Disciples of Jesus are a people who allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate their heart, calling them out from the idolatry that is the root of all sin. Sin is that which leads us away from the communion with God and one another, that we were created for. It isolates us from the love of God. Isolated from the love of God, we lack an experience of the depths of love we are called to for one another.

Life_Giving Faith.pdf

In the readings from the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time we are reminded from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians that those who follow Jesus are a people who have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” They have become imitators of the Lord and received the word amidst great suffering, but with a joy that corresponds to its saving power. In our time, too, we live amidst great suffering. We may distract ourselves from it or refuse to look at it, particularly in the stranger, but if we open our eyes we will see it.

Concurrently, we may find that we are obsessed with it, hardly able to focus on anything else as almost every form of media seems to communicate a constant stream of news of unthinkable, arbitrary and even absurd manifestations of the destructive potential of fallen humanity. If we are called to a joyful and loving communion with God, and one another, what is wrong? What is missing?

Of every possible response to that inquiry, many of which may analyze the situation well and offer helpful, but partial, principles and remedies, there is one response that is the greatest, i.e., the most complete. Our reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew reminds us of it: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A disciple of Jesus listens to his words and imitates him as Lord. Here we have a teaching where he reveals to us through his dialogue with the Pharisees and Sadducees the most foundational and fundamental law or principle by which we are to live. It is as if Jesus is saying: apart from loving communion with my father, and fatherly care for your neighbor, all other works are in vain.

Do we see complete and loving communion with God, a communion that encompasses neighbor, and even enemy, as the most fundamental project of our life? Do we see it as the source of joy and peace that we desire to experience even amidst the suffering of this world? What do our actions demonstrate about our priorities?

As disciples of Jesus called to communicate the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, we are meant to be agents of the healing and unifying love of God in this world. But how do we communicate it if we ourselves don’t put love of God before all other rules and principles that guide our life (as Jesus instructs us to)? Put another way, we are agents, missionaries of the Gospel, to the extent that we respond to the great commandment: love of God with all that we are and a love of neighbor that reaches into the depths of human need. No matter what suffering and trials we are in the midst of in this life, our faith is that it all can and will work towards the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.

The Gospel reading from the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us of our posture, our position as disciples of Jesus: “the greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  We could say that while the greatest commandment is love of God and neighbor the most fundamental posture or orientation that this commandment demands is humility.

Humility is not something that can be produced or faked (which would be a form of self-exaltation) but instead comes from an honest confrontation with sin in one’s own life in contrast with the goodness and love of God. It is a recognition that of all things pride and self-reliance (instead of God-reliance) is the most harmful and destructive part of the self. To grow in loving communion with God and neighbor we must become docile to the Spirit and Lord of all, and recognize our need for the grace and power of Christ to be free from sin and death, and free from our many idols. It is from this position we become not lords of others, but loving servants of their deepest needs as missionaries of Christ.

Schoedel is associate director for Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.