by Fr. Tommy Lane
Isn’t it astounding that God who is almighty should be concerned about us? When we think of how big the universe is, it is even more astounding that we are so important to God. Our solar system with the sun at the center and the eight planets revolving around it, is just one solar system in our galaxy called the Milky Way. The Milky Way may have 100,000 million solar systems similar to our own i.e. 100,000 million suns with their own planets. It is 100,000 lights years in diameter. The Milky Way is just one galaxy in the universe which is thought to contain about 8000 million galaxies. It is truly beyond comprehension. We are indeed nothing by comparison but in fact we are more important than all the solar systems, all the galaxies and the entire universe itself because we are God’s beloved. God has a wonderful plan for us, and that plan is Jesus - salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews talks of Jesus as priest. We are accustomed to think of Jesus as Savior, Messiah, Christ, healer, miracle-worker, but not too often do we hear of Jesus as priest. Until the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD the Jewish priests offered animals every day in sacrifice but the Letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus’ one priestly sacrifice of himself to the Father on Calvary has replaced all of those Jewish sacrifices. The letter states,
“Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away…He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.” (Heb 7:23-24,27)
Jesus is the High Priest of the New Testament and we ordained priests share in his priesthood in a special way. Jesus was a priest all during his earthly life and we see his priestly sacrifice during his passion and death. We remember his suffering during his Passion, his agony in Gethsemane, the trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, the scourging and crowning with thorns, the mockery of the Roman soldiers, carrying the cross all the way up the hill of Calvary outside of Jerusalem and then suffocating to death on the cross. Jesus’ priestly offering shows that truly we are God’s beloved.
When we think of how much God has done for us and how much God loves us we are left with only one response, praise and gratitude and love of God. It is part of our very being, to praise and thank and love God. If we forget in the midst of all our activity how important we are in the eyes of God, what a great loss we have suffered. But when we remember God’s love for us and all he has done for us, our only natural response is to love God in return. The command in the Book of Deuteronomy, which we heard in our first reading today, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, (Deut 6:4-6) and repeated by Jesus in the Gospel today (Mark 12:29-30), is what we want to do when we see what God has done for us and how God loves us. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the only response to God who loves us so much. We want to love God by praying every day, celebrating Mass here every Sunday, reading the Scriptures and spiritual books, receiving the sacraments, because we will not be happy if we do not love God. In fact we discover that when we love God we become much happier because the more time we spend with God the more we receive the life of God and that life uplifts us, heals us, renews us and invigorates us. So in fact we discover that the more we love God the happier we are. We discover that the more we love God, the more we get a foretaste and glimpse of heaven here on earth. When we live the command we heard in our first reading from Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-6), and repeated by Jesus (Mark 12:29-30), we are happier and already begin to live a little bit of heaven here on earth.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today” (Deut 6:4-6)
In fact that Scripture passage was part of the daily prayer of devout Jews at the time of Jesus. Now you know part of the prayers that Jesus said every day as a devout Jew.
When we contemplate that God loves everyone as much as he loves us, we think of everyone in a new way. Everyone is special to God. The love we know God has for ourselves is also the love God also has for the person beside me, in front of me, behind me, for my neighbor who goes to a different church, for the people I may not particularly like, and the people who may not particularly like me. We are all God’s beloved. And because everyone is so special to God who loves us so much we want to love everyone also. So the second command of Jesus in the Gospel today, to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31), which summarizes Commandments four through ten, is not so much a command but the natural thing to do when we realize how much God loves everyone. Everyone is in some way a reflection of God, of the God who loves us, and so we want to love the reflection of God in others.
When we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, what happens? We become more like God. We are filled with the light of God. One person who witnessed people filled with God’s light in a more dramatic way than normal was Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990; he was a British journalist, author and media person) which he has described in his book Something Beautiful for God (pages 41-45) which is an account of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Muggeridge and his film crew were filming the nuns picking up the dying from the streets and bringing them to a home for the dying. Muggeridge wrote,
This Home for the Dying is dimly lit by small windows high up in the walls, and Ken was adamant that filming was quite impossible there. We had only one small light with us, and to get the place adequately lighted in the time at our disposal was quite impossible. It was decided that, nonetheless, Ken should have a go, but by way of insurance he took, as well, some film in an outside courtyard where some of the inmates were sitting in the sun. In the processed film, the part taken inside was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused…Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying is overflowing with love, as one senses immediately on entering it. This love is luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. (pages 41…44)
(story of another photographic miracle when a priest brought a hospital patient Holy Communion) At the time Muggeridge wrote Something Beautiful for God he was not a Catholic but eleven years later he converted to Catholicism and meeting Mother Teresa was largely responsible for his conversion. When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, we are filled with light and miracles happen.
More material for the Thirty-First Sunday
Related Homilies: Loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves
on love of neighbor: Seeing Jesus in others
related to the second reading: God’s Grace offered in a surprising new way - the Priesthood of Jesus 2009
stories loving God
neighbor as oneself