Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How Deep Is Your Love?

The Brothers Gibb, alias the Bee Gees.

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2005]

How deep is your love?

The Bee Gees turned that little question into a number 1 song back in the late 1970s, making millions of dollars in the process.

Today I’ll turn it into the theme of my Sunday homily and won’t make any money whatsoever—but hopefully the message I share will help all of us to become better disciples of Jesus Christ (which is really much more important in the long run).

How deep is your love?

Now in past generations the meaning of that question would have been crystal clear. But in an era of trashy soap operas, sleazy novels and “The Real World” of MTV—it definitely needs to be explained a little bit.

When I use the term “love” in this context, I’m talking about authentic, genuine love—not the counterfeit version that’s so prevalent in our culture at the present time.

Speaking of the counterfeit, last week I was listening to the radio, and I heard a man from California being interviewed on a talk show. This man claims to love his wife, but he wants to go out with another woman because “that’s how men are; they need that kind of experience from time to time.” And he expects his wife to show her love for him by respecting his “needs” and tolerating his behavior.

Now I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard this I thought for sure that the man was joking, but it soon became clear to me that he was dead serious! And the talk show host wasn’t startled in the least by the man’s remarks!

Please understand: when I ask, “How deep is your love?” that’s definitely not the type of love I’m talking about!

I’m talking about the “real deal,” which is best defined by the image on the back wall of our sanctuary: the cross of Jesus Christ!

“Greater love no one has,’ Jesus said, ‘than to lay down his life for his friends.”

I could begin by asking, “Is your love that deep?”—but since I don’t want to discourage anyone at the start I won’t.

To love in this Christ-like, Biblical sense is “to desire the good” for somebody else. Jesus died on the cross because he desired the “good”--namely, heaven--for each of us and for every human person created in his image and likeness.

At the beginning of today’s second reading from Romans 12, St. Paul says something very interesting. He says that we actually “owe” this type of love to other people.

And why is that? Why are we expected by God to show this love to others?

Because Jesus first showed it to us, that’s why! He showed it to us when he poured out his blood for our salvation.

Jesus thought that human beings were worth this type of radical, selfless, sacrificial love—and according to St. Paul if Jesus thought that about people, then so should we!

Back now to the issue I raised at the beginning of my homily: How deep is your love? How deep is it at the present moment?

Is it deep enough such that you would never consciously lead another person into sin? In the last verse of today’s second reading St. Paul says, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” If I really love you it means that I would never consciously encourage you to damage your relationship with Almighty God or with others in any way! But think how often people today lead their so-called friends into sin. It happens all the time!—“C’mon, nobody will get hurt; nobody will know; you’ll have a good time.”

Think of how many marriages and families have been destroyed with that line! If someone tries to lead you into sin in this way in the near future, remember the message of this homily, and realize that that person doesn’t really love you—at least they don’t love you with the authentic love of Jesus Christ!

How deep is your love?

Is it deep enough such that you will tell your friends the truth when they do something wrong? This is certainly one of the messages of today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 18. Jesus is instructing his disciples here on how to love those who sin against them in some way. (I know the text doesn’t sound like it’s about love, but it is!) Jesus begins by saying, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” Most of us (and I definitely include myself here) would rather avoid confrontation in our interpersonal relationships. But if we really do love others, we need to pray for the grace to overcome that tendency to be silent. We need to pray for the grace to tell them the truth they need to hear about themselves, in a respectful way.

How deep is your love?

Is it deep enough, such that you will make every effort to share the truth of the Gospel with your friends and acquaintances (even if you don’t see them doing something seriously wrong)? Think about it . . . the greatest “good” we can desire for any other person is their eternal salvation. But sometimes that’s the last thing people are willing to talk about—even with those they claim to love deeply! That makes no sense does it?

And finally, Is your love deep enough, such that you will be willing to avoid someone’s company for a time, to make it clear to them that their unrepented sin is grossly unacceptable? This is another difficult one, and it should only be done as a last resort—as Jesus indicates in this Gospel. That’s what he means when he says that after you have made every other effort to deal with the sinner, you should “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Basically that means avoiding his company for a time—until he’s willing to take responsibility for his behavior.

Psychologists often refer to this approach as “tough love”. It’s very hard to do—especially with members of your immediate family (some of us know this by experience)—but at times it can be necessary, as Jesus indicates here.

How deep is your love?

If you’ve somehow managed to stay awake during this homily and have faced the issue honestly, you now realize why you need to come to Mass—at least every Sunday and holy day!

It’s because your love is not deep enough—and neither is mine! And so we come to Mass to receive the grace of God by listening to his message of love in Scripture, and by receiving the sacrament of his love, the Holy Eucharist, so that his real love within us will grow--and be more visibly evident when we leave here.

This means that all good Catholics—from the pope on down—will have to answer this simple question in the very same way.

If someone says to them, “How deep is your love?” they will respond with honesty and with faith by saying, “Not deep enough; but hopefully getting deeper--by the grace of God—each and every day and at each and every Mass.