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Where is Love?

February 3, 2019

[72] Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 / Psalm 71 / 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 / Luke 4:21-30

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How well does God know any of us?  We are told in the first reading that God knew us before we were formed in the womb.  Like Jeremiah, we too have been dedicated to the Lord and appointed as prophets to the nations.  As signs opposed, the Lord says, “Be not crushed on their account.”  We must not surrender our commission.  We must not give up hope.  This message of protection and a fortified city fits in neatly with the psalm’s admonition to take refuge in the Lord.  The Lord will give comfort and save us.

The Lord manifests for us throughout the Gospel what it means to be a sign of contradiction.  Today’s reading has Jesus speaking at his hometown’s synagogue.  The men there know him or at least they think they do.  They know his family and have seen him grow up in their midst.  These were the neighbors and friends that he most loved.  Their amazement at his words makes them question.  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  Our Lord challenges them to the full truth of his identity.  Indeed, he would invite them to a new way of thinking and loving.  But he knows their hearts.  He relates how Elijah was only received by a single widow in Zarephath and that Elisha cleansed only the one leper, Naaman.   Those who reject the prophets are convicted by their sins.  His listeners become immediately aware that Jesus is placing them under the same conviction.  They have hardened their hearts.  They will not accept the one who is truly in their midst.  These people who mean so very much to Jesus become angry, so much so that they seek to put him to death.  But it is not yet the appointed time.  Jesus has the power and is in charge.  He passes “through the midst of them” and leaves them with murder in their hearts.  There is a sad poignancy here that resonates with the garden when Jesus is betrayed by a kiss from one he loves.

We all like to be liked.  I know that I do.  But sometimes we must speak the truth in love, no matter what the cost.  The commandment of love takes precedence over being liked.  Our Lord says that we must take up our crosses to follow him.  This is precisely done in assuming his likeness, Jesus, the sign that is opposed.  Priests often embrace this role, even before their congregations, and sometimes with their knees shaking. The collect to the Mass today is beautifully expressed:  “Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.”  Ah, if only every priest lived out this as an element of his celibate or single-hearted call to service!  Now a minister must speak the truth at a time when the moral authority of churchmen has been direly compromised.  The two-fold commandment of love from Christ is the solution to all our ills and evils— not that it allows us escape from the Cross but rather that it allows our Lord’s victory to be illumined without blemish.

Too many people say they love others when they really do not know what love is.  Others corrupt the very meaning of love.  The parish church gives us many symbols of love, if we have eyes to see.  There is the poor box, a source of material charity for those in need.  We see a statue in the back with Joseph holding the baby Jesus and a picture of the Holy Family up front with Mary holding her child.  They are witnesses to love within the family.  Mary is the handmaid of the Lord.  Joseph is the protector of the Holy Family.  Families are called to nurture the love of fidelity and the love that gives life in children— receiving them as gifts from God, nurturing them, teaching them, clothing them, sheltering and protecting them.  Spousal and parental love finds its deepest meaning in the crucifix that we find in the center of the church.  True love is always sacrificial.  The beloved means more to us than we do to ourselves.  There is a mutual surrender.  That flies in the face of the self-absorption that mutates love into something foreign from the heart of God— treating children as mere commodities, reducing the miracle of marital intimacy to lust where bodies are interchangeable and both infidelity and pornography poison hearts and minds.  Genuine love always raises up the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  If it does not do this then it is counterfeit, not true love at all, not love “in truth of heart.”

 The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about true love.  Again and again, he asserts that without love we are nothing— just making noise— utterly impoverished.  It bears repeating:  “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

These words inspire and move the soul.  However, when we seek to show the practical ramifications, the prophets of this genuine love will quickly find rocks thrown in their direction.  Many wrongly love themselves more than others.  I hesitate to trespass into the area of partisan politics.  But this topic compels me to stressed again that we must belong to Christ before any political party and/or social or humanitarian movement.

“Grandma is taking her time dying and she is so very uncomfortable in the hospital. Plus it is so expensive; there will be nothing left for us when she finally dies.  She has lived long enough.  Let us be compassionate and pull the plug or have poison placed in her IV.”  Is it an impossible scenario?  It is happening right now.  “Those people are uneducated mongrels.  How did they enter this country anyway?  They are all rapists and drug addicts.  We should send them back from whence they came!  At least give them contraceptives so that we will not have to suffer their mangy litters!”  Racism and prejudice of this sort is always a form of hatred.  Nationalism is a similar ailment.  Love can be misplaced. The Lord shows us how to love.

Someone complained to me that her party has no pro-lifers.  Well, I said, maybe it is time for you to run?  We should not be lemmings marching mindlessly into the sea.  When we had the Cemetery of the Innocents display in front of the parish grounds, I received a call from a person complaining about “that Republican display.”  I tried to explain to her that as a Christian community we love both the parents and the child.  We believe in women’s rights and some of those women are in the womb.  Finally I told her that as far as I knew most of the men and women who put up the display were themselves registered Democrats.  Despite the propaganda, one party does not own this issue, even if extremists and their money have taken over much of the leadership.  Of course the Knights of Columbus led this effort, and they are regularly derided despite their good works.  Speaking for myself, I would rather be a good Christian or Catholic before being labeled a good (or bad) Democrat or Republican.

This past week many of us were in shock at the news regarding recent abortion legislation.  A Democratic sponsor of a Virginia abortion proposal acknowledged it could allow women to terminate a pregnancy up until the very moment before birth (during dilation), for reasons including mental health.  Similarly the governor of New York (a so-called Catholic) signed a bill that essentially removed all restrictions from abortion.  Doctors were no longer required and children that somehow survived abortions could now be killed afterwards.  Again, children could be destroyed up to the moment of birth.  Many are demanding the excommunication of the governor.  Why is it that some people cannot see that it is wrong to kill a fully formed baby ready to be born?  Where is maternal love?  What will the future hold?  Can it get still worse?   Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva write in the Journal of Medical Ethics: “When circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … We propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.”  They write that “There is nothing magical about passing through the birth canal that transforms it from a fetus into a person.”  Certain ethicists would extend the time range where one might destroy the unwanted child to as much as three years of age outside the womb.

Where is love in all this?  It is in Christ that we can find the true meaning of love in a world that has forgotten.  Love and life are as two sides of a coin.  Christian couples are drawn to each other in love and that love brings forth new life.  Christ is the love that conquers the grave and grants us a share in eternal life.  We must witness to the truth of this love.

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