Love of God and Neighbor
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
The first and greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But Jesus goes on to give us the second most important Commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
First of all, it’s important to point out that loving God with all your might is the greatest Commandment, in part, because unless you do so, you cannot also love your neighbor. Love of neighbor hinges on whether you love God with your whole being. Only when you love God can that love overflow into other relationships.
When you look at the love of neighbor as an effect of the overflow of your love of God, this second Commandment takes on a clearer meaning. Jesus doesn’t only say to love your neighbor, He says to do so “as yourself.” So how do you love yourself? You do so primarily by fulfilling the First Commandment of the love of God.
Loving God with your whole self is, in fact, the best way to also love yourself. Why? Because we were made for love and communion with God. Loving God is not some extra favor we do for God; rather, it’s a way of fulfilling the deepest meaning of who we are. We are made for love and we are made for God. Therefore, loving God is the best way to love yourself.
From this starting point, we then move to a better understanding of how we are called to love our neighbor. If the fulfillment of loving yourself is found by loving God and being in an intimate relationship of love with God, then you love your neighbor as yourself by drawing your neighbor into a relationship of love with God also. There is nothing you could do that is more loving for others than to act as a bridge between them and God. And the more directly you act as that bridge, the greater your love for them and the more completely you fulfill this Commandment.
Reflect, today, upon the ways that you act as a bridge of love between God and others. Recognize this as your absolute duty, privilege and honor. Commit yourself to a wholehearted love of God and allow that love to overflow and be poured out upon all those with whom you encounter every day. Love is contagious, and it must consume everything you are and everything you do.
Lord, I desire to love You with my whole being. Increase my love for You and allow that love to overflow into every relationship I have in life. May love be the one and only mission of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, November 1, 2021
Honoring All Saints
Solemnity of All Saints, November 1
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 1–3
Today we celebrate one of the most glorious solemnities within our Church! Every saint, canonized or not, is honored today. Our Gospel passage lays out the path by which these saints entered Heaven. While on earth, these great men and women lived lives that were poor in spirit, filled with a holy mourning, meekness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, peace, purity of heart and even persecution. Each one of these Beatitudes concludes by stating the reward that those who lived these qualities obtains: Heaven, comfort, satisfaction, mercy, seeing God, being children of God and rewards beyond what we can imagine in God’s Kingdom.
The Beatitudes invite us to the heights of holiness. They are not for the faint of heart or for those living a lukewarm spiritual life. These Beatitudes present us with the pinnacle of holy living and challenge us to the core. But every effort put into living these Beatitudes are worth it here on earth and ultimately in Heaven. Let’s look briefly at two of these Beatitudes.
The second Beatitude states that those “who mourn…will be comforted.” This is an interesting Beatitude. Why is it holy to mourn? Simply put, this form of holy mourning means that you not only have a holy sorrow for your own sins but that you have this holy sorrow as you see the many evils within our world. This is crucial today. First, it should be quite obvious that we must have holy sorrow for our own sins. Doing so means your conscience is working. And when your conscience is working, you will be compelled, by this holy sorrow, to acknowledge your offenses against God and work diligently to change. But we must also have a holy sorrow as we see the many evils within our world. Too often today there is a tendency to undermine this Beatitude by presenting universal acceptance of all things as a good. We are told we must not judge, and though that is true when it comes to judging another’s heart, a worldly presentation of this secular “virtue” attempts to lead us to downplay the objective nature of sin. Our secular world tempts us to ignore many objective moral truths by which God guides us into all truth. But as Christians, our first approach must be to despise all that our Lord taught was objectively morally evil. And when we do come face-to-face with immoral lifestyles, the appropriate response must be holy sorrow, not acceptance of grave sin. To mourn over another’s poor choices is a true act of charity toward them.
The fourth Beatitude calls us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” This means that we not only have a holy sorrow over our sins and the objective evils of our world, but that we also allow ourselves to be filled with a hunger and thirst for truth and holy living. This drive must become a burning motivation within us to do all we can to further the Kingdom of God everywhere. This Beatitude enables us to overcome indifference, inspiring us to bring about change in the face of all opposition. And this drive is fueled by charity and every other accompanying virtue.
Reflect, today, upon the beautiful truth that you are called to become a saint. And the surest path to sainthood is the Beatitudes. Read them carefully. Meditate upon them and know that they reveal to you how God is calling you to live. If one of these Beatitudes stands out to you, then spend time focusing upon it. Work to internalize these graces, and God will work wonders in your life, one day making this solemnity within our Church a true celebration of your life well lived.
My most holy Lord, You reign now in Heaven and desire that Your glorious Kingdom be firmly established upon earth. Give me the grace I need to seek holiness with all my heart and to especially use Your revelation of the Beatitudes as the path by which I travel. I pray that I will become a true saint in this world and that You will use me to further Your Kingdom now and for eternity. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
Commemorating All Souls
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day), November 2
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” John 6:40
Yesterday’s Solemnity of All Saints gave us an opportunity to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that there are countless people who have gone before us who are now enjoying the glories of Heaven. These faithful souls lived lives that were grounded in God’s grace and have been fully purified of all sin. They now gaze at our good God face-to-face.
Today, we commemorate the fact that many who die in a state of grace are not immediately ready to stand before the glorious throne of God and see Him face-to-face. The only way this is possible is if every sin and every attachment to sin is purged from our souls. We must have nothing but pure charity alive within us if we are to enter the eternal glories of Heaven. But how many people die in such a state?
The Church, in her wisdom and holiness, has taught clearly through the centuries that when a person passes from this world to the next while still attached to less serious sin, they need to be fully purified in order to enter Heaven. This is Purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (#1030–31a).
For some, Purgatory can be a frightening and even confusing thought. Why doesn’t God, in His infinite mercy, simply take all our loved ones who followed Him straight to Heaven? The answer is simple. He does! And the path for them to Heaven is this incredible mercy of their final purification.
Purification of all attachment to sin within our soul is a mercy beyond what we can imagine. Through this final purification, God prepares the holy souls who have died for an eternity of joy. But this purification is necessary because God, in His love, does not want any soul to live eternally with even a minor attachment to sin. God wants us all free. The truth is that every sin on our soul, even the smallest one, is reason enough for us to be excluded from Heaven. So Purgatory must be seen as a final mercy from God by which He lifts every last burden that keeps us from perfect love, so that our eternity will be one of utmost freedom and ecstasy. God wants us to be filled only with the purity of love forever. Thus, upon our death, we are graced to enter into a final and intense purification of every minor sin, so that when we see God in all His glory, we will see Him with the perfection to which we are called. Purgatory is a gift, a grace, a mercy. It will be painful to go through in the same way that overcoming any sin is painful. But the good fruit of freedom from sin makes every final purification we must endure worth it a hundredfold and more.
Reflect, today, upon the spiritual truth that God wants you to be a saint. If you are among those few who die in a state in which you are purified from every sin, then be assured that you have already completed your purgatory on earth. But if you or your loved ones are among the many who still hold some minor attachment to sin at the time of death, then rejoice that God is not done with you yet. Anticipate with much gratitude the final purification that awaits and look forward to the freedom that ultimately comes from that purification.
My merciful Lord, You desire that my soul and the souls of all your faithful be purified of every sin, even the smallest imperfection. I thank You for the mercy of Purgatory and pray that I will continually work toward that purification here and now. I pray, also, for all those who have gone before me and are still in need of these purifying fires. Pour forth Your mercy upon them so that they may be counted among the saints in Heaven. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Loving through “Holy Hate”
Wednesday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25–26
After this startling opening line from our Lord, Jesus concludes today’s Gospel by saying, “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Thus, at first read it appears that we are called to not only renounce all we possess but also to hate those within our own family. But is this truly what our Lord means? Let’s begin with the idea of “hating” those within our family and even our own life.
Obviously the word “hate” in this Gospel passage is not the same as the sin of hate and anger. In commenting on this passage, one Church Father explains that there are some cases when the best way to love another is through a form of hate. That is, if another were to act as an obstacle to God, working to deter us from the will of our Lord, then our “hatred” for the actions they do must be firmly expressed. But this is love. A refusal to turn from God, by rejecting another’s disordered actions, is a way of sharing the Gospel with them. Let’s take an extreme example.
Imagine that you lived at a time and circumstance where being a Christian was a crime. You were arrested and commanded to publicly renounce your faith. Instead, you renounced that command with every strength of your soul. In this case, you exercise a form of holy “hate” for the persecution the person is imposing upon you. But that is also an act of love toward them as you fully reject their action by renouncing their command.
Or consider also how you hate even your “own life.” Let’s say that you fall into serious sin, over and over. The appropriate response is not only to repent but also to have a form of holy hatred for the habit into which you have fallen. This is a true hatred for yourself in the sense that it is a hatred for that which you have become by your sin. But this holy hatred has the ultimate goal of passionately overcoming your sin and is therefore a true act of love for yourself.
The concluding line of today’s Gospel mentioned above calls us to renounce all of our possessions. In other words, we must renounce anything that we are attached to in a way that is contrary to the will of God. Of course, in God’s providence most people (except those who take a vow of poverty) are invited by God to have various possessions so as to meet the material needs of life. But even in this case, we must “renounce” all that we possess, meaning, we must not allow ourselves to become attached to anything other than God. But this is freedom in the truest sense. Even if you have many things, it must be understood that those things do not make you happy. Only God and His will can fulfill you. Nothing else. Thus, we must learn to live as if God and God alone suffices. And if it is God’s will that you obtain a house, car, computer, television and other modern conveniences, then so be it. But true “renunciation” of all of these possessions simply means that if at any time you were to lose them, then this would be fine. Therein is perfect detachment. The loss of something material would not deter you in any way from loving and serving God and His holy will.
Reflect, today, upon these radical words of Jesus. Try to hear them in the way our Lord meant them. Work to be detached from everything that is contrary to the will of God and everything that becomes an obstacle to God in your life. In the end, possessing God alone is more than you could ever hope for. And only if you fully possess our merciful God will you be able to love yourself and others with the pure heart and love of Jesus our Lord.
My demanding Lord, You call us all to a life of radical holiness. You desire that I come to love You above all with all my heart. Please give me the grace and wisdom I need to renounce all that is an obstacle to my love and service of You. May You and You alone be glorified in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, November 4, 2021
Thursday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” Luke 15:4–6
Some of the great saints point out that the number one hundred represents perfection. One hundred refers to the perfection of the Kingdom of God, which represents not only all of the saints in Heaven but also the angels. The one lost sheep represents all of humanity as we make our way through this life. Jesus, of course, is the Shepherd Whose attention turns to fallen humanity on a diligent search for us so as to carry us home.
First, notice that the Shepherd does not search for the one stray sheep out of anger but out of concern and love. Understanding this is essential if we are to have a correct understanding of how our Lord sees us when we stray. We must see His deep concern, His diligence in searching, and His unwavering commitment to find us in our straying condition. This is not a God Who sits back in judgment and anger but a God Who came to us, took on our fallen human nature, and endured all suffering so as to find us and bring us home.
Notice also that in this parable, the Shepherd places the lost sheep on His shoulders and carries the sheep home. Oftentimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that we must make our way back to God by our own effort. But the truth is that God is always there, waiting to pick us up and carry us home. Our duty is to surrender to His merciful hands and to stop running. This is done by turning to Him and allowing Him to come to us and minister to us. The primary effort is on the part of our Lord once we surrender ourselves into His gentle Hands.
Finally, notice that the rejoicing mentioned in this parable is on the part of the Shepherd. Of course we also will rejoice at being picked up and carried home to the perfection of God’s Kingdom, but our rejoicing is done in response to the joy of our Lord. It is His joy we are invited to share in. It is His heart that is filled with gratitude as we allow Him to tenderly carry us home. “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep,” He says.
Reflect, today, upon this holy image of the Good Shepherd. As you ponder this parable and imagery, be attentive to the various thoughts, memories, emotions and fears that are evoked within you. Each one of us is different, and our Lord deeply desires to come to each one of us right where we are, in the midst of our sins. Pondering the compassion of this Good Shepherd will open the door for our Lord to speak to you and to invite you personally to come to Him, turning away from the ways that you personally have strayed. Do not run away. Remain in confidence as He comes to you. Listen to His voice and say “Yes” to Him as He lifts you up to carry you home.
My gentle Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd. You love me and search for me with diligence and fidelity. May I trust You enough to stop running from You and hiding from Your gentle voice. Please come to me, pick me up, place me on Your shoulders and carry me home. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, November 5, 2021
Stewards of Earthly Riches
Friday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’” Luke 16:1–2
There is much to ponder in this parable and many lessons from which we can learn. To begin, the rich man should be understood as God and you as the steward. This is an important first lesson to learn because it reveals to us that, when it comes to material things in this world, God is the true owner of all—we are only stewards. Think about that carefully. When it comes to all that you own, all your money and possessions, do you hold on to it as if you were the complete master of these material items? Clearly most people do think this way. They may work hard to earn a living, save and buy this and that, build up their bank accounts, and then remain very attached to these material things, seeing them as “mine” rather than as God’s. So the first very challenging lesson we should look at is that all we “own” is actually the possession of God. He only permits us to be stewards of the things of this world. Do you believe that?
As stewards, we must be committed to use the riches within our stewardship only in the way that God wants it used. In this parable, the steward was reported to the rich man for “squandering his property.” We also are guilty of squandering the possessions of God when we use money in accord with our own will and desires rather than those of God’s. This is an exceptionally common tendency, especially for those who have become the stewards of much money. Therefore, the more money that one has stewardship over, the more they will be tempted to squander it, meaning, use it for selfish purposes rather than for the glory of God in accord with His will. This is a hard teaching to accept and live. But these truths are indeed revealed to us by this parable, so it is essential that we listen.
The words spoken by the rich man, “Prepare a full account of your stewardship,” are words that we must all anticipate hearing one day. If that day were today, what would that “full account of your stewardship” look like? Have you worked hard for selfish gain? Or have you worked hard to act with great responsibility over the things God has entrusted to your care?
As the parable continues, we read that the steward acted “prudently” in that he devised a plan to make sure his material needs were met once he lost his position as steward. The “prudence,” however, that is spoken of here is a reference to the worldly, and therefore, evil ingenuity, cleverness, hard work and commitment many people have regarding the material wealth they seek to obtain in this world. Though it is good to be diligent and hardworking in life, too often this is done for the purpose of selfish gain. Just imagine if everyone who worked so hard at getting rich put even more effort into building up the Kingdom of God on earth! How different this world would be if we had so many hard workers for God’s mission.
Reflect, today, upon the simple truth that when it comes to the riches of this world, you are only the steward of what you possess, not its master. God wants you free from the attachment to material wealth so that you will be free to use all that you have for His glory and in accord with His purpose. That does not mean that you must donate all you have to charities. Instead, it means that you continually offer all that you have to God and seek to use it in accord with His will and His will alone. If that means you discern that God wants you to buy something new, then buy something new. If that means giving more away, then give more away. If that means living more simply as a holy sacrifice, then do just that. Money cannot buy happiness. Only embracing God’s will to the fullest will result in the happiness and fulfillment you deeply desire.
My Lord of all riches, You and You alone are the Master of all things created. All that I have and possess are Yours, dear Lord. Help me to believe this and to live my life purely as a steward of the possessions I have. Free me from squandering that which You have entrusted to my care. May I use all for Your glory and only in accord with Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
Doing Small Things Well
Saturday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Luke 16:10
What are the “small matters” in life? Most likely, if you asked many different people from all walks of life this question, then you would receive many different answers. But if we consider the context of this statement of Jesus, then it is clear that one of the primary small matters of which He speaks is our use of money.
Many people live as though the attainment of wealth were of the highest importance. There are many who dream of becoming rich. Some regularly play the lottery in the very unlikely hope that they will hit it big. Others dedicate themselves to much hard work in their careers so that they can advance, make more money and, so they believe, become happier as they become wealthier. And others regularly daydream about what they would do if they were rich. But from the perspective of God, material wealth is a very small and unimportant matter. Money is useful insofar as it is one of the ordinary means by which we go about providing for ourselves and our families. But it truly is small in importance when it comes to the divine perspective.
With that said, one way to be entrusted by Jesus with “great” matters is to use your money appropriately. We become “trustworthy” in this small matter of money when we only give it the value that it has. In other words, we must see money only as one means to the end of fulfilling God’s perfect will. When we work to rid ourselves of excessive desires and dreams of riches, and when we use what we have in accord with God’s will, then this act on our part will open the door to our Lord to entrust us with much more. What is that “much more?” It’s the spiritual matters that pertain to our eternal salvation and the salvation of others. God wants to entrust to you the great responsibility of building His Kingdom on earth. He wants to use you to share His saving message with others. But He will first wait until you show yourself trustworthy in small matters, such as using your money well. And then, as you fulfill His will in these less important ways, you will begin to see Him call you to greater works.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God wants great things from you. The goal of all of our lives is to be used by God in incredible ways. If this is something you desire, then do every small act in your life with great care. Show many small acts of kindness. Try to be thoughtful of others. Put others’ needs before your own. And commit yourself to using the money you have for God’s glory and in accord with His will. As you do these small things, you will begin to be amazed at how God is able to begin entrusting you with more, and, through you, great things will happen that have eternal effects in your life and in the lives of others.
My trustworthy Lord, You were entrusted with the greatest good ever known. Your Father in Heaven entrusted to You the salvation of the world. Please help me to share in this task by being faithful to Your holy will in every small way. As I seek to serve You in the small matters of life, I pray that I will be able to be used for even greater ones. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Use me as You will. Jesus, I trust in You.