Summary: The family is in trouble, but the Holy Spirit is acting in our day, especially through the Synod on the Family, to restore it.

Thirtieth Sunday in Course 2014

The Law of Love

The best description of the kind of love commanded by Jesus may have been given nine hundred years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas. He said, “To love anyone is nothing else than to wish that person well, to want what is good for them.” But St. James, in a letter that Martin Luther called a “straw epistle,” told the story of a Christian who wished a brother well but did nothing to help him in his time of need. And he didn’t have anything good to say about someone whose love was confined to pious words. Nor did Jesus. When he told the story of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, he consigned the rich man to a fiery fate, and Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham, a Semitic analogy of heaven. Not even a drop of water would be given to relieve the pain of the one banished to hell by his own stinginess and insensitivity.

Yes, the Church teaches that when we have breathed our last, when we appear before Jesus, who is both our Savior and our Judge, He will invite us to testify whether we have lived and died in love. And then we will by our own clear memories of our lives decide in what condition we will spend eternity. Those who die in love will be united to Perfect Love, the Blessed Trinity. Those who have lived selfish lives, devoid of charity and forgiveness, will become the fare at a hellish barbeque.

The best news is that Jesus invites us now to examine our consciences and decide how we are to live the rest of our lives. Deciding for love will, certainly, involve some inconvenience, and maybe even a revision of our monthly budget. But love we must, and we must love as Jesus did, all the way to Calvary. Compared to the love-gift of Jesus, spending time serving the poor, grooming the parish grounds, or building a Habitat house is next to nothing. We cannot look forward to a good life, either here or in the next, unless we love our neighbor as ourself.

But what about God? What about loving God? What does wishing good for God mean? After all, He is perfect Goodness, the fullness of Good. Jesus gave us a clue in the Gospels. He talks about people who call him “Lord, Lord,” and then go off and do whatever pleases them, with no reference to the will of God. Contrast that attitude, that behavior, with that of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her whole life was dedicated to doing the will of God. Practically the first words out of her mouth at the Annunciation were “be it done to me according to Thy word.” And the Word became flesh at that very moment, and pitched His tent among us. What new wonders could God do for the world if every person in this congregation woke up each morning and set about doing the will of God?

How do we know the will of God for our lives? As small children, the rule is to do what our parents, who stand in for God in the family, tell us to do. And, of course, we avoid what they tell us not to do. Hopefully, these parents give us good example. But some parents, for one reason or another summarized in the effects of original sin, do not give good example. The worst cases are parents who abuse their children or each other, and those who engage in overtly sinful conduct. Children see that and begin to believe that wrong is right and right is wrong. Whole areas of our cities are infected with this blight. It produces societies in which the rule of life is to “do unto others before they do unto you.” In some of these places we have three to five generations of single-parent families, traditions of fatherless children, and welfare dependency that demeans, rather than raises up, the next generation before they even have a chance at real growth.

We mustn’t delude ourselves that this deterioration of the family foundation of society is restricted to “those people,” whether they be grouped as members of a particular ethnicity or socioeconomic group, or residents of a particular part of town. I teach in an upper middle-class neighborhood in a new school where there is a lottery for junior class parking. No dearth of money, for sure. But the norm for young teachers is cohabitation before marriage, and in some cases a total rejection of marriage and children. This is a result of their watching their parents’ marriages break up, and perhaps seeing the same thing among their grandparents. Let’s not hide under a rock: the family is gravely threatened today.

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