dismissed so easily. After all, people tend to view saints as doing that which is beyond normal human life. She was really quite normal. She wanted normal people to join her in finding Christ in others. Her point was that there was nothing extraordinary in doing what she did. All she did was love God and love neighbor, and live the way every Christian should live. Still, she probably won’t get her way. I am sure that Pope Francis would love to tell her story to the whole world.
Just before the consecration in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer we pray, “Having loved His Own who were in the World, Jesus Loved them to the very end.” He gave us his Body and Blood. He gave us His life. And He said, “Follow me. Love as I love.”
Which commandment is the greatest? “Don’t search scripture for a particular commandment,” Jesus responds. Instead combine the Shema Israel, “Love the Lord with your whole mind, your whole heart and your whole soul,” with the law of love in Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a lifestyle, not a commandment.
We pray today that we might love God so deeply that we will have no choice but to bring God’s love to those around us.