holy cross sermon for pentecost 19, proper 25, year a, october 23 2011

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


In today’s Gospel, we have another exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. There are two acts, as it were, in this exchange; and on the surface they seem to have little to do with one another. In Act 1, a Pharisee asks a question “to test” Jesus. He asks “which is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus responds with what we have come to call “the Summary of the Law” – he says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Everything depends, in other words, on these two commandments.


Its easy to take it for granted that we are to love God. After all, he’s God. But its also easy, perhaps, to lose sight of what it MEANS to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our mind – in short, with our whole being. St. Augustine says it means that we are to leave “no part of our life which may justly be unfilled [by God], nor give place to the desire [for] any other final good; but if aught else present itself for the soul’s love, it should be absorbed into that channel in which the whole current of love runs. For man is then the most perfect when his WHOLE LIFE tends towards the life unchangeable, and clings to it with the whole purpose of his soul.”


To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul means that we are to see God as the ground of our being, and the end of our becoming. We are to ORIENT ourselves toward God, and to allow him to be the motive for ALL of our actions, and to find our objective, our destination, in him. And so everything we do should be motivated by our love for God. Making the love of God a life-pervading motivation means, in the words of Fr. Luigi Giussani, that we must include…


“…everything – love, study, politics, money, even food and rest, excluding nothing, neither friendship, nor hope, nor pardon, nor anger, nor patience. Within every single gesture lies a step towards our own destiny,” (The Religious Sense, p. 37).


The love of God must motivate everything we do. To love God means to realize that he is the One to whom we are called, that our final end is to dwell with him, joyfully to adore him in silence beyond the world. This is, of course, what it means to be, in the words of scripture, called “out of the world” (Cf. Jn. 17.6) or to keep oneself “unstained from the world” (Jas. 1.27). It means to be summoned to the “place” where God is, there to find our fulfillment in an eternal deepening into his life and love. St. Gregory of Nyssa said that “…in our constant participation in the blessed nature of the Good, the graces that we receive at every point are indeed great, but the path that lies beyond our immediate grasp is infinite,” (from his Commentary on the Canticle).


And so I am to love my neighbor as myself. Because to recognize the sovereignty of God, and to LOVE him, means, as Augustine says, that every love must “be absorbed into that channel in which the whole current of love runs.” And if our own self-understanding results from a recognition of WHO GOD IS – that he is the ground of our being and the end in which we become ourselves – then we recognize in him likewise the ground of our neighbor’s being and the true object of HER desire as well. And when we come to recognize God as the only proper axis around which every interpersonal relationship turns, we come to recognize that God himself is the common destiny of every person. We find in God the true meaning of human solidarity. And more than this: I find not merely that I am to love my neighbor as I love myself, but that I am to love my neighbor because MY NEIGHBOR IS MYSELF – because her true identity lies in God as well, and so only in finding God can I find her as well.


Now we are in a position to see the meaning of justice, which is to care for the least – immigrants, widows, orphans, the poor and the sick – we honor God, who revealed himself by identifying with us. He became one of us, only more so. He became weak, poor, despised, an outcast, and finally DEAD, in order to save us – in order to show us a way, and to provide us with that way, back to the house of our loving Father.


And this means that the love of God – and God himself, who is love – is made visible and tangible, for the first time, in the face of Jesus. And so we come to Act 2 of today’s Gospel. Its Jesus’ turn to ask a question: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is he?” And we can skip the incorrect – or half-correct – answer given by the lawyer. The real truth is, as Simon Peter answered when Jesus asked him a similar question, Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16.16).


Ultimately it is Jesus alone who loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind; with his whole being. That’s what it means for him to be the only and eternal Son: the one whose LIFE, whose very ESSENCE, is taken totally, directly, and eternally from God; who finds himself, his meaning, his being in God, in a relation of perfect, eternal and mutual self-giving. All of Jesus’ actions and decisions flow from his love for his Father.


And so we come to the question of HOW. How do I love God with my whole being, and so love my neighbor as myself? The answer, in a word, is Jesus. Jesus said, “No one knows… who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” (Lk. 10.22). As we discussed in “Belonging to the Way” last Tuesday, Jesus came to show us the way to God by BEING the way to God. In giving ourselves to Jesus, we discover our true identity in his eternal sonship. We are taken by him and with him into the mutual, divine self-giving; the communion-of-love that God is. We become children of God by accepting the life of the only Son. An early Church Father, whose name is now lost, said “Whoever serves God in fear escapes punishment, but has not the reward of righteousness because he did well unwillingly, through fear. God does not desire to be served [slavishly] by men as a master, but [he desires] to be loved as a father, for that He has given the spirit of adoption to men,” (Pseudo-Chrysostom).


To love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind is, in short, to seek ourselves in God, through Jesus Christ, and to allow EVERY other decision, action, relationship, or circumstance to be absorbed into that channel in which the whole current of our love runs.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Published by Fr George

Fr George is the priest-in-charge of Holy Cross Dallas

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  1. Particularly like your last comment from Pseudo-Chrysostom regarding “fear,” which may well be the “beginning of wisdom,” but is certainly not its end. I like to imagine that as we mature in love, we move from fear of punishment to dread of disappointment. Don’t you find that children often fear their parents for the punishment they may receive for wrongdoing; but as they mature, they act out of love, out of a true desire to please? (Briefly, I was a Holy Cross parishioner for a decade or so in the late 70s early 80s, during Fr. Blankenship’s tenure, and have a special love for the place.) Pax. +Tony

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