Jesus gives us the two great commandments in today’s Gospel; love God and love our neighbor. These are universal commandments for all people and for all times. They aren’t something that we need to take a poll on or something that changes from one culture to another. They are universal truths which Jesus has given us for our own good.
These two great commandments are shorter, more concise versions of the ten commandments which God gave to Moses. Again these commandments are not just meant for the Israelites in the desert. They are given to all peoples of all times to help us to live our lives in a way which will make us happy and, ultimately, will lead us to heaven.
So, if these commandments are so good for us, why do we continue to break them? The answer to this is simple, because we’re human, because we listen to the evil one more than we listen to Jesus, and because we want to do our will and not God’s will. We don’t want to turn away from God and sin, but like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we just cannot help ourselves.
When we break these commandments, we often hurt those closest to us. That is why our families today and throughout the ages are often a mess. Of course, the evil one wants to convince us that our families are not a mess. He tells us they are normal, modern families, if you will.
Our society and our Church have very different views about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, what a marriage consists of, what love is, and even when what life is. Over the last fifty years, we seem to have gone in the wrong direction as far as our families are concerned. If my parents and grandparents were still alive, they would hardly believe how much things have changed in just the past fifty years.
A group of our church leaders met recently in a synod on the family. When you read the reports from this synod, it is apparent that many bishops are confused also. On the one hand, they want to be pastoral, to welcome everyone and to meet them where they are. After all, our Catholic church is meant to be a warehouse for sinners not a museum for saints. But, the bishops don’t want to encourage the sinful behavior which is being promoted by most every other group in our society today. How does our church hold the line on the ten commandments and on Jesus’ teaching and still remain open to meeting the needs of everyone?
Clearly, this is a difficult problem which isn’t easily solved. But there are several things we all can do during these challenging times.
First, we need to pray, pray, and pray some more. We need to pray for our church fathers that they will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and will continue to guide the church in the right direction. Also, we need to pray for families. Pope John Paul II said that as the family goes, so goes the church, and as the church goes, so goes the nation. Today, our church and our nation are struggling because our families are such a mess. And we won’t see the light at the end of this tunnel until families return to holiness.
Second, we need to trust in God and in our church. Jesus told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against our church. Sometimes, it seems like the gates of hell are prevailing, but we need to keep the faith and to do our part in building his kingdom on earth. There have been disagreements at church councils and synods before and somehow the Holy Spirit always has prevailed. Recently, I heard that at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century the discussion was so heated that one bishop punched another bishop and pulled his beard. Fortunately, they didn’t have facebook or twitter in those days, so it didn’t become instant news. We need to relax and not pay too much attention to the reports that we read. Based on past experience, the initial stages of these types of controversial meetings are often messy and confused. But, somehow the Holy Spirit always leads the church in the right direction.
Third, we need to do our part in promoting and building strong families. When I come on Sunday mornings and I see the families here, it gives me hope. I see mothers and fathers who are bringing their little children to mass and I know that the future of our church is secure. I don’t care how much noise those children make. Their voices are like angels which drown out the evil one and guarantee the ultimate victory of the family. All of us need to witness to everyone we meet about the joy of our families and the joy of raising children. Too many people today have bought into the devil’s lie that: Things are a blessing and people are a burden. The truth is things are a burden and people are a blessing. Just go to a family’s home with lots of children who are living their faith. They might be having financial struggles, but if they are able to trust in the Lord, they will be joyful. We need to embrace and to rejoice in our traditional families.
Finally, we need to love those who have somehow fallen off the track, who are in dysfunctional relationships or strained situations. We need to love them even more than we love those who have it all together. We need to love them as the children of God that they are. Somehow, and this is difficult, we need to love them without embracing their sinful behavior. I suspect that there isn’t one adult in this church who doesn’t have a friend or family member who fits this description. Love them. They are your neighbor. They need a friend. Love them not because they have sinned but in spite of the fact that they have sinned. Who knows, we might need their love when we fall off track.
As Jesus tells us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the answer. Do not be afraid. Trust in the Lord and have faith in His church.