Love and Law: Catholic homily outline for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Michelangelo's "Moses"(detail)

Michelangelo’s “Moses”(detail)

Central Idea: Love God and neighbor according to rightful law. Doctrine: The Precepts of the Church. Practical Application: Living the precepts better.

To view Lectionary 105, click here.

Central idea: Love God and neighbor according to rightful law

Reading 1 Dt 30:10-14

Moses said to the people:
“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the LORD, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

  • We are always turning away from the LORD, our God, through forgetfulness and sin. “When you return . . . with all your heart and all your soul,” you recommit to doing what God wants, from that time forward. In practice, we return to God daily and even moment by moment.
  • What God wants from any human being is not mysterious. It is to love: To love him and to love one another.
  • This is as true for Jews, as it is for Catholics, as it is for those who have never heard of either faith.
  • For those who do not know God properly, God accounts love of neighbor as love for him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness:
in your great mercy turn toward me.

I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”

For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
The descendants of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall inhabit it.

  • When things are going well, some people find it hard to remember God. We can resolve to remember God daily and to thank him for all the good things we are enjoying and all the bad things we are not suffering.
  • When things are not going well, some people want to blame God or use the difficulty as a pretext for rejecting him and doing whatever they really want.
  • It is always good to thank God for goodness received and to ask for his deliverance from the evils that afflict us.
  • However, the human default position is to want to be completely happy in this life. But because of original sin, this is impossible. In addition, our ideas of how we could be perfectly happy now are erroneous.
  • It is good to recall that what God wants is for us to become the sort of persons who are ready for eternal life and happiness with Him and the angels and all the saved in heaven. Human freedom is essential for us to become this sort of person—how we respond to everything and what we do. We become this sort of person by love of God and neighbor.
  • I don’t think it is correct to say that God ever directly sends evil to us, though he does directly send us many goods. Some of these are natural goods, like good people and good conditions of life. Some are supernatural—all the various graces.
  • God does permit us to experience evils. It is right to ask God to remove them, regardless of the fact that he can bring good out of them for us and for others.
  • Evidently, God also permits us to enjoy many goods that may not actually help us. Just think of all the persons who are on the plus side of all the inequality that permeates every corner of human life. When it comes to a good family, material wealth, culture, education, sound health, beauty, strength, athleticism, charisma, and many other positives, it would be crazy to ask God to take them away, but it does makes sense to ask that they not be obstacles to but rather instruments for becoming the persons we ought to be.

Or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

  • Good people are lawful. That is, they freely obey just laws.
  • The more perfect the law and the more perfect its source the more joy it gives people to obey it.
  • Orthodox Jews today recognize 613 laws from the Old Testament, which they try scrupulously to obey (some of them cannot be followed because they pertain to temple worship, which ended in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem).
  • The “Law” for Catholics could be seen as complex and simple.
    • It is the entire natural law—all of our obligations to God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed due to our human nature—which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, in all just civil laws, and in the precepts of the Church.
    • It is also simply to love God completely and neighbor as self.
    • It is even simpler in Christ’s New Commandment to love others with a sacrificial love.

Reading 2 Col 1:15-20

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

  • Some scholars think St. Paul is quoting a hymn that was already in use in the Church’s liturgy.
  • It is filled with tremendous praise of Our Lord based on who he is and what he has done.
  • Who is he? The fullness of the image of God. The instrument of creation. The head of the angels and of the Church.
  • What has he done? He has created all things and then reconciled all things all to the Father. He has risen from the dead.

Gospel Lk 10:25-37

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  • Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’ confirmation of a core Jewish teaching. This teaching is the twin and interrelated doctrines of complete love for God and love of neighbor as self. If you want eternal life, Jesus said to the scholar and says to us, that is what you must do.
  • Through his Church and its missionary activity over the centuries, Christ gives this core Jewish and human teaching as a gift to the whole world.
  • But Luke tells us that the scholar of the law wanted to “justify himself,” so he asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”
    • Who was this man required to love like he loved himself? Was it only certain people, fellow Jews? Were there people he was not required to love, like enemies or outcasts or the immoral?
    • A very strong movement within Judaism was separatism. The Pharisees thought that best way for Jews to be faithful to God was to separate themselves from Gentiles and even sinful Jews: these had been tempting Jews away from the Law throughout Jewish history.
    • The Jewish authorities were perplexed that Jesus associated with sinful Jews and even Samaritans.
  • To answer the scholar’s question, Jesus composed the story we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • But instead of answering the question, “Who is the neighbor I should love?” Jesus answers a different question: “Who is the man who loves his neighbor?”
  • The answer is the hated Samaritan, not the Levite or the Jewish priest.
  • To love your neighbor as yourself means to give care to anyone in need that you encounter, even if he is your enemy. The Parable of the Good Shepherd illustrates Jesus’ command to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you (Lk 6:27).

Doctrine: The Precepts of the Church

  • The pastors of the Church have the legitimate authority to make laws which apply to all Catholics, including themselves. These laws require of us something we need: “the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (CCC 2041).
  • The first precept requires we participate in the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday and holy day of obligation and rest from activities which impede sanctifying these days (CCC 2042).
  • The second precept requires we confess our sins at least once a year in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to ensure we can receive the Eucharist worthily (CCC 2042).
  • The third requires we receive the Eucharist at least during the Easter season so that as a minimum we will receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood “in connection with the Paschal feasts” (CCC 2042).
  • The fourth requires us to “observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.” This “ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” (CCC 2043)
  • The fifth precept is the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities (CCC 2043).

Practical Application: Living the precepts better

  • The precepts demand a minimum. The first practical step is to make sure we reach that minimum level. Once the minimum is reached, we can and should do much more.
  • We can always participate better in the masses we attend: in how we dress, our posture, or attention, our participation in the prayers, and so on.
  • A huge area to improve in could be observing the Sunday rest by not engaging in unnecessary menial labor or activities which might end up alienating us from resting in God.
  • We should confess our sins regularly, and certainly as soon as possible if we are aware of a serious sin. If we are serious about our spiritual lives, we should try to go at least every month.
  • We should receive the Eucharist at every mass as long as we are in the state of grace. This ought to extend to attending mass on other days if we can. The Eucharist is the greatest of treasures. If we understand what the Eucharist is, we will want it always.
  • One aspect of ascesis or self-denial is the Friday penance. The Church requires some kind of penance or sacrifice every Friday. In some places, the bishops establish something specific, like abstaining from meat. In other places, the actual penance is left up to the individual. If so, do we actually do something? It does not have to be dramatic. If you do something as simple as not taking sugar in your coffee, you are reminded again and again that you are just a creature under God’s authority, and you are submitting to that authority. This discipline helps us “acquire that mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CCC 2043).
  • In providing for the material needs of the Church, do we actually do it? Do we determine what we are going to do and then carry through time after time?

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

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