Sunday, October 26, 2008

If You Love Someone With ALL Your Heart, How Much Love Do You Have Left To Give To Others?

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 26, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 22: 34-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2008]

I begin this morning with a spiritual math question:

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

Some? A lot? None?

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

The answer is: It depends on who the “someone” is.

If the “someone” is God, then to figure out how much love you have left, you’ll need to MULTIPLY.

However, if the “someone” is anyone other than God, then to properly compute the amount of love remaining in you, you will be forced either to subtract or to divide.

Let me explain . . .

In today’s gospel passage from Matthew 22, Jesus proclaims the two fundamental commandments: the commandment to love God, and the commandment to love your neighbor.

But even though they are both commands to love, there’s a crucial difference between the two—a difference that’s often missed or ignored when people read these well-known verses of Scripture.

Notice that it says you are to love God with your whole heart; it does not say that you are to love your neighbor in that way. “Neighbor” here, incidentally, is a very broad term. It does not refer exclusively to the wonderful people who live next door to you (although it does include them!). The word “neighbor” in this text signifies all the human beings with whom you share your life—even your spouse and your children and the members of your extended family.

And yes, it even includes your enemies!

Thankfully, all it says is that you must love these human beings as you love yourself. Backing up for a moment, this means that, from a Christian perspective, it’s okay to love yourself! That may sound strange to some of us, but it’s true nonetheless. Too much self-love, of course, is not a good thing: they call that narcissism and pride; but too little self-love is equally bad! Contrary to popular belief, self-hatred is not a Christian virtue!

There’s obviously a balance that needs to be achieved here, which is something we should pray for: “Dear Lord, help me to love myself as you want me to love myself—not too much, but not too little either!”

This is key because if a person doesn’t love himself rightly, he won’t be able to love anyone else rightly! The proper love of self is the necessary pre-condition for the proper love of neighbor, according to Jesus Christ. Notice the wording of this verse: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

But what happens when you try to love your neighbor with your whole heart—which, according to Jesus, is the way you’re supposed to love God and God alone?

Let me answer that question with a story. I knew a woman many years ago, whose husband died very suddenly of a heart attack. She was a daily communicant at her home parish (which was in another part of the state). As a couple, she and her husband had been almost inseparable: they were blessed with 3 or 4 children as well as several grandchildren; they had a great marriage; they spent most of their free time together. And so you can imagine how I and many others felt when, 3 months after her husband died, this woman tried to take her own life! (Thankfully she failed!) I was a newly ordained priest at the time and I remember being stunned—absolutely stunned—especially since this woman was at Mass every single day! It didn’t make any sense to me—until I thought about it in light of the gospel passage we just heard.

It was then that I realized that this lovely lady had made the fatal mistake of loving her husband with her whole heart! And so, when he was gone, so was most of the love in her life—including, it seems, her love for God.

If you love someone with your whole heart—and that someone is anyone other than God—then to calculate how much love you have left to give others you have to subtract or divide.

This is why there are two commandments in this passage, and not one! You know, Jesus could have easily said, “You shall love the Lord your God—and your neighbor—with all your heart,” but he didn’t. That’s because Jesus understood human nature a lot better than we do. He knew that we need to love and to be loved, but he also knew that even the person on earth who loves us the most—and whom we love the most—will sometimes let us down and fail to be there for us. They might even stop loving us for a time, or refuse to forgive us for something we’ve done to them. That’s to be expected, because this person—as good as he or she might be—is only human.

Only God is divine—which means that only God can always be there for us with his mercy and strength and comfort!

But it even goes beyond that. I said earlier that if you try to love God with your whole heart, you will have to MULTIPLY in order to figure out how much love you’ll have left to give to others.

In other words, when you try to love God the most, he responds by multiplying the love within you (since he himself is love!). And that leaves you with more than enough love to show to others (including your enemies).

This is what we see in the lives of holy people, and especially in the lives of the great saints of the Church.

Because St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example, tried to love God with his whole heart, he had plenty of love left in him for others, including the prisoner that he died for in the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II.

Because Blessed Mother Teresa tried to love God with her whole heart, she had plenty of love left in her to share with the poorest and most destitute souls on planet earth.

Because Immaculee Ilibagiza (who spoke here on Friday night) tried to love God with her whole heart, she had enough love left in her after the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to forgive her enemies—including the people who had murdered her parents and two of her brothers!

“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

May the Lord help us to be faithful to these two great commandments AS THEY ARE WRITTEN down for us in THE BIBLE—so that we will have all the love that we need for the Lord, for ourselves and for other people.