How do we love?

God loves me into existence. He has loved me since before he formed me in my mother’s womb,1 and he will love me long after my bones turn to dust.2 Every moment of my existence is due to God’s love for me.

How do I respond to this love? The only response that could possibly be close to sufficient is to love God with every bit of my existence: with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind.3 God has given me everything, so it makes sense that I should love him back with everything. But what does this look like? There are some obvious answers to what loving God looks like: attending Mass, praying, trying not to sin. But that is not all that is required of me.

God doesn’t just love me into existence. God loves you into existence, too. God loves everyone that you or I will meet today into existence. Every person who has ever existed: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, St. Pope John Paul, St. Mother Teresa, the guy down the street who is always mad about your lawn, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter: God loves them all into existence. Immediately after telling us to love God, Jesus tells us that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.4 To truly love God, we must also love those whom he loves. To say we love God and to mistreat our neighbor at the same time is hypocrisy! Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.5 If we want to love God, we must also love all our brothers and sisters in this world.6

Love is not a thing that we can practice sometimes. We can’t act in hate toward one person and expect it not to have an effect our ability to love another person. This works in our favor, though! When we act out of true love for someone, it grows our ability to love in general. By loving our neighbor, we learn to love. We learn to love God by loving our neighbor, and by loving our neighbor we love God.7

But what does this look like? How do we love our neighbors?

The readings today give us a great starting point. God called the Israelites—and us—in the Exodus to treat the foreigners among us as any other citizen, because ultimately, we are all citizens not of this earth, but of heaven. We should not do wrong to those who are vulnerable, such as widows or orphans. Paul tells and shows us that by living a moral life, we can become models of good behavior, and love our brothers and sisters by showing them the way to happiness. We turn away from our idols of self and let go of the idea that we must protect our time from the encroachment of our neighbors. A wise priest once told me never to make my schedule too tight: we must allow for those “God moments,” where you run into someone who just needs to talk.

But we can do better than this. Love is the only virtue that remains in Heaven, so it is critical to work on it as much as we can! I believe that the best examination of our love was written by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8

we can use this as an examination of conscience to see how we are doing with love. Have I been patient with myself? Have I been kind to my neighbor? Have I born the burdens that God has allowed me to experience this day?

Love your neighbor as yourself, so that you are able to love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Today’s Readings:
Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Brief Reflection on the Fifteenth Wednesday

In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?

In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.

Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.

Today’s Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12; Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.

By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.

Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.

Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.

To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.

When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.

The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.

Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.

Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.

On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

About halfway through today’s Gospel, the woman at the well says to Jesus, “you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds to this in an interesting way,

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

A lot is going on in these few sentences. Jesus affirms worship in Jerusalem, but then says that neither Jerusalem nor anywhere is where the worship will take place. But we know that true worship, even now, continues in a multitude of places on the earth. While this could be a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, it can also be seen to contain more truths about true worship. The center of Jewish worship was the Temple. Non-Jewish worship was often centered around a particular place. Ancient peoples often believe mountains to be the places of the gods. The Psalms, which are both Jewish and Catholic prayers, often reference this idea of going up a mountain to worship. What Jesus is telling us is not that there will be no places of worship in this world, but that the true center of worship will no longer be here on earth. The true center of Christian worship is in the Heavenly Kingdom of God. The Mass in the West, the Divine Liturgy in the East, these are both participations in the Heavenly Liturgy. They are but images of the true glory of Heavenly Worship.

This worship requires us to know who we are worshipping. If God is not physically present on this earth, we must have some understanding of who he is in order to give him worship. This does not mean that we understand God: God is beyond our understanding. It means that our God is understandable. There is order, some sort of reason, to God at which we can grasp. The false gods of the pagans did not have this. They were given earthly forms so that people could form images in their minds, but their actions and behaviors were unreasonable. The stories of the gods were as often about their cruelty and strangeness as they were about their positive qualities. Furthermore, there was not a rationality to the religious system which allowed for rich, deep and complex thought. It allowed for many wonderful stories, and for much thought about human nature, but it was ultimately shallow. Often, the pagan gods take on aspects of human nature and the stories are formed more by human condition than by the nature of God.

The Jews, after hundreds of years of various journeys through the desert and exiles, had banished such thought from their minds. They had finally realized that God is one, that he is immaterial, and that there is an order to Him. Perhaps we do not understand, but there is a perceivable order. The Jews were chosen by God to spread this wonderful discovery to all the people of the world, but they failed their mission. Salvation still comes from the Jews through Jesus Christ and the Apostles, all of whom were Jewish. Jesus and his Apostles brought salvation to all mankind, by teaching us how to worship God in Spirit and Truth through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in Spirit because it joins in the Liturgy of Heaven, and it is a true sacrifice because it is an anamnesis—a true memorial in which we make present what occurs in the past—of the Passion of our Lord.

This worship in which we participate then forms the basis of our entire lives. It is the water which Jesus promised the woman at the well. When we pray and offer ourselves to God totally, most perfectly through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we receive this water that lasts through all eternity.

(Sorry this is late! – MS)

Today’s Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42