30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Sunday, October 29, 2017
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

     This past week, my classmate, Fr. Jerry Kopacek, had a meeting in Ankeny and so stayed overnight with us at the rectory.  He is a great priest who now serves as spiritual director at our seminary at Loras College in Dubuque.  Fr. Kopacek was an attorney before he entered seminary.  His visit reminded me of the story of when I met one of his parishioners years ago, who told me, "You can sure tell that Fr. Kopacek used to be a lawyer before he became a priest, because a lot of his homilies sound like closing arguments!"  He hates that story, which is why I love telling it.

     In today's Gospel, a lawyer approaches Jesus with the question:  Of all the laws, which one is most important?  Jesus' answer is not about a law, but relationships.  Growing up Catholic, my sense of my faith is that it was a long list of laws.  Most of them were laws that kept me from doing what I really wanted to do, like killing my brothers when they irritate me.  But as we mature, we realize that being Catholic is about the quality of our relationships.  To love God and to love our neighbor sums up the law and the prophets.

     In a commentary about today's Gospel the theologian Jeff Cavins points out that we have an L-shaped faith.  It is not just vertical, as when I love God but don't really care about my neighbor.  It is not just horizontal, as when I love my neighbor but don't have time for God.  The Gospel tells us our faith is L-shaped.  They go together and actually feed off of each other.

     The first and greatest commandment is to love God.  This is my 17th year working with Iowa State University students, which I really enjoy.  It is typical and normal to go through stages of questions, doubts and confusion in our relationship with God.  We have to go through all those questions, doubts and confusion so we can come to a mature faith that we personally own.

     When students share with me their struggles with faith, I sometimes share a quote with them that I read years ago, and cannot remember the source of:  "If you want God to be real to you, give alms."  They may say, "What?  Isn't there a book I can read?  Or maybe join a small group, or perhaps pray more??  I say all of these things are good and needed, but there is a great insight here.

     To give alms is to give money, which is a sacrificial giving of ourselves.  It is not to think something, but to do something, because love is not an emotion that we feel but an action that we take.  When we give our self away in a self-forgetful way, then all of the sudden it clicks.  It clicks and God becomes real to us.  Our love of neighbor is what feeds our love for God.

     The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  St. John of the Cross says there are three main movements in the spiritual life:  Getting your life together when we are young.  Giving your life away.  Then giving your death away toward the end of our life. Much of college years are spent doing the first one, getting our life together.  This is to develop a sense of who we are, and who we are not.  It is learning to channel the divine energy that God has placed in each of us, so it can be used for good.  It is to become disciplined so we can become disciples.  And there is a reason those two words are related to each other.

     Most of our lives are spent in the second task, of giving our life away.  Most people my age are constantly asked to give.  It seems like every time we turn around, we are asked to give in our marriage, give to our families, give to the schools, give to the community, and give to our parish.  When we feel like we are constantly giving, it is easy to become resentful, or worse yet, to withdrawal into our comfortable cocoon and not want to be bothered by the needs of others.  How do we keep going and be able to give without becoming resentful or withdrawing into a comfortable cocoon?  How do we not only be givers, but cheerful givers?  The only way I know to do this is to love God, to feed our souls by resting in God.

     The first and greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  They go together and feed each others.  If God is not real to us, the next step is to give alms, to give our lives away and then God will click with us.  If our giving is unfocused, draining or making us resentful, the next step is to feed our soul by resting in God.  The great commandments are not about laws but the quality of our relationships.  They are about love, and love is not about emotions we feel, but actions we take.