Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost – The Love of God and the Love of Neighbour
GOSPEL. Matt. xxii. 35-46. At that time, the Pharisees came nigh to Jesus: and one of them, a doctor of the law, asked Him, tempting
Him: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart,
and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this:
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets. And the Pharisees
being gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying: What think you of Christ? Whose son is He? They say to Him: David’s. He saith
to them: How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord: Sit on my right hand, until I make thy
enemies thy foot-stool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word: neither durst any
man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
THE LOVE OF GOD AND OF OUR NEIGHBOR
The good people that surrounded Our Lord when He was preaching blessed Him for His admirable doctrines, and for the wisdom of His answers. Not so the Pharisees; they followed Him to ask Him questions, that they might entrap Him, and use His words against Him. For that reason they came to Him “tempting Him.” One of these hypocritical Pharisees, a doctor of the law, put this question to Our Lord, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Our Lord saw through the duplicity of this man, who did not desire instruction, but sought rather to bring confusion on the Master. He did not deserve an answer, on the contrary he should have received a rebuke. But the honor of Our Lord’s heavenly Father was at stake, and the crowd was eager to learn: so Christ answered first, and afterwards rebuked him.
We, my dear young people, can draw a lesson from this manner of acting: that as Christ did, we also should do. We should learn meekness of speech. How do we answer those who question us? Often in our impatience and disrespect for others, we burst into unkind words and threats. To our superiors we are often cold and disdainful, making our instruction and correction difficult and distasteful to them. Ah, my dear young friends, always answer kindly; be charitable and polite, be Christians and close followers of the Redeemer. “Be ye kind one to another.” Cassian relates that there lived in Alexandria a holy old man surrounded by many infidels who spoke injurious things of him, but he stood all their abuse with an unmoved heart. “What miracles did Jesus Christ perform?” they asked. “Ah,” he replied, “He has done one miracle that you can see with your own eyes. I do not resent the injuries inflicted on me. He has given me the grace to bear with patience all your persecutions. This is a great miracle, a great and sublime perfection, which I have attained by the intervention of Christ.”
Let us now come to the sweet answer which the Lord gave: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” My dear young friends, have you ever thought of this great precept: to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind? Our Lord calls the heart, soul, and mind into the work of love, and not without reason. Love God with your whole heart, be generous and fervent in your love. “My son, give Me thy heart.” Have you given your heart with all its affections to God? Ah, who knows but you have given your heart to the world, to vice, and to the devil! How many there are who in their childhood give their hearts to God, but as they grow up, they give them to sin. You were good in your tender years, pious, affectionate and loving; but in course of time you have taken back this sacred gift to give it to the devil. What is it to love God with all your soul? Your soul is a pure, intelligent spirit, that has the power of clinging to God so entirely that nothing should interfere with that intercourse. You should also love Him with all your mind. All your thoughts should be centred on God alone; your will should be so directed as to make you think of God and to love Him. All the powers of your mind should be stirred up to do that for which you were created; your whole body, your eyes, ears, mouth, feet and hands, should be active in the love of God. All your desires should be wakened to love Him; if you eat, do it for the love of God; if you enjoy the things of this world, rejoice in the Lord; if you fear, fear God for His justice; if you are sad, bewail your sins and the sins of others. This is the way to love God, and if you do this your soul will be filled with the peace and happiness of heaven. So great will this happiness be, that with St. Ephrem you will cry out, “Lord, retire a little; my frail condition cannot endure this love.” And with St. Francis Xavier, “Lord, it is enough!” Why do you and why did the saints feel such a joy? Because it is a foretaste of the joys of heaven. God is not loved without a reward, says St. Bernard; all this delight is given you as a reward in this vale of tears.
My dear young friends, let not the false splendor of the good things of this world interfere with your love for God. You know that these splendors are false and that they cannot satisfy nor content your heart; despise them then as the saints did. We read the following of St. Clement: Diocletian, a great and bitter enemy of the faith, caused St. Clement to be brought before him; heaps of money, vases of gold, and magnificent robes were brought in and placed on one side; while on the other side were chains, manacles, and instruments of torture. Then Diocletian said to the saint: “If you deny Christ, all this wealth is yours, besides many honors and rich offices that are in the gift of an emperor as great as I am. But if you persist in the worship of Christ, these instruments of torture and of death will be used on you with out mercy. Think and choose.” Did the saint hesitate or a moment? No; he cast an eye of supreme contempt on the tyrant and his treasures, and turning from them, said, in the words of the Apostle, that neither height nor depth, that is, neither good nor evil, should ever draw him from the love that he owed to Jesus Christ. Was not this an heroic example of the love of Jesus?
But to this precept of the whole-souled love of God, we must also join the love of our neighbor; a precept, as Our Lord calls it, very like the first. “The second is like to this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love of yourself is presented to you as the rule by which you may be directed in the love of your neighbor. It is not likely that you will consider you have given in too much to your self-love. We are composed of body and soul, therefore we must love our neighbor in body and soul. Regarding the body, you must do him no injury, not even in wish; help him in all his necessities; console him in all his afflictions; sacrifice yourself for him; in other words, forget yourself in the service of your fellow-man. But more important than the body is the soul. What must you do for your neighbor in regard to his soul? Always give him good example; gently correct him when he needs it; lead him away from bad associates; draw him to church and to the sacraments. Pray for the wicked in all your supplications to God. You can do more to convert your neighbor than a priest can with his sermons; you can bring personal influence to bear on him. The priest may preach himself hoarse and tired; you have the heart of your friend in your hands and can mould it; if not at once, at least by degrees. Besides, as St. James says, “The continual prayer of a just man availeth much.”
St. Francis of Assisi did not think he loved God unless he proved it by bringing souls to Him. St. Ignatius Loyola said that if he had one foot in heaven he would come back if he saw an opportunity of saving one soul. The Cure d’Ars said after his communion, ” How many souls would I gain for God if I were a priest!” St. Catherine of Sienna declared that she would throw herself at the devil, and struggle with him for the possession of a soul to bring it to God. She was a poor, weak Sister, and yet how many souls did she not save for God. How did she do it? Was it by eloquence and by learning? No; she did it by the great hatred she had for sin, and by the great love she had for sinners. With the same dispositions you can do as much as she did. You have not eloquence nor the opportunity to use it if you had it, but you can have this hatred for sin, you can have love for the sinner, you can help the grace of Jesus Christ to become operative in the hearts of your neighbor. “We are the helpers of God,” says St. Paul. Pray fervently to Our Lord and to the Blessed Virgin, and they will give you victory over the most obstinate cases. Let me give you an example showing how you may use your influence on your friends and relations. A little girl, nine years old, seeing that her father refused the sacraments on his death-bed, was full of sorrow and concern. Being left alone with the dying man she conceived a happy thought. She went into the room and took her place near his pillow. The father noticed her and said, “What are you doing, my dear?” “Father,” she answered, ‘I want to bid you an eternal farewell. I shall not see you again in this world, and, certainly, not in the next. They tell me you are going to die, and you cannot go to heaven, because you refuse to go to confession and you will be damned. How unhappy I am! I shall never again see my father whom I love so much!” The dying man could no longer restrain his tears. “Console yourself, my dear, I want to go to confession. “He lived for some time after the occurrence, and to all that visited him he related how he owed his conversion to his little daughter.