01 Oct Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Today is the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
“And one of them, a doctor of the law, asked Him, tempting Him, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”–Matt. 22, 36.
With what different dispositions did those of whom the Gospel tells us today that they sought to interrogate Jesus, approach their divine Master! Some questioned only to tempt Him, some through mere curiosity, while others asked from integrity of purpose and a sincere desire to know and comply with their duty. Many, and by far the greater number of those who stood by, neither questioned our Lord, nor cared for the instruction He would impart; for the all-important affair of their salvation was the one which troubled them least, as is still the case, alas! and will be while there are men to tread the earth.
Many there are who interrogate those divinely appointed to expound the truths of our holy religion, but it is only with a view to injure and bring disgrace both upon them and the faith they profess. An impossible undertaking, if they would but realize it! They question only to surprise the answers, to ensnare them in the meshes of some specious argument, hoping thus to gain their malicious ends, as if the Church were not founded by Christ Himself, and fortified by the divine promise of everlasting protection.
Others, again, ask more through idle curiosity than with the intention of becoming truly converted to God, and serving Him faithfully for the remainder of their lives.
But, my brethren, as I have said before, far more numerous still are those who do not care to ask at all in what consists the great affair of salvation, who eagerly inquire into the merits of earthly and transitory things, but care not to inform themselves as to what is required by God for His faithful love and service in this life, that He may reward us with eternal happiness in the next.
That it may not be so with us, let us take deeply to heart the answer of our divine Saviour in this day's Gospel, and consider why He gave such pre-eminence to that commandment which enjoins upon us the duty of loving God, resolving, at the same time, to observe it to the best of our ability, with the help of His holy grace.
Mary, queen of the seraphim, mother of fair love, pray, that we, like you, may find our greatest delight in complying with the injunctions of this great precept! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
“Master! which is the greatest commandment in the law?” and Jesus said to him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” Thus far the answer given by Christ, as we find it narrated in the Gospel of today.
Let us dwell for a moment upon the cause we have for surprise, that such a question should be put to Christ. It seems as if we all should know what was the first and greatest commandment. Nay, it seems strange that love of God should be imposed upon us by a special command. It seems strange to prescribe for us as a duty, what is so plain in itself, and to the fulfillment of which we are urged by motives so many and so powerful.
If St. Stanislaus Kostka, in his wonder at being asked if he loved the mother of God, exclaimed, in answer to the priest who interrogated him: “How could I possibly refrain from loving my dear mother?” Still greater cause has the faithful soul to cry out: “How could I do otherwise than love God, my Creator and Father, my Redeemer,–the supreme object and end of my existence,–the eternal source of my salvation?” And yet it is necessary that a command be imposed upon us to enforce the love of God. Oh, heart of man, what degeneracy has not the sin of our first parents caused in thee!
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” This, according to Christ, is the first and greatest precept. It is the first and greatest, if we consider it in regard to its dignity–in regard to its obligation–in regard to its extent–in regard to its merits–in regard to its sweetness–and in regard to its necessity as well as the ease with which it can be observed. Let us briefly but earnestly consider the commandment under each of the preceding aspects.
It is the first and greatest in regard to its dignity, because its object is God Himself, Who is the infinitely perfect Being existing from all eternity.
It is the first and greatest when considered according to its obligation. How many, and what powerful motives to love God above all, rise up before us! Man naturally inclines to love and esteem whatever is good, beautiful and perfect, whether it be knowledge or power, virtue or holiness, justice or benevolence, truth or fidelity. How, then, could he withhold his love from a God, Who is infinitely good, infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, infinitely merciful, infinitely true, infinitely faithful, beautiful, and grand?
This commandment is the first and greatest, because man is susceptible of love and affection towards any one who bestows favors upon him. How, then, could he possibly refrain from loving a God to Whose bounty he is indebted for all that he possesses, and from Whom he hopes to receive infinitely greater benefits in a blissful eternity?
In the order of nature man owes a debt of gratitude to God for every gift of body and soul. Without Him he could not draw a single breath–his heart would cease to beat,–through His goodness he receives food and clothing. In the supernatural order he owes God special thanks for many spiritual gifts and graces. How fitting, then, is it that we should, like holy David, marvel how we can thank the Lord our God for all He has given us! My brethren, God has already replied. What does He desire from each and every one of us, but the fervent love of our heart and soul?
This precept is the first and greatest in regard to its extent; for it embraces, as we know by the assurance of Christ and His Apostles, all the other commandments. Its intrinsic merit also places this precept above all others; for without it there could be no merit, as St. Paul asserts in these words: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
It is the first and greatest precept on account of its sweetness, because it demands of us to love Love itself; and, therefore, it is also the first and greatest, on account of its very necessity; for we have the solemn assurance of St. John, the disciple of love: “He that loveth not, abideth in death.”
But, my friends, we are expected to obey this precept in its fullest sense. And in what is that? The words of Christ furnish the reply: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God above all things, with thy whole heart.” To love Him so as to be able to exclaim, with truth: “O Lord, to Whom naught is hidden in the heart of Thy creature, Thou knowest that Thou art the supreme object of my love.”
To love God with our whole heart, mind and strength, we must have no other love but Him, so that our lips may give utterance to the real sentiments of our hearts in the words: “O Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and mind and strength, and that I have no other love but Thee. To this love I bring the three powers of my soul, will, memory, and under standing. It shall influence all my actions, so that my life may indeed prove my love for Thee.”
This would be loving God according to the admonition of St. John: “Let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” We can fulfill this first and greatest precept in an especial manner in the performance of those duties which refer directly to God as prayer and acts of charity towards our neighbor for the love of God.
Yes, my brethren, the duty of loving our divine Saviour is sweet indeed; but let us not forget to prove our love by our daily actions, so that they may all tend to the greater honor of God! Amen!
“And the second is like to this: Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matt.–22, 39.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self.” To this commandment Christ has given the second place, and how forcibly does He recommend it by saying that it is like unto the first,–even like unto that precept which imposes upon us the obligation of loving Him! Could our divine Lord more emphatically express its importance, or more earnestly enforce our compliance with it? And why does he so highly extol this second precept, and connect it so closely with the first? Because this second commandment has its source in the first, and all the motives which urge and determine us to comply with it refer directly to our common end– God. Why this is so shall be made clear to you in this discourse.
Frequent and serious reflection upon the obligation of this precept is necessary for a twofold reason. First, because man is so often tempted to avail himself of specious excuses to neglect its observance; and, secondly, because there are constant occasions to transgress this commandment.
O Mary, mother of all true children of God, pray that, for thy dear sake, we may find true happiness in faithfully complying with this command of thy beloved Son! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
In regard to that commandment which our Lord pronounced the first and greatest, it can not fail to excite our wonder that, to observe what should be our joy to comply with voluntarily, has been imposed upon us as an obligation. The very thought of God, nay, the mere questions, “Who is God?” “What am I” place before our mental vision, in a light clear as the rays of the noonday sun, that in such compliance we would find perfect peace and joy.
But it is very different with that precept which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God is infinitely perfect, and all His relations towards us are as so many sparks, to enkindle in us the fire of divine love; while our neighbor, on the contrary, is an imperfect being, nay, but too often a being so corrupt that we have ample cause to censure his conduct and to shun his society. Yet the commandment remains in force: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The reasons for obeying remain the same, be the difficulties in the way of its fulfillment ever so great. That we may the more readily perceive, and the more willingly acknowledge, the truth of this, let us consider, in order, the various motives which should urge us to comply with this command.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Why? Because, like thyself, he has been created to the image and likeness of God. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Why? Because, like thyself, he has been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Why? Because, like thyself, he enjoys the privilege of being a child of the one true Church. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Why? Because, like thou, he has been called to be, one day, a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, and to dwell forever in the kingdom of eternal love.
Let us frequently call to mind these motives, and be ever ready to practise acts of charity, for they are most dear to our Lord, who assures us that whatever we do, even to the least of our fellow-men, He regards as done to Himself, and that He will reward us a thousand-fold.
Could we have a more, powerful incentive to be kind and charitable towards our fellow-beings, than that our Saviour will accept and bless this love and kindness as if He were Himself the recipient?
Yes, my brethren, He even affixes to the fulfillment of this precept the security of our salvation, for we read in St. Matthew: “Then shall the King say to them that shall be on His right hand: Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; naked, and you covered Me.”
But, oh, what a fearful malediction is pronounced upon the miserable beings on the left! With angry countenance the Judge of the living and the dead will say: “I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink; . . . Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Now, should you ask: “How are we to fulfill this precept in the most perfect way? ” my reply would be : Listen to the words of Christ: “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.” Your divine Master points out the way, when He tells us to act towards our neighbor as we would have him act towards us. What a golden rule for the practice of fraternal charity!
“Charity thinketh no evil. We wish others to recognize and extol our good qualities; let us not be unmindful of theirs. “Charity envieth not,” but acknowledges with joy the existence of virtue in others, as the Apostle of Nations assures us: ” Charity is kind.” We frequently need the assistance of our neighbor; let us not be unmindful of his necessities. “A brother that is helped by his brother, is like a strong city.”
When the heart is heavy with the weight of some heaven-sent sorrow, oh, then the sympathy of a beloved friend is soothing to the heart. St. Paul under stood this well, when he gave utterance to the words: “Who is afflicted and I am not grieved?”
We wish others to forgive us; let us, then, be forgiving, for Christ assures us that if we refuse pardon to our neighbor it will not be granted to us. We re joice when some holy soul assists us in our efforts to become holy; let us then manifest fraternal love by unwearied zeal in promoting the spiritual welfare of our neighbor.
From all that has been said, my brethren, we can easily perceive the meaning of the commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;” and why our blessed Saviour tells us that by loving one another we are known as His children, and why St. Paul has affirmed that in the fulfillment of this obligation we fulfill the whole law. It is because such a disposition is possible only when one loves God above all, and is firmly determined to fulfill His holy will.
When St. John, the Disciple of Love, whose constant theme was fraternal charity, and who never preached a sermon without imploring his hearers to love one another,” was asked why he spoke so unceasingly upon that subject, he replied: “Because, if you love thus, your lives will be in accordance with the whole law.”
Yes, children of the Holy Catholic Church, fulfill this commandment wholly and entirely, and, in so doing, you will find the sanctification and salvation of your souls! Amen!
“What think you of Christ?”–Matt. 20, 42.
After Christ had explained which commandment was the first and greatest in the law, and indicated the importance of loving our neighbor, it naturally followed that He should ask: “And what think you of Christ?” in Whom both natures are united in one, and in regard to Whom, therefore, the twofold law of love has but one and the same object.
Were Christ today to ask us who, as children of the one true Church believe in Him the question: “What think you of Christ?” every well instructed Christian would reply: He is the Son of God, made man; therefore He is my God, my Redeemer, my Brother, my Friend, the Spouse of my soul, and the Judge who is one day to decide my eternal fate. This confession would avail but little if unaccompanied by the love which we owe to Christ, a love which must not be satisfied with mere professions, but must prove itselft by an intimate union with Jesus, ever present in the adorable Sacrament of the altar.
The devils believe and tremble, yet they remain devils. We wish our belief to be a source of happiness for time and eternity, then let it be verified by love. Christ was not satisfied with asking Peter what he thought of Him as when Peter, in answer, made that glorious confession of faith in Him as the Son of God but He afterwards directly interrogated this Apostle not only once, but three times: “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me?” And to each and every Christian assembled here He puts the same question. Oh, may we indeed with sincerity, and without self-deception, entertain an ardent love for the Lord our God! We shall today consider this sign of true love for Jesus.
Mary, who, as the mother of Jesus, didst love Him with an ardor and affection that only a mother can feel, obtain for us a true love of Jesus! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
Our Lord asked Peter whether he loved Him, and the prince of the Apostles earnestly answered: “Yes. Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee!”
My brethren, if Christ today were to appear visibly in our midst, and address the same question to us, we would doubtless reply with Peter: “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee! “But are we fully justified in this answer? Peter added to His reply the words: “Lord, Thou knowest all things!” Could we say, “Lord, Thou who knowest all things, canst look into my heart and read what is written there!” Alas! I fear not. We may say to God, I love Thee, yet our daily lives reveal a different tale, and prove the answer false. St. John warns us of the danger of self-deception in this regard, when he says: “Let us love not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Let us then, my brethren, look into our hearts for a few moments, and see whether our love will bear the test.
The first characteristic of true love is that its presence in the heart must be felt. Behold the little infant! It twines its arms round its mother's neck, and kisses her with fond endearment, and thus, without ever having heard the word love, its little heart feels it in the tenderest manner. Therefore, if asked whether you love Jesus truly, question your heart as to what sentiments are excited therein when you think or speak of your Saviour. Can you, like St. Augustine or St. Bernard, find no joy in aught that contains not the sweet name of Jesus? St. Bernard, after the mere utterance of that holy name, often tasted a sweetness like honey on his lips. If you are thus affected spiritually, your love has stood the first test.
Yet not to be deceived by a mere sensible affection, let me present to your consideration the second sign of true love for God, and this is horror of sin! for naturally one shrinks from offending a person beloved. “Do you love me? ” says a wife to her erring husband. “If I did not,” is the reply, “would I have chosen you of all others as my wife? ” Yet the midnight hour finds her lonely and sad awaiting his return from some noisy revel, where he tarries, heedless of the anguish he causes his suffering wife. All the world indorses her doubts of the sincerity of his professions.
The third sign of true love consists in not only not offending, but also in doing all that we can to please the one we love. Thus a husband needs not to give his wife verbal assurances of his devotion if he anticipates her wishes, and tries to fulfill them whenever he can do so; for love reads in the eye the wish of the heart, and hastens to comply with it.
Is your love for Christ sincere? Examine the ardor of your efforts to imitate your divine model in the practice of those virtues which belong to your state of life. What testimony can your daily life produce that you earnestly strive to become holy according to the wish of your Saviour? Do you really try to follow in His footsteps? If so, you truly love Him; but if, on the contrary, you are content merely to avoid mortal sin, if you comply with your religious duties merely through habit or human respect, then, my brethren, you love not in deed nor in truth, but in word only.
The fourth sign of true love is generosity. A Christian who does not assist another, or who only does so in some urgent necessity, does not display any great love. True love of Jesus must be magnanimous and self-sacrificing, ever ready, therefore, to co-operate with Him in His mission to the human race, which is the rescue and sanctification of souls. What says conscience on this point, my friends? Do you not only assist your neighbor in his temporal wants, for the sake of Him Who assures us that whatever we do for the least of His creatures is as if done to Himself; but do you also labor according to your opportunities to draw souls to Christ, to promote their sanctification, to help them on the way of salvation? Perhaps you are not only wanting in this holy zeal, but, more deplorable far, your own life is not free from scandal. If so, you may indeed derive a certain satisfaction from the recitation of some beautiful prayer, while, with tears of sensibility, you declare your love for God, but no real love is there.
The fifth sign is a love of trials and sufferings. The Christian in whose life the cross has borne no part, whose days are passed in ease and luxury, has not the assurance that he is a real lover of Christ. Let the dark clouds of adversity envelop his soul in gloom, and if he come forth from the trial resigned to the will of Him Who first walked in the royal way of the cross, then may he call himself a true lover of the Crucified One.
A husband and wife can scarcely tell the depth and fervor of their love while life is bright and pleasant. If, when clouds obscure their path, and trouble over shadows their life, their affection remains as pure and ardent as before, then they may know that it is genuine and true. So, if we love suffering, if we know how to carry the cross, it is a sign that we love Him Who died upon that cross.
Finally, one who loves never wearies of being with the object of that love. Examine yourselves, my dear friends! How is it with your devotion to Jesus, hidden under the mystic sacramental vail? How often do you visit Him in his lowly tabernacle? How often do you receive Him in the most sweet sacrament of love? If you can say with truth, “I live only for Jesus, for my Saviour Who has declared that He has a burning desire to be honored by men in this adorable sacrament,” then you are blessed indeed. But if your hearts manifest no attraction to abide with Christ, to be united with Him in the Holy Communion, then I must declare to you that your love for Him is neither fervent nor sincere! Amen! (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff