Sunday, October 26, 2014

To love as God loves (Sunday homily)

(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. 


ndspinelli said...

Courageous homily.

Jenny said...

WOW, blockbuster, Father! Bet you got some reaction on that one--(I wonder what you said at the 5 vigil that got changed!).
I am so gratified that there are priests who speak the truth out loud and who uphold the deposit of faith while doing so. A tough row to hoe, verdad?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks for the kind words.

What was "courageous"?

What do you think people would have reacted to?

(I got no particular reactions; no frowns, no compliments)

Fr Martin Fox said...

At 5 pm, I got off track exploring the question of intention as a key to moral acts, and never got back to the primary questions of social justice.

Jenny said...

So sorry, time got away from me today...just checking back.
I guess I wondered if you got a strong reaction from those who so vociferously oppose illegal immigration and the immigrants themselves; here in the South it is a huge issue, one that not many priests will take on.
(Kind of like artificial birth control.). Perhaps you have a far more enlightened (dare I say truly Catholic?) parish family if you didn't get a negative reaction--God bless you and them!

ndspinelli said...

My "courageous" take was that I know there are many people who are anti immigrant. I am conflicted. We need to secure the border before we do anything. But, these are PEOPLE here, and many are good, hardworking, religious, family people. They came here illegally, but not for illegal purposes. I know nothing about Russia, Ohio. But, I know there are many people in this country who disagree strongly w/ the compassion you expressed. I hear them loudly when I say what you did, albeit much less eloquently. Here's my fear. A spoiled brat President acting unilaterally giving sweeping amnesty. That will create a backlash. Some will be against Obama and Dems, but much against these good people.

Finally, there are illegal people here who commit crimes. They need to be deported immediately after serving their sentence. And, I'm not just talking major crimes. I'm a PI and have worked cases of illegals driving w/o a license or insurance causing serious injury. They just disappear w/ the injured party left to fend for themselves. There are many consequences for people living in the shadows. A path to citizenship for law abiding people.

ndspinelli said...

Jenny, Border states do indeed have a different dynamic. And, I have seen a different attitude within a border state. The closer to the border, the more vitriol. I am not going to judge these people. They have to live w/ the unquestionable problems w/ people coming here illegally and living in the shadows. This is a complex problem.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Jenny, Ndspinelli:

Thanks for the feedback.

I'm not trying to be difficult, but...I don't think I actually took any position in my homily on how we deal with illegal immigration.

Did you see it differently? I really welcome your feedback. What is clear to you, may not be clear to me.

Jenny said...

No, Father, you did not take a position on the issue. That was very clear, and I didn't mean to imply that you did so. My reaction was that you gave a wonderfully gospel-driven meditation on a very important and timely issue. I'm very glad you used immigration as you stepping stone to discussion of the readings for today. Blessings!

ndspinelli said...

I agree w/ Jennifer. You gave no opinion on how to deal w/ immigration, and I see that as what makes it so poignant. You severed the politics from the situation and focused on the PEOPLE. I taught history. There are so many boring history teachers who fail to understand that history/politics, is about PEOPLE; not events, dates, wars, policies, elections, etc. It's about PEOPLE, and that is what makes history fascinating. You did not preach to the choir here, padre. You are a worldly man so you must know how much vitriol there is over immigration. And, you are sharp enough to know that the strife over immigration, and those understandably upset over an immigration system in the toilet, often directs their anger over a failed system, to the PEOPLE who came here illegally. They are often the scapegoats for the politicians who use these people cynically, and have a vested interest in having a broken system.

Here's what you did. You gave that person who sits in the corner bar in Russia, Ohio complaining about those "Damn Mexicans" something to think about. You eloquently showed them these are not bad people. They are people merely trying to survive. The Good Lord imbued us all w/ the survival instinct. If you try and smother a person in a coma they will fight instinctively. So I'm told, I've never tried it!!!

Jennifer said...

It really is about the people, Father Fox. It's easy to get caught up in politics, but that takes the focus off of what is really important...the people involved.
I've often thought that people who argue bitterly about politics are just continuing old family fights leftover from their childhoods.
I caution my children that they should focus on being good (as Heavenly Father wants us to be) rather than on being right or popular.

Jackie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jackie said...


Thanks as always for the homily and sharing it. You always give something to think about.

Ndspinelli and Jenny - I have to say - while you imply that your view on illegal immigration so enlightened and holy - you general view of 'those other people' certainly is very poor. Those 'other people' who take a dim view of ILLEGAL immigration and don't ever think of them as 'people' like you do. THIS is part of the problem.

ILLEGAL immigration is just that - ILLEGAL. The Church teaches that countries have a right and duty to maintain their borders and welcome the migration. It, like almost everything in the Church, is a both/and.

This 'other people' attitude probably makes discussion difficult and therefore finding a 'good solution'.

A good solution is not - open wide and let everyone one in no matter what. (That isn't doing a country is obligated to do as far as borders.) A good solution is not to shoot them all as they come across either. But let's be clear - neither is encouraging immigration within Central American countries with promises of support and having horrific trips with rapes, death, etc on the journey. Neither is sending immigrants to different cities with a bus pass and nothing else and no communication to those at the destination.

There is a good, holy, loving solution - in fact probably several - and none of them will be perfect. There is some balance.

But to find it - you might want to think a little more highly of 'those other people' - the ones that 'voraciously oppose illegal immigration'.

If this was not your intention - wonderful - then your communication needs a bit more clarity.

ndspinelli said...

Jackie, I said, "We need to secure the borders before we do anything." I suggest you read carefully. But, start w/ Father's homily. I understand your anger. Do you?

Jenny said...

Jackie, a small point perhaps, but I actually said "...vociferously oppose..." Not "voraciously". Big difference in the two words.
Believe me please when I tell you that I do NOT consider myself "enlightened and holy". I'm very conflicted by the whole issue. I am married 38 years to a man from El Paso Texas who grew up a short drive to Juarez, with all the problems that built the drug cartels that now control that city. He has his own strong views. We have a huge Mexican immigrant population here in SC; a lot of the families stay here year-round after peach and field produce season is over. The poverty is staggering, but the people are full of family joy and work very hard. Our churches work hard to try to help with health needs, etc.
The problem is complex, and there are no easy solutions. I loved Father's homily. Obviously, though, I am really going to have to be guard from commenting here. First I rattled Father, then offended you. Not worth it. From now on I'll go back to being a silent reader, I promise!

Fr Martin Fox said...


Your comments never bother me. I was simply unclear. Please continue commenting!

ndspinelli said...

Jenny, Great follow up comment. Jonathan Turley has a great blog. Just Google his name and you'll see it. He has an interesting post just this morning about the Pope and evolution. There is a good mix of folks there. There are some elbows thrown, but Turley works tirelessly to keep it civil. there are refugees from another legal blog that was not so welcoming. This was a very minor conflict here. But, that's my opinion. We all have different tolerance for conflict. I am more tolerant of conflict if the discussion is substantive, which they always are here. Let me say, first and foremost, you SHOULD stay here commenting. But, if you wish to test the waters elsewhere, you might find other blogs interesting. They all have some conflict. But, conflict is not bad. God understands that change can often not occur w/o conflict. Any great novel, movie, etc. must have conflict, otherwise you have no plot!

Jenny said...

Thanks, nd, good advice--I will surely visit Jonathan Turley. I will recommend to you Fr. Dwight Longenecker's "Standing on my Head". He shut down the comments feature a couple of months ago for much of what you cite as problematic, but it is good. What I love here on Bonfire are the Sunday homilies. Our local priest tries hard, but has a very heavy Polish accent, and I struggle to understand him. Thanks to you and Father for the encouragement!

I had a thought while saying my rosary today: from now on before I "visit" a blog, I will ask Our Lady of the Visitation to guide my visit, my "listening" to others' thoughts carefully, and most especially my communication via comments I might make. If I had done that here, I might not have knee-jerk commented. Father's homily was so carefully done and edifying, that one doesn't wish to detract from it or distract others from the serious soul-work that it would engender. Blessings!

Fr Martin Fox said...


You don't have to post, but I really enjoy getting comments.

truthfinder2 said...

Jenny ~ I enjoy this blog, and I enjoy your comments. Your prayer sounds like a good idea; one that I should emulate. Thank you! ~ Rosemary A.

Jennifer said...

I can't make any intelligent comments about immigration. But when I was a teenager in the mid 1980s, I noticed how many Central Americans had come to Los Angeles. I remember the moment that I was in the car with my mother, and we were stopped in traffic. I looked around to the other cars and saw only Hispanic people. Half of El Salvador seemed to have moved here! I knew then that I would have to learn Spanish, as whatever I did as an adult would involve Hispanic people.

My three children also speak Spanish. They have learned from their babysitter, and also from me. I read to them in Spanish and when I interact with Hispanic people, I always try to speak Spanish and so do they. It's amusing to a lot of people to see these blond kids speaking Spanish!

We speak German, too. The German-speaking community in Los Angeles is small and we all seem to know each other. Differences that keep people apart in Germany, such as Katholisch/Evengelisch, Preussen/Bavarian, or social class or being married to a person of another race don't seem to matter here, as long as you are German. Or even Swiss or Austrian...

rcg said...

Very thoughtful homily, Fr Fox. I like the non-specific review of contemporary issues because we are often given lose-lose solutions and positions from the pulpit when we as individuals, billions of us, may be able to apply our talents with the guidance of God's love to produce limitless solutions He will find acceptable.