Thursday, 29 May 2008

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Deuteronomy 11:18.26-28.32; Romans 3:21-25.28; Matthew 7:21-27

When the desire to love God meets the demands of true love there is usually a crisis. Most people have a genuine desire to love God – we could almost call it ‘genetic’ – a deep, existential longing for God, the source of all that is good.

What draws us to God is love – our need to receive it and our need to give it. Each of us longs to love in a total and unrestricted manner. Some would say we have a deep-seated longing to love ‘madly’, even to death, and so to be loved in return.

This kind of love, heroic love, totally maturing, healing and freeing love, comes at a price. It requires that we shift the entire focus of our being away from ourselves and our own needs to the welfare and happiness of the beloved. Only love demands we make this shift and, at the same time, only love makes the shift possible. To put it in other words, the happiness of the beloved becomes our greatest need. Love like this is rare, but it does exist in many places.

When a person begins to understand the total cost of the love they aspire to give and receive there is always a crisis – followed by a moment of decision. It does not usually come at the beginning of love. At the beginning there is infatuation, beguilement, euphoria and an ‘exchange of gifts’. No, it comes later on in the relationship when time has settled the turbulent waters of the emotions and immature fascination has dissipated. Then the choice to love becomes somehow ‘a price to be paid’ – not a choice between two thing but of two things – love and suffering.

It is here that true love rises to greatness, conquers all fear, and gives assent to the beloved. This is a human being’s finest moment, the moment he or she becomes a human person.

In very different terms Moses puts all this before the people in the reading from the book of Deuteronomy. He proposes the choice as a blessing or a curse which he then restates in a series of oppositions: blessing – curse; obedience – disobedience; true God – false gods; observe the commandments - or leave the way. Jesus, in today’s Gospel will do the same thing.

The decision to love heroically is actualised in an utterly simple way; the lover must obey the demands of love. Keep, observe, obey the commandments are the words Moses uses. The verbs are active because love is not a feeling. Love is an act and the blessing is realised when we keep the commandments.

Jesus tells us today: It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, who will enter the kingdom of heaven… . Real relationship, i.e. to enter the kingdom of heaven, is not built on words alone. We must obey the very word of love we speak – we must do it.

Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock.

Whether we enter the kingdom of heaven or the house built on rock (these expressions are metaphors for our relationship to God), the foundation must be laid in keeping, observing, doing.

From this perspective we can perhaps view the Catholic / Protestant divide more clearly.

Protestants profess salvation through faith. This is not wrong, just incomplete, and certainly misleading. Catholics profess salvation through faith made real in action or works. For us, and for Jesus, faith that is not expressed in action is not saving faith, and risks the sad words: I have never known you.

To drive the point home let me quote from Sacred Scripture: Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me … (John 14:21)

Anyone who says, 'I know him', and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. (1John 2:4)

Even our father Abraham, who believed God’s words, went as Yahweh told him (Genesis 12:4). He did what he believed. He listened to God’s words and acted on them and so we call him the father of our faith.

The Apostle James tells us: But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. To listen to the word and not obey is like looking at your own features in a mirror and then, after a quick look, going off and immediately forgetting what you looked like. But the man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit - not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice - will be happy in all that he does (James 1:22-25).

A body dies when it is separated from the spirit, and in the same way faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds (James 2:26).

Can there be any more doubt? The commandments are a blessing actualised through obedience. To obey the commandments is to love God. Do you hear that? To obey the commandments is to love God. [And if you don't obey the commandments you don't love God - and if you say you love God but you don't keep the commandments you are a liar.]

And so we return to our beginning. Love of God which obeys the commandments is a love which suffers. The silhouette of true love is always suffering and the soul which sees this truth and yet says Yes is an heroic soul, a saint.

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