Homily for Mass, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa – 12 noon

[Readings: Ex 22:21-27;  Ps 18;  1 Thess 1:5-10;  Mt 22:34-40]

We hear in our Gospel today: familiar words – the twin commandment to love the Lord, and to love our neighbour as ourself.

The first thing to reflect on is that the love that Christ is talking about has little to do with feelings.  If we were to name the image that best sums up Christian love, we’d have to say the crucifix.  The image of Jesus on the cross presents to us his love for his Father, and for us.  It reminds us that he was prepared to endure all the consequences of becoming human.  So complete was his love that he wouldn’t shirk from anything, and he would even accept death on a cross in order to bring about our salvation.  The love of Jesus, so powerfully shown in the crucifix, is not sentimental, it is not nice and it is not comfortable.

Our first reading gives a clue that love transcends sentimentality and involves practical and concrete action.  The specific examples in the first reading include: not oppressing a foreigner in the land, not taking advantage of or abusing an orphan or widow;  not taking interest on loans to the poor;  restoring property to those who need it for their survival.  We could easily appropriate those things to our own times:  how do we treat immigrants, even the so-called “illegal” ones?  how do we treat the elderly in our society, or children including those still in the womb, whose parents do not want them?  what do we do to help the financially disadvantaged to maintain dignity?  how do we help poor nations that are crippled with debt?

The commandments to love God and to love our neighbour are so intertwined that love of neighbour should flow out of our love of God.  The practical actions of our love flow from our prayer … as the Holy Spirit inspires us to do certain things.  Our spiritual lives should be nourished by the Scriptures, so that what we do from day to day is a continual enfleshing of the sacred word of God.

In commenting on today’s readings a few years ago, Pope Benedict said:  The saint is the person who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth as to be progressively transformed by it. Because of this beauty and truth, he is ready to renounce everything, even himself.  Love of God is enough for him, experienced in humble and disinterested service to one’s neighbour, especially towards those who cannot give back in return (2005).

I was reading recently a writer who was reflecting on the life of Blessed Zelie Martin – the mother of St Therese of Lisieux.  Blessed Zelie was indeed someone who was so fascinated by the beauty and truth of God that she was constantly ready to renounce herself for others, especially her family.  The writer I was reading, in reflecting on this, realized an important truth: Blessed Zelie’s “example had proven the point: it’s impossible to be comfortably holy.” [http://o-i-u.blogspot.com/2011/10/discomfort-of-zelie.html]

So I’d like to suggest: unless our love is crucifying us, we’re not really loving as Christ taught us.  So what do I mean by that?  Our love should be causing us to die to self;  to put aside seeking our own advantage, and our own comfort.  Our love of God and neighbour should be continually challenging our own selfishness.  Our loving actions – prompted, sustained and brought to completion by God’s grace – should be ‘progressively transforming us’ so that God and His will are becoming more and more the first priority in our lives;  followed then by loving and serving our neighbour.

Our Australian bishops have just been in Rome for their five yearly ad limina visit.  One of the things the Holy Father has recommended is that the Church in Australia become more outreaching – more evangelizing.  That’s something that needs to happen in most western countries, Canada included.  We who are baptized need to more actively live our faith in the world.  Our prayer, which can always be deepened, should be inspiring us to serve our neighbour in the world even more than we’re doing already.  And not just because it’s the right human thing to be doing, but because we want to share God’s love with the world:  we want to share the beauty and truth of God with others.

That’s an appropriate thing to consider on this World Mission Sunday.  Every member of the church shares in the responsibility of spreading the Gospel.  We’re encouraged to fast and pray this week for the missionary work of evangelization that belongs to all of us in our own unique ways.

Let’s pray that all our efforts to love God and to love our neighbour may be so filled with God’s love that we may draw many people closer to the Lord.