Sunday, May 06, 2018

’Love’ and ‘Approval’ are NOT Synonyms!

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 6, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 10: 25-48; Psalm 98: 1-4; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2018]

In modern-day America, love and approval are synonyms.  They basically mean the same thing.  Now please don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not saying that love and approval actually are synonyms.  What I’m saying is that they’ve become synonymous in the minds of many Americans today (maybe even the majority)—although most of them are probably not aware of it.

Jesus talks about love—real, genuine love—in today’s gospel.  St. John does the same thing in today’s second reading.  To love another human being is “to desire the good” for that person, and then to do what you can to help the person attain that good in his or her life.  Which explains why Jesus Christ came to this earth 2,000 years ago and died on the cross!  It was out of this kind of love: “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus Christ loved us and so he wanted us to experience the greatest “good” that we could possibly experience as human beings, namely heaven!  But he also knew that we couldn’t merit and attain that eternal life on our own.  So he did what only a God-man could do.  He made the ultimate sacrifice of love, so that through his eternal merits we could attain the ultimate good: unending life in his kingdom.

St. John summarizes it perfectly in today’s second reading when he says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

God loves every human person, and he demonstrated that fact by sending his Son to die for us all.  But at the same time God does not APPROVE of everything that we do in our lives.  That’s because we’re all sinners who commit sins every day.  (I hope this is not a revelation to anyone; it certainly shouldn’t be.)  He approves of some of the things we do, for sure: acts of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, etc.  But not everything.  This is clear from today’s gospel reading when Jesus says, “IF you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”  Well, if that statement is true (and we know it is, since Jesus said it!), then so is the opposite true: “If you DON’T keep my commandments, you will NOT remain in my love.”

Obviously Jesus does not approve of sin—ours or anyone else’s.

Nor are we supposed to approve of sin!  That message comes through in the very next paragraph of the text when Jesus says, “Love one another as I love you.”  Jesus loves us—he desires the good (the best!) for us—but he does not say “Amen” either to the sins that we commit in our lives or the sins that others commit in their lives.

And neither should we—if we want to love as he loved.

Does this make sense to you?

It should.


As I said at the beginning of my homily, in the minds of all-too-many Americans today love and approval are synonyms.  That means if you say you love somebody, you MUST approve of EVERYTHING they do!  That includes the sins they commit in their lives.

And it you don’t believe me, just read the newspaper or watch the evening news.

In 21st century America, if you don’t approve of abortion, for example, then many people will say that you hate women.  That’s why a lot good pro-life organizations have been labeled “hate groups”.  If you don’t approve of homosexual activity, then you hate homosexuals.  If you support securing the border with Mexico and don’t approve of illegal immigration, then you hate immigrants.  If you don’t approve of people mutilating themselves and taking potentially harmful drugs in order to deal with their gender dysphoria, then you hate transgendered people.

If you don’t approve of certain sins—certain socially-acceptable sins—you are immediately called “a hater” in 2018.  Now that’s an illogical position to hold—hatred does NOT necessarily follow from disapproval—but an awful lot of people have bought into the lie that it does.  And many of those who’ve bought into the lie are teaching your children and grandchildren in schools and universities all over this country.

This really hit home with me one day a couple of years ago when a college student came to see me at the rectory.  (I mentioned this incident in a homily I gave at the time.  Some of you may remember it.)

This young man came to see me because he was struggling with his faith.  He said to me, “Fr. Ray, I’m not sure I want to be Catholic anymore.”

I said, “Why not?”

“Well,” he said, “my family all goes to church; and I did too, when I was in high school.  But when I went away to college I became friendly with some people who are gay, and I know that as Catholics we’re supposed to hate gays.  But I don’t hate these people; I like them.”

I said, “As Catholics, we’re not supposed to hate anybody.  We may not approve of some of the things they do; but even then, as the old saying goes, we’re supposed to ‘love the sinner, and hate the sin’.”

We talked for a while longer.  I tried to explain the teaching of the Church—that it’s not a sin to experience same-sex attraction; that the sin comes with certain actions that follow from the attraction (something he should have already known since he had come to my youth group when he was in high school).  I also reminded him that so-called ‘straight’ people can commit sins that are equally serious if they act on their sexual impulses in the wrong way.  I even said to him, “I know people who experience same-sex attraction—and I don’t hate them.  In fact, I consider some of them to be my friends.  Now if they’re committing a serious sin and I find out about it I certainly don’t approve of it.  (I don’t approve of anyone’s sin, including my own!)  But I definitely don’t hate them—or anyone else for that matter.”

Well, he still had some difficulty getting his mind around this idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin, so I finally said to him, “Let me ask you a question.  Do your parents love you?”

He said, “Of course they do.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well,’ I said, ‘do your parents approve of everything you do?”

He smiled a little, and said, “No.”

I said, “Then they must hate you!  You’re saying to me that Catholics hate gays because they disapprove of some of the things that gay people do.  Well, according to that logic, your parents must hate you, because they sometimes disapprove of some of the things that you do.”

At that point, I think a ‘light bulb’ finally got turned on, and he left with a promise to reflect on what I had said.

That young man, my brothers and sisters, is not alone in his perspective.  In fact, I would say that many (maybe even most) college students right now approach contemporary moral issues with the same erroneous ideas about love and hatred in their minds that this young man had in his.

And so I have a homework assignment for you.  (Fr. Najim gave you one last week, so I’ll give you one today.) 

It’s very simple, but very important.  Recall the core idea of today’s homily, which can be expressed in one line: “Love” and “approval” are not synonyms; neither are “hatred” and “disapproval”.

Your assignment is to remember that fact and then to share it with others, especially your children and your grandchildren—who need to know it (and believe it!) long before they go to college.