Sunday, May 25, 2014

What do laws have to do with love? (Sunday homily)

What is the Lord trying to do 
with his words to the Apostles, which we just heard?
Well, it’s not that hard: “Keep my commandments.”
Which are those? I think he means all of them.

The Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, 
and all the commentary on them, 
serve to break it down into pieces we can grapple with.

I just mentioned something we don’t talk about often: 
the precepts—or commandments—
that come, not directly from the Lord, but from the Church. 
What are those?

There are six precepts which the Church—
acting with the authority our Lord gave to the Church—
impose on all of us, all members of the Church. 
And in case you aren’t sure, here they are:

First, to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation, 
unless a good reason prevents you. 
This is a grave obligation—
meaning it’s something you must confess if you don’t keep it.

Second is to confess mortal sins at least once a year; 
Third is to receive holy communion at least once during Easter Season.

Fourth, to observe times of penance and fasting. 
Many people think this just means Lent; 
but actually, we are directed to do penance on Fridays all year long, 
in union with the Lord’s death on the cross. 

This is what the “no meat” thing was about. 
And when that changed, all that changed was, 
we could pick another penance. 
Never did the bishops say, no more penance. 
What they said was, choose your own. 

Fifth, to support the mission of the church materially if possible.

And, sixth, to marry according to the norms of the Church.

Now, people will often say, 
what do rules and commandments have to do with love?

And the answer is that while rules don’t replace love, 
they give shape to it. They help us see what it looks like.

Somebody could say, 
“Sure, I lied to you, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you!”
And the answer is, “yes, it does; because that’s not love.”

We’re not angels; perfect love doesn’t come instinctively. 
We must learn how to love, especially when love isn’t easy. 

It’s not enough just to know the rules and follow them. 
A machine can do that.
We need to know the reason for a rule.

Father Mike Seger, who teaches at our seminary, 
explained it this way: 
rules exist to protect what we value.

So the law about attending Sunday Mass every week: 
what value does that protect? Several. 
It makes clear that Christ—
not the idea of Christ, but Jesus Christ himself—is at the center.

Not just talking or learning about him, but being with him: 
particularly in his sacrifice on the Cross, which is what the Mass is.
That’s the center. 

It also makes clear that being a Christian 
Is something we do together. 
Let’s face it: being holy would be a lot easier 
if we didn’t have to deal with other people!

Jesus came to gather a people to himself.
Our Sunday Mass requirement reminds us 
that if we want to be with the Lord, 
we’ve got to deal with all the crazy people he brings in!

I don’t just mean you nice folks! 
The Mass unites us with everyone in the world, and everyone in time—
past, present, future; earth, purgatory and heaven.

Monday is Memorial Day, 
when we remember those who died in service to our country. 
In the Mass, we are really united to those who have died. 
It’s not just “memory” but a reunion.

What brings all this together 
is the Advocate we heard about, the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God is God. 

We receive him in a powerful way in the sacrament of confirmation. 
That’s what the first reading describes.
And that gift of the Holy Spirit 
not only teaches us what is good and loving, 
but also helps us to love these things.

So, back to the question I initially asked: 
what’s the Lord trying to say here?
And I think he’s giving us a choice:
You and I can be an “orphan”; no one has claims on us, 
no one tells us what to do; we do what we like!
We make our own truth. 
We have our freedom:
We have ourselves.

But if we don’t want to be orphans, 
then we allow God to adopt us into his family. 
There are rules. There are truths that are bigger than we are, 
which we may or may not understand—or like. 
We answer to each other. Our family shapes us.
And we have the obligations that go with love.

Above all, we actually have love.

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