Love and Law – Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Fear the LORD, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

Central Idea: We love God by obeying God’s law. Doctrine: God’s law. Practical application: Three means to grow in obedience to God’s law.

To view Lectionary 152, click here.

Central Idea:We love God by obeying God’s law

Reading 1 Dt 6:2-6

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“Fear the LORD, your God,
and keep, throughout the days of your lives,
all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you,
and thus have long life.
Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them,
that you may grow and prosper the more,
in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers,
to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

“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.”

  • This is the Shema or the great prayer of Israel. It is the central command of the moral law: to love God above all else by keeping his commands.
  • This obedience is not just a moral imperative but the key to a happy life.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

R. I love you, Lord, my strength.

I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.

My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.

The LORD lives! And blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.

  • Why should we love God? And why do we love Him? Putting to one side God’s inherent goodness, truth, and beauty, which make him completely loveable, we love God because we need salvation.
    • We have an enemy inside us that inclines us toward evil. We need forgiveness when we do evil and we need grace to avoid doing new evils.
    • We have enemies in the form of fallen angels, fellow humans who can harm us, and the hostile natural world.
    • And surrounding all these dangers is the physical death every one of us is heading toward and which the psalmist, King David, reached long ago.

Reading 2 Heb 7:23-28

Brothers and sisters:
The levitical priests were many
because they were prevented by death from remaining in office,
but Jesus, because he remains forever,
has a priesthood that does not pass away.
Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him,
since he lives forever to make intercession for them.

It was fitting that we should have such a high priest:
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners,
higher than the heavens.
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.
For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests,
but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law,
appoints a son,
who has been made perfect forever.

  • Man needs salvation. Salvation requires a savior. That savior is our high priest Jesus Christ who “is always able to save those who approach God through him.”

Alleluia Jn 14:23

Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord;
and my father will love him and we will come to him.

  • How do we know if we love Christ and so find salvation? Regardless of our feelings or what our clouded intellects might tell us, we love Christ if we obey his commandments.

Gospel Mk 12:28b-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
‘He is One and there is no other than he.’
And ‘to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself’
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

  • Jesus said the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God. I think Christ meant that the scribe almost understood his doctrine.
  • Clearly what God wants us to do is love him above all else and to order every other love in light of that love.
    • We are to love our neighbor as ourself, but proper self-love is ordered according to the moral law, which cannot be dispensed with if we love God.
  • God wants us to try to obey the moral law so we can be happy and holy.
  • God wants us to strive to obey all the commandments of the moral law. If we do, we will be as happy as we can be now and eternally happy in heaven.
  • We need grace to obey the commandments. The Sacraments are the main means God has given us to receive grace. Penance is for the forgiveness of serious sins committed after Baptism.
  • Because of original sin we should not be surprised if we often fail.

Doctrine: God’s law

  • There are many expressions of the one moral law God has given us to guide our lives.
    • The natural law is reason’s “reading” of human nature. Reason looks at the kind of creature we are and sees what will make us fulfill our purpose or not.
      • For example, since we are social beings, we need to be able to trust one another. Lying destroying the trust that should exist among us. So lying violates the natural law.
      • When the Declaration of Independence speaks of us being endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, such as life and liberty, it is referring to the natural law.
      • When the Church condemns abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage, she does so on the basis of the natural law. Every person on earth, regardless of his or her faith or lack of faith, is supposed to obey the natural law.
    • The Ten Commandments are specific articulations of the natural law which God revealed to Moses so it would be easy for everyone to know the moral law.
      • For example, in the fifth commandment God specifically reveals what everyone can know by reason, that it is wrong to kill the innocent.
      • The entire natural law is implicit in the Ten Commandments.
    • The two commandments we just heard Christ articulate—to love God above all and our neighbor as ourself—sum up both the Ten Commandments and the natural law. To love God sums up the first three commandments and to love our neighbor encompasses the other six. The two commandments also put the moral law in its proper order. God comes first, then our neighbor.
    • Finally, there is the New Law of Love, which Christ taught at the Last Supper. This new law is that we should love one another with the same love with which Christ loved us, that is, with a sacrificial love which would even lay down one’s life. This New Law includes the entire moral law and perfects it.
  • Jesus approved of the scribe who came to question him and gave him a great compliment: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” To be happy and holy we must keep the Ten Commandments which are summed up in the two great commands to love God and neighbor.
  • The Jews obeyed the commandments so they could live in the earthly Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, and be safe from enemies. Christians obey the commandments so we can live in the kingdom of God, the heavenly state of perfect happiness and holiness.
    • The Jews—understandably—could not follow the Law so well, so God gave them the Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices both for themselves—because they too were sinners—and the people. Christians, too, cannot follow the Law so well—but we have the great high priest, Jesus Christ, who offered the perfect sacrifice which is good for all time.

Practical application: Three means to grow in obedience to God’s law

  • Obeying God’s law, motivated by love for God and neighbor, is our every-moment, every- day, life-long work. When Pope Piux XII visited the U.S. in 1946, he said, “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” We need to wake ourselves from our amoral sleep.
  • Three means can help us love God and neighbor better and in the right spirit.
  • Pray. Prayer can reveal the answers to the questions,
    • What does God want of me?
    • What do the people around me need?
    • What do I need to give it to them?
  • Go to Mass. In the Mass, we acknowledge our sins and weaknesses, hear the Word of God, and receive tremendous grace in the Eucharist. Why not go to Mass one time more this next week?
  • Examine your conscience daily. A most practical thing every one of us can do to obey the commandments is the evening examination of conscience. A very simple examination has three movements.
    • First, we look over our day to determine what went well. We should humbly thank God for that. This also gives us some courage to look at the second part:
    • What we did wrong today. We then tell God we are sorry and can use a simple record of this to prepare for Confession. If we have committed a serious sin we must get to Confession as soon as possible.
    • The third movement is very important but often overlooked. It is to make a practical resolution that we do our best to carry out tomorrow. What will I do tomorrow to love God and neighbor better tomorrow?

The Homiletic Directory suggests the following Catechism points and themes for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 2083: commandments as a call for a response of love
  • CCC 2052, 2093-2094: the first commandment
  • CCC 1539-1547: holy orders in the economy of salvation

 

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