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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Thus days the lord, "You shall not wrong or oppress an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not take advantage of any widow or fatherless child. If you take advantage of them at all, and they cry at all to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will grow hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
"If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you
shall not be to him as a creditor; neither shall you charge him interest.
If you take your neighbor's garment as collateral, you shall restore it
to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, it is his
garment for his skin. What would he sleep in? It will happen, when he cries
to me, that I will hear, for I am compassionate.
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Brothers and sisters, you know what kind of people we showed ourselves
to be among you for your sake. You became imitators of us, and of the Lord,
having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
so that you became an example to all who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia
and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth;
so that we need not to say anything. For they themselves report concerning
us what kind of a reception we had from you; and how you turned to God
from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from
heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who delivers us from the
wrath to come.
But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees
to silence, gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked
him a question, testing him. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment
in the law?" Jesus said to him, "'You shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise
is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole law and
the prophets depend on these two commandments."
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
years ago, the military recruiters in our country were trying to attract
young people into the military services with the slogan: “Be all that you
can be.” In other words, join the military and you will be all that
you can be. Well that was not true. There’s no way, through the military,
that you would be all that you can be.
But, today, if we listen deeply to what we hear in the scriptures, we discover how we really can “be all that we can be” -- all that God wants us to be and how we can become the full human person God is calling us to be. And it’s all wrapped up, of course, in love. Love the Lord your God with your whole mind, heart, soul and all your strength, and then love your neighbor. That’s it. All the law and the prophets, Jesus says, everything is founded on these two commandments that become one. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
Today’s lessons guide us in how to do that.
The first thing we really need to understand is that when we refer to these as commandments, it isn’t as though God is trying to force us by giving us a commandment; if we don’t obey it, we will be punished. No, God is trying to show us how we grow and is trying to guide us. God isn’t going to punish us, but we’re going to fall short of all that we could be if we don’t follow what God teaches us in today’s scriptures.
One of the things that I think most of us probably would try to do almost automatically is to say, “Well, Jesus taught us that whatever you do to one of the least of my brothers or sisters you do to me. So if we really love others, we are going to be loving God.” Well that’s true. Obviously, Jesus said it and it is true. But there’s also a need for us as human creatures to try to love God directly and first with all our being.
Now, it’s difficult and we might even say, “How can we love a spirit being?” We usually think of love as our feelings, our emotions, yet God is spirit, God is invisible. And so we don’t always understand readily or quickly, how we’re going to love God with our whole being.
In the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius, one of the great spiritual books of all of Christian history, Ignatius describes how he conceives of us loving God directly, first, with all of our being. He says, “We must think about love as not so much just affection or emotion, but what you do for the one you love or what the one who loves you does for you.” It’s more in the doing than in simply feeling. And so Ignatius says, “The way you really begin to love God is to think about all that God has done for you, me, each of us.”
Earlier today, in the Prayers of the Office, I was reading Psalm 104, and it’s a beautiful psalm which really reminds us of all God has done for us: “Bless God, oh my soul. My God how great you are. You make the clouds, your chariot, ride on the wings of the wind. You set the earth on its foundations, never will it be shaken. You covered it with oceans like a garment and water spread over the mountains. You make springs gush forth in valleys, winding among mountains and hills, giving drink to the beasts of the field, quenching the thirst of wild animals. Birds build their nests close by and sing among the branches of the trees.”
And this psalm goes on for verse after verse after verse, blessing God for creation. And we don’t think about that often enough, I think, what God has given to us in this extraordinary universe, filled with mysteries but beauty and goodness; and it’s all God’s gift to us.
When we really begin to cherish the world around us, learn to love this planet and all that it means for us, love all that God has given to us, our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude, with joy, with love and we begin to respond to God with real love and we think about ourselves, all the things you take for granted: eyesight, hearing, mind, memory, all those gifts that we have that make us human persons. And they are all gifts; we don’t have a right to any of this.
God is love and God has poured forth love upon this planet, this universe, upon every one of us. And if let ourselves dwell on that, we can’t help but be filled with gratitude, joy.
Ignatius says, “Then, too, what we will begin to do is want to give back to God what God has given to us.” And that’s all we can give to God, really, what God has already given to us. But as we give back to God, we’re loving God. And the more generously and completely and absolutely that we turn ourselves over to God, give ourselves back to God, the greater is the love that we’re showing to God. We begin to love God with our whole mind, our heart, our soul and all our strength, and that really is the first way that we grow into becoming all that we can be.
Love God, that’s the first guide that Jesus gives to us, the commandment, love God.
And so we must take the time to sit and reflect and pray and remember all that God has done for us and then begin to give back to God. Love the Lord your God with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength and you begin to be all that you can be.
But then also, as Jesus makes so clear, the second commandment is similar to the first: “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.” That is, love your neighbor with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength. And here it can become very concrete, very real.
We heard in our first lesson from the book of Exodus,: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” God’s people were being told, “Welcome those who are immigrants among you; aliens as they are called in the scriptures. You shall not harm the widow or the orphan. No, instead, you are generous, you give. The widow and orphan stand for all the poor, all the oppressed and anyone who is in need. God’s people are urged to love them, be generous to them, and give to them.
Another place where it is spelled out so clearly is in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. He tells them what love is. “Love is patient, kind, without envy. It’s not boastful or arrogant. It’s not rude, nor does it seek its own interests. Love overcomes anger and forgets offenses, does not delight in wrong, but rejoices in truth.”
So love is something very specific and concrete.
And there are so many ways in which we must learn to love others. I’m sure all of us are aware of the terrible plane crash the other day, on Friday, when Senator Paul Wellstone was killed with his wife and one of their children and three or four other people. I’ve been reading about his life. His was an extraordinary life. He was the one senator who still gloried in being called a liberal. But most people would call him that with almost disdain. Liberal, somehow, has come to have a bad connotation. And, yet, when you read about him and what he was struggling for in his life’s work in the senate, he was really living out his Jewish heritage.
All that was spoken of in the first lesson today, in the book of Exodus, were the kinds of things that Paul Wellstone was working for. The orphan and the widow, those representing the poor, were his first concern. As a U.S. senator he kept struggling for legislation that would bring benefits to the poor, cut back on military spending, and lift up programs for the mentally ill. For people in welfare, for those who are homeless, his whole work was reaching to them, for migrants, aliens in our midst.
This weekend, President Bush has been meeting with President Fox from Mexico, but refusing to discuss the problem of the ones we call illegal people in our midst. Imagine naming people as illegal. They are the poor who flow here from Mexico in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, partly because we’ve undermined the whole agricultural system of Mexico through the subsidies that we give to our farm producers so that they can’t sell what they grow. And so they are forced off their land and they come here, but then we neglect them, we want to push them back, in fact we build barriers at our borders to keep the poor out.
Senator Wellstone was giving his life for just the opposite. And it really was fulfilling his Jewish heritage. Everything that you read in the book of Exodus, or throughout the Old Testament, where God is guiding the people how to live as God’s people, having compassion and love for the poor, the oppressed, the alien. We must try to have that same spirit ourselves. That’s what it means to love your neighbor in a very concrete way.
One of the things that I read about him that I thought was very striking was how he carried out what St. Paul says about love. Love is patient, love is kind, and love is never rude or arrogant.
The person writing about him said that Mr. Wellstone had this real interest in people. As he traveled around the state of Minnesota, visiting at every small town and rural area wherever, he would engage in conversations with people at “Question & Answer” periods after a talk. And he would always get the name of each individual person. And the reporter said that, on one occasion, he’d been having questions and answers and then, about a half hour after it had started, someone asked a question and Mr. Wellstone was going to respond and he said, “Oh, that question is very much like Mary’s question a half hour ago.” And the reporter was pointing out how that woman, whose name was remembered, felt so important. She was important enough that he would remember her name.
And that really is a gift and an important way of how to act towards other people. Respect them and give them their full dignity as a human person, as a unique individual person. Each one is with a name; who I am. And it’s so important that we recognize each other that way and that we are always very respectful and recognize the dignity of people.
In the gospel lesson, today, I think Jesus shows the same thing himself. His patience, love is patient. These Pharisees had come to trap him. They wanted to upset his popularity, turn the people against him. But he doesn’t rail out against them, he’s very patient and listens to their questions and respectfully answers them. He shows us how to love your neighbor.
Each of us has to find the way in which we will work for the good of our neighbor; we must find the way that we can reach to the orphaned, the widowed, the oppressed, and the alien. We must find the way that in our interactions with one another that we always show respect; recognize the worth and dignity of every person in our midst. And as we begin to do that we really are showing love for one another, fulfilling that second and greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is one other point that I think is very important about this. In loving God, and as I pointed out, loving God by appreciating the gift of creation and the gift each one of us is and all that we have received, how important it would be for us to continue to work to make our world, I mean the planet itself, a beautiful mark of God’s creative love; instead of destroying and polluting so much of our planet. That would be so important.
In fact, the most important thing I think has to do with the threat that we make against all of God’s creation. We’re so concerned right now, aren’t we, about trying to prevent Iraq from nuclear weapons, and North Korea, when we’re the ones that have the largest number. We’re the ones that have the policy that we will use them and use them first. So we are the ones that are really proclaiming that we’re ready to destroy all of God’s creation, this beautiful world that God has given to us.
Through our possession of nuclear weapons and our strategies to use them, we are saying to God, “We can destroy everything that you have made,” instead of saying to God, “We are grateful. We love you for what you have given to us. We will enter into your creative love and make it a better place.” Instead, we challenge God.
There is so much we have to do in order to fulfill this commandment that Jesus proclaims to us today: “Love the lord your God with your whole mind, your whole heart, your soul, all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” As each of us determines how we will carry out and abide by these two commandments that Jesus gives to us, we will begin to be all that we can be. We will come into the fullness of our humanness and experience the joy, peace and love that God give to those who heed his commandments and follow them. And so I hope we leave here today determined to be all that we can be by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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