(Note: this homily changed significantly from 5 pm to 7:30 am.)
The Gospel gives us this challenge: to love as God loves.
That’s what the two commandments, taken together, mean.
To love God is to love what he loves; to love his children,
all of whom are our neighbors.
So then the first reading gives us an opportunity
To think in practical terms about that.
In recent years, we’ve had a lot of discussion about immigration –
should we have more, or less?
What do we do about people who are here illegally?
Will anything we do to provide legal status
to those who work in the shadows
send a message that encourages yet more illegal immigration?
What do we do?
One of the things our bishops have reminded us of,
is that when people migrate—
especially when you have folks who travel,
not a few miles, but many thousands—
they are often doing so out of great suffering and desperation.
Look at the way Iraq and Syria
are being emptied of Christians right now.
Many millions of Christians and others
have been driven from their homes by violence and terror.
Or, it is because they cannot find work;
they cannot start a family, or provide for the family they have.
And that, of course, is a big part of why so many people
come here from Central America.
I think it would be well –
before we decide how to address these problems –
if we posed a simple question.
What would you do? If you could not feed your family,
how far away would you go in search of work,
so you could send money home?
And if you got to a national border, would you let that stop you,
if you knew you could find work on the other side?
My point is not to take sides on how to remedy these problems.
I’m only making the point that whatever approach we tend to favor,
we have to ask ourselves, what really motivates our thinking?
If there’s one thing God is demanding of us,
it is that we care about the human problem.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Notice something else in the first reading.
It talks about lending at interest.
That may surprise us, because that’s pretty standard today.
This is one of those issues where our understanding
has shifted over the centuries.
A thousand years ago, Church teaching
forbade charging any interest whatsoever.
But in more recent centuries,
the Church began to make a distinction between a reasonable interest,
and something that is unreasonable.
And one reason for the shift
was to take into consideration that money can lose value over time.
But notice what’s going on in this passage.
The Lord says, if you take a man’s cloak as a pledge –
that is, for a debt – return it at nightfall.
Someone might say, wait, that’s not good business.
If you give a loan based on collateral,
you don’t give up the collateral that secures the debt.
And the Lord might say, that may be;
but when you are dealing with someone in need,
compassion comes first, ahead of good business.
This is one of the principal points Pope Francis,
along with Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul, and Pope Paul VI,
and so many popes before them, have been making:
when we look at how our society is structured –
when we talk about “the economy” –
the highest value has to be compassion for human need.
The economy exists to serve people;
people do not exist to serve the economy.
A lot of us hear that, and we say, great – so how do we do it?
And that’s where it gets hard.
Those of us who have been around the block a few times,
we know a lot of good-intentioned approaches to poverty
end up not working out very well.
Our government has been fighting a “War on Poverty”
for almost 50 years.
Let’s say with mixed results, at best.
But none of that is an excuse to give up.
It’s just another example of how we find that loving God –
loving what he loves, and loving the people he loves –
is a whole lot harder in fact than it is in theory.
One of the things our Faith teaches us in these questions concerning poverty,
or inequality in our society, or how our economy operates,
is that “conversion” – change of heart – isn’t just a personal project.
There are ways in which we must call our society to conversion.
This is what we did, in the past, on questions of race;
It is what we’ve been doing for some time on questions of protecting human life,
from conception to natural death;
And it’s what we’re going to have to do, now, on what marriage really is.
If we love God, we love his Creation; we love his children;
we love as God loves. No one left out.
God always seeks—always seeks—
the salvation and wellbeing of every human being, without exception.
The commandment the Lord gives us in the Gospel
means that we do exactly the same.