Sunday, November 23, 2014

King of the Poor


Many of the Church’s great saints were soldiers. Such a one was Saint Martin of Tours.

Young Martin joined the Roman army at the age of nineteen. Unlike other soldiers his age, he was a sensitive and spiritual man. He was drawn to the teaching of Jesus and inspired by the lives of the Christians he knew, but he was never baptized.

One day he was standing guard by a city gate when he noticed a beggar who was shivering in the cold. Martin took his sword, cut his cloak in half and gave it to the beggar. That night, he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him wearing the cloak he had given the beggar. In the dream, Jesus was telling his angels, “This is Martin who shared his cloak with me.” When he woke up the next morning, he arranged to be baptized, left the army and dedicated his life to serving the poor and defending the Christian faith.

Saint Martin experienced the promise that Christ makes in today’s gospel. Whatever we do for the poor, for the hungry, for the suffering we do for Jesus. At the same time, whenever we turn our back on those who need our help, we are turning our back on Jesus.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We know that earthly rulers live in splendid palaces and wear the finest clothes. They move in the circles of the wealthy and powerful. But Jesus is a different kind of King. Though He is almighty and can do whatever He wills, He chooses to associate Himself with the poor, the meek and the humble. Whereas we can expect to find earthly kings in palaces, we can expect to find Christ the King in factories, in slums and in soup kitchens.

If Jesus seems distant from us, if we have had trouble finding Him in our lives and wondered if He is really present among us, maybe we have been looking in the wrong place. If we really want to meet Jesus and get to know Him, perhaps we need to find Him among the people He so strongly identifies with. Maybe we need to break out of our circle of friends and acquaintances and take the risk of going out to the homeless shelters, the hospitals, the prisons and the soup kitchens where we will encounter a Savior who makes His home with the poor. If we want to take our spiritual life to another level and deepen our relationship with Jesus, that might be just the thing that God is calling us to do.

Of course, poverty comes in many forms. Many times people with plenty of food and enough money can be poor in other ways. They may find themselves isolated and lonely. They may be caught in addictions and harmful habits. Or they may feel lost with no direction and no meaning in their lives. Jesus also identifies with these spiritually poor people as well. So besides feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, we are also called to pray for those who have died, comfort those who mourn, counsel those who are confused, and teach those who are in error. If we love Jesus and desire to serve Him, we must be ready to provide for the needs of others no matter what those needs are. We do that also with trust that if God puts a needy person in our path He will also provide us with what we need to help him or her.

Jesus’ words in today’s gospel also mean that we have to start looking at people in a different way.  Too many times as a society and as a nation, we talk about the poor, the unemployed and the immigrant as a problem to be solved. Often they become scapegoats for society’s other problems. This is particularly true of immigrants. But people are never problems to be solved. Rather they are individuals whom we must love. Most importantly, they are Jesus in disguise. And we will be judged by how we treat them both as individuals and as a nation.

We are always asking for God’s blessing, and it is a good thing that we do. Could it be, however, that God’s blessing comes to us through the needy people who cross our path everyday? Could we begin to change our outlook to such a degree that we see the homeless person on the corner, the beggar in the middle of the street and our lonely relative as God’s blessing in disguise? Rather than feeling inconvenienced or put out by those who ask for our help, could we see ourselves being blessed by them instead?

Can we also change the way that we look at our possessions? Are they for our use alone, or are they given to us by God to share with others? Could we ever consider doing without so that we could share more of our goods with the poor? Could we ever consider sacrificing one of our most precious commodities, our time, to visit someone who is lonely and could use a little of our attention? What might not seem like much to us could make a world of difference to someone in need. And we will find ourselves being immeasurably blessed in return. We may come to see and know Christ in a way we never did before.

Jesus is in our midst, but He is hidden among the poor. One day He will come in glory. Then there will be no doubt that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Everyone will have to acknowledge Him and bend the knee before Him. And each of us will be judged not just on how often we went to Church and not just  on what Church we belonged to but on how we served Jesus in the poor and needy in our midst. Jesus has already revealed to us what the questions on the test will be. He has also provided us with His word to guide us and His sacraments to strengthen us. There will be no excuse for us if we fail to live up to His expectations. At the same time, there will be untold blessings for us if we serve Him in every needy person we meet along the way.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Final Judgement


There is no avoiding it. It will happen to all of us no matter how rich or poor, no matter what we believe or do not believe, no matter how long we may have lived. All of us will one day stand before the judgement seat of God. At that time, we will be asked to give an account of our lives. How have we used all the gifts we have been given? Did we put them to use in service of God and others or did we hide them out of fear?

It is not something we like to think about. All of us have made mistakes in our lives. We have all made choices that we regret. Most of us, if we could turn back the clock, would have made different choices. But that is not possible. We have to live with the consequences of our past actions and go into the future resolved to do better with God’s help.

At the same time, as we look back on our lives, we see good choices that we have made. There were times when we could have been selfish but chose to be generous instead. There were times when we could have looked the other way when someone needed us, but we chose to lend a hand instead. There were times when we opened our minds and hearts to God and were filled with His light. Those choices have brought many blessings into our lives and perhaps into the lives of others in ways we cannot even imagine.

Each of us is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures, saintliness and sinfulness. None of us is totally blameless but neither do we deserve a blanket condemnation. By God’s grace, we are what we are. And each of us for the most part is striving to do the best we can with the gifts God has given us.

It does happen, however, that we can grow complacent. We get into a rut of just trying to get by. Life can seem so overwhelming at times that we shut down and do as little as we need to to make it through. When that happens, we lose the big picture. Our life becomes just a series of disconnected days. Before we know it, we have lost time and lost ourselves. Like the servant who buried his talent, we let fear and anxiety keep us from investing our gifts and yielding a rich return.

That is why is it is important for us to remember that all this will not last forever. We will not get a second chance. This day and this time in our lives will never return. We will not be able to redo or undo the choices we make today. We must live this day well if the rest of our lives is to go well. We are building tomorrow on the choices we make today.

Jesus did not die on the cross for us so that we could just make it through life. Instead He wants us to live a full and abundant life. He wants our homes and our hearts to be full of peace, love and joy. He wants to pour out His blessings on us and our loved ones so that we can be radiant with all the gifts and talents He has prepared for us. When we are afraid or when we are willing to settle with just getting by, however, we cannot receive all that He has in store for us. When we bury our gifts and refuse to put them to use in service of God and others, then we cannot receive the dividends of peace, joy and love.

It is natural for us to wonder what talents we have been given and how we should use them for God. It is not always apparent to us. Many times others notice them in us before we see them in ourselves. There is really only one way to find out. First, we must pray to God and ask Him to reveal to us the gifts He has given us and how He expects us to use them to help build His Kingdom. However, we cannot sit around waiting for an answer. Instead, we must get busy doing whatever we can, taking advantage of whatever opportunities are in front of us to volunteer or to help out. Only then, by trial and error,  will we begin to discover how we are called to serve God and others. As we make the effort to serve, our talents will become clearer to us. Only by taking the risk of failing or looking foolish can we invest our talents and reap an abundant reward.

Life goes by very quickly. Time slips through our fingers often without our even noticing it. Nonetheless we can be deceived into thinking we have plenty of time to change the things in our lives that we know are not pleasing to God. But we have much less time than we think. The longer we wait, the fewer opportunities for doing good we will have. And, as Christians, we know better. Jesus told us that He would be coming at a time we would not expect. Today is the only day we have. Let us live it to the fullest by giving all we have and all we are to our Heavenly Father. Then we can stand before God not with fear but with confidence and hear Him say to us, “Come, share your master’s joy.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Uncovered Treasures


The Antiques Roadshow has been one of the most popular programs on public television over the past several years. The show follows experts as they go around the country appraising the antiques people have in their homes. It is a delight to watch the shock and surprise registering on people's faces when they learn that an item which they may have purchased for a few dollars at a yard sale or at the corner store is really worth thousands. Their small investment increased significantly in value. It makes one wonder what treasures we may have stored in our attics or basements.

In today's gospel, Jesus tells the story of three men who are entrusted with a treasure by their king who is going on a journey. Jesus calls the treasure they are given "talents", which was an ancient measure of silver roughly equivalent to 90 pounds. The English word "talent" meaning a special ability is taken from this ancient word. Though the king is gone only a short period of time, two of the men are able to double their money by investing it. How were these men able to be so successful? First of all, they recognized the value of the treasure which had been entrusted to them and knew that the best use of it was to invest it. Secondly, they understood that the treasure belonged to the king and not to them, and that they would have to give it back some day. They were convinced that the king would want his treasure back with interest. They were not willing to let the treasure gather dust, unlike the third man who buried his talent in the ground out of fear.

Jesus' meaning could not be clearer. Each of us has been entrusted with a treasure by God, and God expects us to make good use of it. During this week, each of us will have to examine our own conscience to determine what that treasure is and how we can multiply it for the glory of God. Today's readings, however, suggest to us two treasures which all of us share and which we can so often take for granted like valuable antiques gathering dust in our attics. They are, namely, our family and our time.

The first reading from the book of Proverbs is a poem praising a good wife whose "value is beyond pearls". Pearls were among the scarcest and most valuable items in the ancient world. In essence, the poem is saying that there is nothing more valuable than a good wife. By extension, our families are the most valuable treasure entrusted to us by God.

We see how true this is throughout Scripture. In the ten commandments, the first three spell out our obligations to God. The very next commandment, the fourth, commands that we honor our father and mother. Except for our obligations to Almighty God, our obligation to our family is first and foremost.
  
It is often said that charity begins at home. And, Pope John Paul II often wrote that the home is a school where children are taught to love and serve God. Whether we are parents or children, the home is the place where we learn to become holy. In fact, homes in which families eat at least one meal together daily, pray and go to Mass together have practically a zero percent divorce rate. Our homes must be places where God is honored if our marriages are to be strong and our children are to grow in virtue. And that means our homes must be more than just the place we eat and sleep in between our jobs, our classes and our other activities. Our homes must be the place where we pray, where we come to love and understand each other, and where we practice kindness and generosity.

The second treasure we have all been entrusted with is our time. In today's second reading, Saint Paul warns us that the time is short. The day of the Lord is coming at a time we cannot know. Whether the "day of the Lord" is the end of the world or our own death, it is closer today than it was yesterday. All of us would agree that time is something we all take for granted. We assume that we have plenty of it. And yet, we are shocked by how quickly it passes and that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. 

So, if we were to turn off the television, what could we do with the extra hours we would have in our day? We could go for a walk with our spouse. We could go to the park with our children or grandchildren. We could spend time marveling at the beauty of God's creation. We could read the Bible and pray. We could go out for ice cream. We could go to daily Mass.

The Danish author, Karen Blixen, once wrote: "Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever..." The world is full of much beauty for us to discover and our families full of much love for us to share.

Our family and our time are among the treasures God has given us for our enjoyment and for his glory. The way a valuable antique can get lost in the clutter of our attics, they can get overlooked because of the hectic pace of modern life. How our lives would be blessed if our families were to continually grow in love and faith! How rich we would be if we used our time to be continually mindful of God's presence! How glorious it would be to stand before God and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant", because we were able to recognize the value of all the gifts he has given us and to return them to him with interest!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holy Ground....Sacred Space



Do you have a special place you like to go to get away from it all? Is there somewhere you like to escape to when life overwhelms you and you need time to regain your perspective?

For some people, it could be the beach. Looking out on the ocean lends itself to reflection on the beauty of life. For many men, the garage is where they go to block out what might be troubling them. Tinkering around with the car or lawn mower can be a welcome distraction to other, harder-to-solve problems. Still others have a corner of their house where they can relax with a good book and allow the day’s worries to fade away.

Jesus had a special place as well. It was the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that He got away to pray and be with His Father. In the beginning of the gospel of Saint Luke, when Joseph and Mary discover that Jesus is missing, they find Him in the temple. He tells them, “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?” Jesus loved the temple because God’s presence was found there. It was the place where the Heavenly Father dwelled on earth. Because He came to earth to bring people to God, it is natural that Jesus would want everyone to draw near to the temple, to feel welcome there and to experience the Heavenly Father’s love which was alive and active there.

This love that Jesus had for the temple in Jerusalem helps explain His strong reaction to the money-changers in today’s gospel. It is not the image we have of Him to take a whip, drive people and livestock out of the area and overturn tables. This gospel gives us a real sense of how strong Jesus was both physically and morally. Only a very strong man with an intensity of purpose and personality could accomplish such a feat by Himself.

He explains His passionate response in no uncertain terms: “...stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” The temple which should have been a space for prayer, sacrifice and reflection was being treated no differently than the bazaars which could be found all over Jerusalem. The place which was supposed to be set aside for worship was being exploited for commerce. Jesus would not stand for it. Even if it meant upsetting the religious leaders, He would restore reverence for His Father’s house.

We gather today in a space which is just as precious as the temple in Jerusalem. It is here that the Risen Lord makes Himself present to us in the people assembled here for worship, in the priest who acts in the person of Christ, in the word proclaimed and in the Eucharist we share. Jesus is in our midst. Therefore, this is a holy place, a place for worship and a place for prayer. This is our Father’s house.

Because of Jesus’ presence, this space deserves to be treated with respect. We stand as the gospel is proclaimed. We bow before the altar where our gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We kneel as we pray over those gifts. Both before, during and after Mass, we maintain an appropriate silence and awe because of the mystery which unfolds before us and to create a space for prayer and reflection.

If Jesus were to appear suddenly before us, would He be pleased with the reverence we show to His Father’s house? Would He find us gathered in silent reflection before Mass or would He find us engaged in needless chatter? What would He think of the way we are dressed? Is it appropriate for the solemnity of this celebration or would it be more appropriate for a barbecue or football game? By the way we act, carry ourselves and dress, would Jesus know that we have the same reverence and love for His Father’s house as He did? Or, would He drive us all out and tell us to come back when we were better prepared to honor Him as He deserves?

There is a second dimension to Jesus’ outrage in today’s gospel. Though the temple was meant to be a place where Jews worship, there was a space set aside called “The Court of the Gentiles” where non-Jews could gather for prayer. It was precisely in this area that the money-changers had set up their market place. Doing so, they made it impossible for anyone other than Jews to pray at the temple. That is why, in Saint Mark’s version of this event, Jesus says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Therefore, Jesus was enraged not only that they were profaning God’s holy place but that they were not showing hospitality and welcome to all God’s people.

As a parish community, are we a place where people feel welcome? Does the sinner find forgiveness here? Does the saint find inspiration? Do the hungry find food and the tired find rest? Does the stranger find a home here among us? Is our parish truly a house of prayer for all people, a place open to everyone no matter his race, social status or level of faith?

Today, together with the Church throughout the world, we remember an historic event - the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It marked the end of the Roman empire’s persecution against Christians and a time of unprecedented growth in the spread of the gospel. It is also a reminder to us that the places where we gather to worship are sacred. They are spaces set aside to encounter the Risen Lord. As such we must act with reverence and silence whenever we enter them but especially when we are gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Furthermore, we should open our arms to embrace all peoples who seek God with a sincere heart since our Heavenly Father desires to gather all people to Himself.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Big Church


Every parish is part of a larger group of parishes called a "diocese". Every diocese is led by a bishop. Because a bishop oversees all the parishes in his diocese, he is not assigned to a single parish church. However, every bishop does have a cathedral which is a church set aside for special ceremonies such as the ordination of priests and deacons as well as other diocesan-wide liturgies. 

Our pope, Francis, is also a bishop, the bishop of the diocese of Rome. And, like all other bishops, he also has a cathedral. It is a common misconception that Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City is the pope's cathedral. In fact, it is actually the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. The feast we celebrate today is the dedication of that basilica some seventeen hundred years ago. 

What makes that one church building so special that we are setting aside a day to celebrate it? Well, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the first public church in the city of Rome. Before the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, followers of Christ met in private homes for worship. Without the freedom to worship according to their beliefs, they often had to hide out of fear of persecution. Now, with the dedication of this great basilica in 324 A.D., Christians could come out of the dark and worship together in public without the fear of being arrested, tortured or even killed. After nearly three centuries of harassment, we can only imagine the jubilation that took place that day seventeen hundred years ago when Christians gathered in the city of Rome to worship Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, for all the history that has taken place in that church, for all the popes who have celebrated Mass there, for all the emperors and kings who have knelt there, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran is merely a building. It could easily be destroyed by an earthquake or fire. The real beauty and power of that church comes from the presence of Jesus there. And, that presence is due to the people who gather there daily to hear his word and receive his body and blood. 

When we use the word "church" in everyday language, we are usually referring to a building. For instance, we call this building a "church". But the word "church" has a fuller, more spiritual meaning. The Church is the People of God, all those who have been baptized in the name of Jesus. We are the Church. Just as we are still Americans when we travel to England or Zimbabwe, so we are still the Church when we leave this building and return to our homes. 

This is Saint Paul's message today in the second reading from the Letter to the Corinthians. He writes, "YOU are God's building". And later, "YOU are the temple of God," and "...the Spirit of God dwells in YOU." Paul and his fellow Christians did not have public buildings in which to worship. Rather, they understood that wherever they gathered, they themselves were the Church. The Spirit of God was not dwelling in buildings but in the hearts of those who believe. They themselves in their bodies formed the temple where God was present. 

Jesus takes up this idea in the gospel reading. In a shocking scene, Jesus takes a rope and drives out the money changers from the temple, overturning their tables and sending the sheep and oxen away. Jesus then uses the situation to teach us something about who he is and what his mission is. When asked by what authority he took such a drastic action, he told them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." As Saint John explains, he wasn't speaking about the temple building, but the temple "of his body". Jesus, by his death and resurrection, would become the new temple. The temple was no longer a physical building in Jerusalem, but Jesus' very body. In this way, we don't have to go all the way to Jerusalem to offer worship which is pleasing to the Father. We can offer that worship anywhere and anytime through Jesus Christ, the new temple and the new lamb of sacrifice.

When we realize that the Church is the People of God and the Temple in which God's Spirit dwells, it has some profound implications for our life.

First of all, if the spirit of Jesus dwells in the Church, then we cannot love Jesus without loving the Church. None of us has just a personal relationship with Jesus. We all love and serve Jesus as members of a Church. Throughout the centuries, the Church has kept the teaching of Jesus intact. We all have learned about Jesus through the teaching of the Church and encountered him through her sacraments. The Church is the instrument Jesus uses to communicate his love and his presence to the world. How could we not love the one through whom we come to know our Savior?

Secondly, if the Church is the People of God, we cannot love the Church without loving people. Loving the Church is not a matter of loving buildings, ceremonies or history. It is a matter of loving all God's people no matter how good and no matter how bad. Can all of us who say that we love this parish also say that we love the people of the parish?


We are not alone in our journey of faith. The Spirit of God dwells in each of us and in all of us. We experience Jesus in this building because of the people who make up this parish community. Land and buildings can be taken away from us, but no one can deprive us of the Spirit of God who dwells in our hearts through faith and makes us the Church. That is the essence of our celebration today. Not just a church building in Rome, but a People who have witnessed to Christ for over two thousand years and will continue to do so until he comes again in glory.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Faith, Hope and Love in the Face of Death


We gather here today out of love.

Men and women who have been a part of our lives - family members and friends - are no longer with us. However, they are never far from our thoughts. We remember them this day.

Love brings us here. Those we have lost were the ones who nurtured us, comforted us and taught us how to live. Though they no longer live among us, we still hear their voices ringing in our ears. Our thoughts are filled with the lessons they taught us. Our hearts are still warmed by the love they showed us. Our souls are still nourished by their example of goodness, kindness and gentleness.

Love draws us here to pray. For some of us, our grief is still fresh. We may have lost our loved one in just the past year or few months. For others of us, we have learned to cope with the loss of our loved ones over many years. However, for all of us, love bids us to remember them and to thank God for them.

Not only our thoughts go up to them but our prayers as well that God will forgive their sins and welcome them into their everlasting reward.

We gather here today not only out of love, then, but out of faith.

We are a people who believe that death does not have the last word on life or on love. We are a people who rest assured that Jesus Christ by offering His life on the cross has destroyed death forever. Spurred on by this faith, we gather to proclaim the truth of His resurrection victory in the face of our grief.

Our faith teaches us that God does not grant life to take it away again. Rather, death is a passage to an everlasting life awaiting us in heaven where there will be no more suffering and no more tears. The way to that new life was opened to us by Jesus’ death on the cross. Through His blood we have the forgiveness of our sins. By His teaching, He has shown us how we are to live in this world with our hearts fixed on the things of Heaven. By the gift of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism, we have the power to live according to His commandments so that, when we are called to leave this world, we will be ready to enter the glory of Heaven.

That faith brings us here today confident that, while we mourn those we have loved and lost, it is possible for us to one day be reunited with them in Heaven.  

We gather here today, then, not only out of love, not only out of faith but also out of hope.

Our hearts assure us that we have not lost our loved ones forever. We hope that they are even now on their journey to an everlasting homeland with God in Heaven. Trusting in our Heavenly Father’s faithfulness, we pray that they are being cleansed of their human weakness, purged of their sinful inclinations and made ready to step into God’s unapproachable light. And we hope to one day see them again.

That hope brings us here, the hope that they continue to live on. With our hearts fixed on that blessed assurance, we keep our own hearts pure. Entrusting our own future to God’s goodness, we live in joyful expectation of the eternal life to come. We gather here today, then, not only in tears but with rejoicing that God will one day wipe every tear away, that the suffering of the present will be overcome by the joy of the future and that death will no longer threaten to separate us from those we love.

We gather here with faith, hope and love. These three gifts were planted in our hearts at baptism when our Heavenly Father first called us to be members of His family and offered us the inheritance of everlasting life in Heaven. These three gifts sustain us as we face the difficulties of life. And no difficulty is greater than that of death. But our Savior, Jesus Christ, has conquered death. In His name we pray that our loved ones finally enter into their heavenly homeland, that they pray for us as we struggle here on earth to do our God’s will and that we one day join them to praise God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with the angels and saints forever.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Thing Is Important

It happens to all of us. We get so wrapped up in the busyness of life that we forget what is most important. It seems that we are always rushing, that there is something else to get done. With all the demands of our daily life, we can overlook the beauty of the world around us and, sad to say, the love of the people who are most important to us. And when we do finally have some time to ourselves, we find ourselves too exhausted to do anything except sit in front of the television. Because we are so anxious to get all our chores done, we too often lose time with the family and friends who give meaning to our lives.

Jesus was very good at keeping focused on the things that matter most. He never gets caught up in the petty squabbles of the religious and political leaders of his day. Rather He moves about with the poor, calls sinners to follow Him and heals the sick. Jesus knew what was important, and He would never allow anyone to steer Him away from serving His Heavenly Father.

Over the past few Sundays, we have listened to how the religious leaders of the day were trying to trick Jesus. They hoped to catch Him saying something either against the Roman authorities or against the Jewish law so that He could be discredited with the people and get in trouble. Such is the case in today’s gospel. The lawyer hopes that He will pick one of the commandments of the law to the exclusion of others. However, Jesus goes back to what is most basic. Every commandment, every teaching of the Scripture, every law and regulation has one point - to teach us how to love. Love of God and love of neighbor is at the heart of religion. When we love, we fulfill the law.

We see this clearly in the life of Jesus. Saint John tells us that it was because God loved the world that He sent His Son. Jesus came for no other reason than to reveal the Father’s love for us. Everything Jesus said and did was motivated by love. He heals the sick to show God’s concern for them. He calls tax collectors and prostitutes to show God’s love for sinners. Even when He puts the religious leaders in their place, He is doing it out of love to show them that there is a better way to know and serve God than by just following rules. And the greatest act of love was His death on the cross. Jesus shed every drop of His blood for us. He did it because He loves us. And all He asks is that we love God and one another in return.

What is going on in our lives that is distracting us from what is most important? What is so urgent that it is keeping us from showing love to those we care about? Can we put our daily activities on hold for a few minutes to listen to a friend or give a hug to our children? Can we put aside our chores for a few minutes to quiet our minds and lift our hearts to God in prayer thanking Him for all that is good and beautiful ? It does not take much effort. But if we do slow down long enough to acknowledge our God and pay attention to our precious loved ones, we will see our stress level diminishing and our interior peace increasing. As we stay focused on what’s most important, the minor details of our day will not seem as pressing. And we can enjoy all the blessings that God in His love lavishes us with.

We can all agree that love is a good and beautiful thing. Each of us would also agree that we could use more of it. But love can also be a scary thing. It demands so much from us. When it comes to religion, it is so much easier to just follow the rules than it is to actually love our neighbor. It is so much easier to sit through Mass than it is to give money to a homeless person or volunteer at a soup kitchen. The same is true with our families. It is so much easier to keep busy cleaning the house than it is to actually sit down and listen to our children. It is so much easier to work overtime than to get home early and surprise our husbands or wives with a night out. But, in the end, it is just such sacrificing that makes our lives worthwhile. We were created to love, and we are never as happy and as fulfilled than when we are putting the needs and interests of others before our own.

Probably the biggest complaint about religion is that there are too many rules. Well, today Jesus tells us that there is only one simple commandment we need to be concerned with. We are to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus showed us the way to love by giving His life on the cross. As He has loved us, we are to love one another by sacrificing ourselves for each other. It means visiting a lonely person, taking time to listen to a neighbor who is hurting or reaching out to a stranger who looks as though he could use a friend. They are small and simple steps but, when done with love, they have the power to change the world.