Love For Real

Oct 29, 2017: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 22:20-26
Psalms 18:2-4, 47, 51
First Thessalonians 1:5-10
Matthew 22:34-40
_________________________________________________________________________

In today’s readings, we’re reminded that there are real love and other ideas of love that pale in comparison. The best measure of love is how we treat others, including God.

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds us not the mistreat the disadvantaged, or we’ll soon be one of them. Woe to the Israelite who forgot that he was once a foreigner abused and mistreated in Egypt and decided to treat a foreigner in the Promised Land in the same way. Widows and orphans were especially weak and helpless in the times of the Old Testament. Mistreating them was equivalent to kicking someone when they were down. Making a living was so precarious that charging interest in a loan was a sin called usury: people had no money to spare, and not many had a surplus of possessions to loan either.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he imitated the Lord and taught them to do the same. They were such good disciples that they became a model of belief for the entire region. St. Paul starts some his letters chiding his listeners and pointing out their flaws in imitating the Lord and sharing his word. He not only gives them an A+ but tells them their listeners gave them an A+ too.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds the Pharisees, and us, that if we truly want to understand the ways and desires of God we need to see things through the lens of love. Love for God and love for neighbor are intimately linked, which is why extremists of any religion who claim to harm their neighbor in the name of God are about as far from the truth as can be imagined. Some people try to project themselves on God and paint Him as aloof, distant, cruel, or self-absorbed. Others in the face of suffering and evil question whether God loves us at all, or why He would allow bad things to happen. If we want to understand who God is truly, we must look at Him from the perspective of love and imitate Him in His love for us. If we contemplate God on the Cross, the Son nailed to the Cross, depicted on every crucifix, wounded out of love for us, as Christians we need no further answer. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save the world, and His Son saved the world through submitting to the worst cruelty that evil and sin could inflict: injustice, torture, and death. He subjected himself to that out of love for us. He doesn’t throw that in our face: He is silent on the cross, but He speaks volumes to our hearts: He doesn’t say, “how dare you,” but “I love you.”

Mary Beth Bonacci in her book Real Love: Answers to Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex described two meanings for saying you “love.”

“People use the word ‘love’ a lot of different ways. Take me, for instance. I am often heard saying that I love my mom and dad. I am also often heard saying that I love pizza.

What am I saying when I say I love my mom and dad? I’m saying that I care about them. I’m saying that I love spending time with them and that I talk to them every chance I get. I’m saying that if they needed me, I would do every humanly possible to help them. I’m saying that I always want what’s best for them.

What am I saying when I say I love pizza? Am I saying that I care deeply about pizza? Am I saying that I have a relationship with pizza? Am I saying that if pizza had a problem, I would be there for the pizza? Of course not. When I say I love pizza, I’m just saying that I enjoy eating pizza until I don’t want any more pizza. Once I’m tired of the pizza, I don’t care what happens to the rest of it. I’ll throw it away. I’ll feed it to the dog. I’ll stick it in the back of the refrigerator until it gets all green and moldy. It doesn’t matter to me anymore.

These are two very different definition of the word ‘love’.

It gets confusing when people start talking about love, and especially about loving you. Which way do these people love you? Do they want what is best for you, or do they just want you around because it is good for them, and they don’t really care what happens to you?

Next time someone looks deeply into your eyes and says ‘I love you’, look very deeply right back and say, ‘Would that be pizza love, or the real thing?”

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a beautiful encyclical on charity: Deus Caritas Est. In fact, it was his first encyclical, and he published it on Christmas Day of 2005.

The topic of the encyclical was Christian love, especially the connection between love for God and love for humanity.

If that’s not enough reading, try the sequel: Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009).

Leave a Reply