Which is worse, approval of the apparitions of Medjugorje by Pope Francis and Cardinal Schonborn or ambivalence or even disapproval by Cardinal Muller?

Pray for the realization of Our Blessed Mother’s plans despite the flawed hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Medjugorje

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

The Priority of Personal Prayer

By Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

Today’s Gospel is the very familiar one of Martha and Mary. Martha is the anxious worker seeking to please the Lord with a good meal and hospitality; Mary sits quietly at His feet and listens. One has come to be the image of work, the other of prayer.

Misinterpreted? In my lifetime I have heard many a sermon that interpreted this Gospel passage as a call for a proper balance between work and prayer. Some have gone on to state that we all need a little of Martha and Mary in us, and that the Church needs both Marthas and Marys.

But in the end it seems that such a conclusion misses the central point of this passage. Jesus does not conclude by saying, “Martha, now go do your thing and let Mary do hers.” Rather, He describes Mary as not only choosing the better part but also as doing the “one thing necessary.” This does not amount to a call for “proper balance” but instead underscores the radical priority and primacy of prayer. This, it would seem, is the proper interpretation of what is being taught here. Many other passages of the Scripture do set forth the need to be rich in works of charity, but this is not one of them.

With that in mind let’s take a look at the details of the Lord’s teaching today on the priority of personal prayer.

I. PROMISING PRELUDE Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. The story begins by showing Martha in a very favorable light. She opens her door (her life, if you will) and welcomes Jesus. This is at the heart of faith: a welcoming of Jesus into the home of our heart and life. Surely Revelation 3:20 comes to mind here: Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.

While we acknowledge this promising prelude we ought also to underscore the fact that the initiative is that of Jesus. The text says that Jesus entered a village. In the call of faith, the initiative is always with God. It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you (Jn 15:16). Hence, while we must welcome Him, God leads. Martha hears the Lord’s call and responds. So far, so good.

What happens next isn’t exactly clear, but the impression given is that Martha goes right to work. There is no evidence that Jesus asked for a meal from her. The text from Revelation quoted above does suggest that the Lord seeks to dine with us, but it implies that it is He who will provide the meal. Surely the Eucharistic context of our faith emphasizes that it is the Lord who feeds us with His Word and with His Body and Blood.

At any rate, Martha seems to have told the Lord to make Himself comfortable and has gone off to work in preparing a meal. That she later experiences it to be such a burden is evidence that her idea emerged more from her flesh than from the Spirit.

II. PORTRAIT OF PRAYER She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Now here is a beautiful portrait of prayer: sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening.

Many people think of prayer as something that is said. But prayer is better understood as a conversation, and conversations include both speaking and listening. Vocal prayer, intercessory prayer, and the like are all noble and important, but the prayer of listening is too often neglected.

Prayer is not just telling God what we want, it is discovering what He wills. We have to sit humbly and listen. We must learn to listen, and we must listen in order to learn. We listen by slowly and devoutly considering Scripture (lectio divina), and by pondering how God is speaking in the events and people in our life, how God is whispering in our conscience and soul.

As we shall see, Jesus calls this kind of prayer “the one thing necessary.” What Mary models and Martha forgets is that we must first come (to Jesus) and then go (and do what He says), that we must first receive before we can achieve, that we must first be blessed before we can do our best, that we must first listen before we leap into action.

III. PERTURBED and PRESUMPTUOUS Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Martha, who is laboring in the flesh but not likely in the Spirit and in accord with the Lord’s wishes, is now experiencing the whole thing as a burden. She blames her sister for all this but the Lord’s response will make it clear that this is not Mary’s issue.

One sign that we are not in God’s will is experiencing what we are doing as a burden. We are all limited and human and will experience ordinary fatigue. It is one thing to be weary in the work but it is another to be weary of the work.

A lot of people run off to do something they think is a good idea. And maybe it is a fine thing in itself. But often, they never asked God about it. God might have said, “Fine.” But He might have said, “Not now, later.” Or He might have said, “Not you, but someone else.” Or he might have just said, “No.” But instead of asking they often just go off and do it, and then when things don’t work out will often blame God: “Why don’t you help me more?”

And so Martha is burdened. First she blames her sister. Then she presumes that the Lord does not care about what is (to her) an obvious injustice. Then she takes presumption one step further and presumes to tell the Lord what to do: “Tell her to help me.”

This is what happens when we try to serve the Lord in the flesh. Instead of being true servants who listen to the Lord’s wishes and carry them out by His grace, we end up angry and mildly (or more) dictatorial. She here is Martha, with her one hand on her hip and her index finger in the air . Jesus will be kind to her, but firm.

IV. PRESCRIBED PRIORITY Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. Now don’t let the Lord have to call you by your name twice! It is clear that the Lord wants Martha’s attention and that she has made a fatal mistake (that we all can easily make): she leapt before she listened.

The Lord observes her and comments that she is anxious about many things. Anxiety about many things comes from neglect of the one thing most necessary: sitting at the feet of the Lord and listening to him.

The Lord will surely have things for us to do in our lives but they need to come from Him. This is why prayer is the “one thing” necessary and the better part: because work flows from it and is subordinate to it.

Discernment is not easy, but it is necessary. An awful lot of very noble ideas have floundered in the field of the flesh because they were never really brought before God and were not therefore a work of grace.

Jesus does not mean that all we are to do is to pray. There are too many other Gospels that summon us to labor in the vineyard to make that conclusion. But what Jesus is very clear to say is that prayer and discernment have absolute priority. Otherwise expect to be anxious about many things and have little to show for it.

Scripture makes it clear that God must be the author and initiator of our works: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8-10).

An old prayer from the Roman Ritual also makes this plain:

Actiones nostras, quaesumus Domine, aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere: ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat, et per te coepta finiatur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum

(Direct we beseech Thee, O Lord, our prayers and our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance, so that every work of ours may always begin with Thee, and through Thee be ended.)

This song reminds us that when we really are working in the Lord’s will, as the fruit of prayer we love what we do and do so with joy. This song says, “I keep so busy working for the Kingdom I ain’t got time to die!”

NOTE: The number of abortions documented in the report below only applies to IPPF affiliates. According to the World Health Organization, every year in the world there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions. This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day.  According to Guttmacher Institute, during 2010–2014, an estimated 56 million induced abortions occurred each year worldwide. This number represents an increase from 50 million annually.

“If you were to read off the names of IPPF’s  tiny victims (of 2015 alone) — without sleeping, breaking or pausing—it would take you almost two years. In fact, you would never finish. By the time you finished reading the list of all the lives lost in 2015, IPPF’s abortion facilities will have added another two million lives to be accounted for.”

From PRI:

New IPPF Report Gloats Over New Abortion Numbers

Jonathan Abbamonte and Steven W. Mosher (source)

2016 Jul 13

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) reports that its affiliates ended the lives of nearly one million unborn children in 2015. In all 964,325, unborn children were terminated by chemical and surgical abortion by IPPF just last year alone. [Ed: see note above re 56 million worldwide abortions annually. The number of abortions documented below only appliy to IPPF affiliates.]

A million of anything is a staggering number. But the loss of nearly a million children by surgical or chemical abortion is a tragedy beyond reckoning.

If you were to read off the names of IPPF’s tiny victims—without sleeping, breaking or pausing—it would take you almost two years. In fact, you would never finish. By the time you finished reading the list of all the lives lost in 2015, IPPF’s abortion facilities will have added another two million lives to be accounted for.

Over the past 60 years, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and its affiliates have terminated the lives of millions more unborn children. IPPF claims to have provided 16.8 million abortion-related services over the past five years, some 4.3 million [1] in 2015 alone.

IPPF invests tens of millions of dollars (USD) in its affiliates and other like-minded organizations every year to promote abortion and contraception worldwide.

IPPF strives to be “a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights” by which they mean to promote abortion “rights”, graphic sex education “rights”, and contraception around the globe.

In pursuit of this agenda, IPPF has distributed approximately 1.7 billion condoms worldwide over the past ten years. That’s roughly equivalent to one condom for every man on the planet between the ages of 15 and 44.

The number of young people being (mis)educated by Planned Parenthood in sexual matters has also exploded in recent years. By 2015, 99 million young people were said to have completed a sex education program taught by an IPPF affiliate.

PRI Releases New Interactive Map!

Click on the map below to see how much money IPPF has put into organizations operating in your country.

IPPF also lobbies governments to legalize abortion and, where it is already legal, to increase access. In this effort, IPPF often works through Member Associations (MAs). Where they exist, Member Associations are the primary conduit through which IPPF advocates for changes in laws, policies, and directives from Ministries of Health. IPPF will sometimes partner with other organizations in addition to their MA, or even operate directly, or with other partners, in countries where it has not yet organized an MA.

IPPF is active in 168 countries through its Member Associations and other groups. While Member Associations are independent organizations in and of themselves to one extent or another, they receive guidance and funding from IPPF.

How effective has IPPF been in changing laws and policies to promote abortion and contraception? Consider the following.

In 2014, IPPF’s affiliate in Ghana, Planned Parenthood of Ghana (PPAG), launched a full-fledged media campaign to lure young people into their clinics. According to IPPF, PPAG ran frequent ads over FM radio and launched a mobile app to send out information about their services along with “diagrams relating to sexual and reproductive health.” The result of these efforts was an increase in the “number of clients provided with safe abortion services…by 25 percent.”

Between 2012 and 2014, IPPF’s European Network, a regional office of IPPF, successfully petitioned the Europeans Social Rights Committee (ESRC) of the Council of Europe to condemn Italy for allowing too many doctors to claim conscientious objection rights when refusing to perform abortions. Because the vast majority of doctors in Italy will not perform abortions for reasons of faith or conscience, ESRC accused the Italian government of not providing sufficient access to abortion. It remains unclear if doctors in Italy will lose their right to conscientious objection or even be pressured into performing abortions in the future.

In Nepal, nurses were originally not permitted to perform abortions. But in 2014, IPPF affiliate in Nepal, the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN), successfully petitioned the government to gain approval for its nurses to perform abortions in some of its clinics. Can anyone doubt that the number of abortions performed in Nepal will now increase?

The list goes on. From Ireland to Kazakhstan, IPPF affiliates are lobbying hard for ever more abortions and “sexual and reproductive health” services. IPPF credits itself with having played a part in influencing more than 800 policy and legislative changes globally to promote “sexual and reproductive health and rights” over the past decade alone.

In addition to effecting legal changes, IPPF also seeks to change public opinion about abortion and contraception in the public square. It claims to want to “destigmatize” abortion, by which the organization means that it wants to accustom people to the idea that it is alright to dismember unborn children. IPPF regularly promotes abortion as a “safe” even as dismemberment abortion is never “safe” for the unborn child.

IPPF writes big checks to its Member Associations and other organizations every year to support their abortion and contraception activities. Between 2008-2015, IPPF gave out approximately US$600 million[2] in grants, commodities and technical assistance to MAs and other organizations the world over.

The money comes from a handful of wealthy Western nations including Sweden, Japan, the U.K., and Germany. U.S. Government funding of IPPF and foreign IPPF MAs is comparatively small—at least relative to the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars given annually to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, IPPF’s MA in the United States. Even so, federal funding for IPPF is not insignificant.

According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released last year, IPPF Member Associations collectively received approximately $23 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and an additional $3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) between 2010-2012. The GAO did not report any direct funding for IPPF or the IPPF Western Hemisphere Regional Office but rather funds were made available directly to the IPPF Member Associations themselves.

One must wonder why U.S. taxpayers have paid for $26 million to be given to an organization that performs nearly one million abortions a year and is actively involved in promoting the legalization of abortion in countries that protect the right to life for the unborn.

 

[1] 4.3 million abortion-related services includes the nearly 1 million (964,325) chemical and surgical abortions carried out in 2015 as well as consultations for abortion, abortion procedures for incomplete abortions, and other services.
[2] Includes funding for grants, commodities, and technical assistance provided to Member Associations and other organizations both through IPPF and through IPPF’s role acting as Secretariat for the “Safe Abortion Action Fund” (SAAF). IPPF manages SAAF on behalf of donors and recommends which applicants should receive funding based on applicant qualifications. SAAF was specifically established by the governments of the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland to increase access to abortion.

Excerpt from:

Contra Cardinal Sarah: The Bitter and Noxious Fruits of Ideology

By Father Richard G. Cipolla

To read this in context go here.

Miracle of the SonThe ideology that lies behind that repudiation of Cardinal Sarah’s exhortation to return to the Traditional posture of the priest at Mass rang out quite clearly in the Clarification. It is an ideology that has for so many years prevented the Church from restoring the liturgical life of the Church that is necessary for the mission of the Church to the world. It is an ideology that has no basis in Tradition and in fact is a break with Tradition. Anyone who still believes that the Mass of Paul VI is continuous with the Roman Rite of Catholic Tradition needs to get out into the fresh air more.

The heart of the ideology driving the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgical books is the destruction of the Traditional understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice, namely, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the offering of the Son to the Father. Without the Roman Canon, which the reformers tried to get rid of entirely, that the Mass is a sacrifice is not evident in the three new Eucharistic prayers. What is at stake in the insistence on versus populum is the very nature of the Mass. What most Catholics believe today is that the Mass is a community meal and the priest’s job is to say the words that change the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ for the purpose of Holy Communion. The Mass is for them. The priest facing the people engenders this understanding quite readily and enforces a heavily horizontal experience of the Mass. The almost universal practice of Communion in the hand standing in a line as if waiting for ham in a deli is the result of a deliberate repression of Communion on the tongue kneeling and telling the people that standing in the hand is the only way to receive Holy Communion after Vatican II. All nonsense. All ideology.

To read this in context go here.

About Cardinal Sarah.

Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Is It Time to Flee the World?

By: Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

As we go through the Book of the Prophet Isaiah at Mass, we read of Israel’s painful purifications and also of a coming punishment of the surrounding nations. These ancient stories have something to say to us today.

As Isaiah sets forth, God permitted the nations to persecute Israel in order that she be purified. But the iniquity and sin of the nations and of this world cannot go on forever; wickedness must be ended. The Lord will judge the nations, not merely purify Israel.

In a complex passage, God says (through Isaiah) that although He had used Assyria as a tool to purify Israel, Assyria would not escape punishment for her iniquity. Here is an excerpt:

Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath. Against an impious nation [Israel] I send him, and against a people under my wrath I order him to seize plunder, carry off loot …. But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; Rather, it is in his heart to destroy …. [And] he says: “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd. I have moved the boundaries of peoples ….” Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it …. Therefore, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, And instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire (Isaiah 10:5-16).

Although God wielded Assyria like an axe to prune Israel, that did not make the axe good. And now it is time for the axe also to be refined as in fire.

What do stories like these have to say to us today? A lot, especially if we see Israel as an image for the Church, and the nations around us as akin to Assyria and Babylon.

For indeed, the Church has been going through a great pruning and purification. The once luxuriant vine of Catholicism and Christendom in the West is reduced. Only 25% of Catholics in the U.S. attend Mass; in Europe the numbers are far worse. Indifference to the faith and to God is widespread. Many are Catholic in name only. Yet for those who remain there is an increasingly fervent experience of the faith. On account of doubt and persecution, many of us are actually clearer about what we believe and why than we were in the past. There has been a great blossoming of Catholic apologetics and media. The smaller numbers of Catholics who remain are getting clearer, more devout, and more creative. And thus we see a pruning and purification that is so often necessary in the Church. Ecclesia semper reformanda (the Church is always in need of reform).

This purification is being effected by God, who is permitting an increasingly secular and hostile world to afflict the Church. These afflictions take many forms: simple scoffing at our beliefs, the promulgation of error and lies to lead us away from the faith, the excoriating and even criminalization of long-held beliefs of our faith, and even outright martyring of believers.

For the time being, God seems to be permitting the “Assyria” of modern, decadent culture to afflict us. But things do by opposition grow. Even if God is wielding the axe of modernity now, this does not make the axe holy; soon enough the axe will have to answer for its wickedness.

What are faithful Catholics to do under the current circumstances? The answer to this may vary based our state in life (parent, priest, married, single, young, old, etc.). Many younger families are choosing to “hunker down” and live as isolated from our toxic culture as possible: homeschooling, restricting television viewing, and/or limiting Internet access.

Others have chosen to engage the culture boldly in order to seek its conversion and/or to rescue as many as possible from its grip.

Both approaches are certainly valid. But as we journey further into the darkness, the banners of tolerance under which the revolutionaries marched are increasingly being exposed for what they really are: banners of tyranny. They never really meant what they said about tolerance; it was just a smoke screen. Under the new tyranny, our options for influencing the culture are decreasing; faithful Catholics proclaiming ancient truths are seeing their religious liberty erode. Merely quoting certain Scripture passages or reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being labeled hate speech. There are increasing efforts to compel faithful Catholics and others to directly cooperate in evils such as contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.

With all this in mind, a text from another part of Isaiah seems appropriate for an increasing number of Catholics:

Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath has passed by. For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain (Is 26:21-22).

In effect, this text advises the faithful to hunker down and preserve the faith by seeking to live as far apart from the prevailing culture as possible. Now that Israel’s purification was bearing fruit, God was preparing to punish the nations that afflicted His faithful in Israel.

A possible modern application of this text is to view the wickedness in current Western culture as a sign of the wrath of God, who is allowing it to collapse under the weight of its own sin. A kind of delusion and lunacy has taken hold that reminds one of a rabid animal madly running around in circles. Rabid animals are not to be engaged; flee from them!

Much as in the days of Noah, our job may well be to hunker down and preserve the faith from the flood of rebellion. Scripture says,

The nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality. The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown wealthy through the extravagance of her luxury. Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven …” (Rev 18:3-5).

I will punish Bel in Babylon and make him spew out what he has swallowed. The nations will no longer stream to him. And the wall of Babylon will fall. Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the Lord. But do not lose heart or be afraid … (Jer 51:44-46).

In the months and years ahead, the priority for many in the Church may shift to a protective stance, a kind of hunkering down while God’s judgment brings an end to the evils in the cultures and nations around us.

This of course is not the usual stance of the Church, which ordinarily is to be zealously evangelical. But even the first evangelists were told by Jesus that in the face of fierce opposition to the Gospel they were to flee: When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another (Matt 10:24). There are times to hole up in the enclosure of the ark in order to preserve the life and light of the Gospel and then emerge again when the storms of destruction have passed by.

What does all of this mean to you? You must decide. Some may be called to isolate their families in order to preserve them from the caustic culture. Others may be called to engage with this world and seek to save as many as possible. But increasingly, the Church is simply not going to be able to make the compromises that the world will require.

Isaiah’s prophecies are not merely locked in the past; they are operative now as well.

In the video below, Bishop Robert Barron does a wonderful job of describing this stance (hunkering down) that the Church must occasionally take. It is a stance that is less one of hiding thank of preserving the faith so that it can be set loose later, with its purity still intact.

Excerpt from America, Suffering, and the Mystery of Evil

by Father Richard G. Cipolla

To read this in context, go here.

And the same is true in our own time. But in a different way. We always assume that human tragedy of any sort can be ultimately explained by man’s refusal to let the other “be”, by man’s refusal to accept the other as he is without any moral judgment, to adopt the new golden rule: let others be as they want to be and be happy about yourself and about them. But closer to home: how can the contemporary Catholic confront Baton Rouge or Minnesota or Dallas or 9/11 or Newtown? Or how can they confront physical disasters that cause suffering and death? They are powerless before human tragedy because they have forgotten what is the heart of the matter, what is the heart of the Mass, which is the terrible sacrifice of the God in the flesh to his Father. They are the product of years of the reduction of the Mass as a dialogue between Father as Sister Mary Principal and the smiling flock, the priest who lulls them to sleep by avoiding the terrible challenges of the very gospel readings that he reads at Mass, those readings, those words of Christ that tear apart any attempt to tame the terrible force of sin and death. Father helps them to forget, to forget Jesus’ terrible shudder at the tomb of Lazarus, and instead indulges in sanctimonious and sentimental feelings, slipping into the role of the sleek anchor:  why, oh why, why?.. there is no explanation for this, for this carnage, for this hatred, for this death, all we can do is to somehow hug each other and move on. All this because they have forgotten the terrible reality of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the God-man who suffered infinitely and who died a terrible death on that Cross precisely because of the human condition that is held in bondage by the power of sin that leads to death.

It is there that we encounter the heart of human reality; there is the deepest heart of the darkness of the human condition, and it is the Cross that is the only answer to the tragedy of the human condition, but it is an answer that the world has always and will always reject, because the mystery of evil and the mystery of love cannot be separated, and it is only love, even and especially within the darkness of evil, that can make sense of the human condition, from the garden of Eden to Baton Rouge and Minnesota and Dallas. And it is not love in general, it is not exhortations from well meaning people to love each other, it is not those in the Church who would deny the real tragedy of the human condition in the name of mercy: it is only and singularly the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ that is the answer to the ultimate mystery of evil and death. But this is not an easy answer. It is does not give us a quick high. But it gives us an access to a depth that is infinite and yet accessible. And it is precisely here at this Mass that the ultimate mystery of the sacrifice and death of God and the offering of the Son to the Father within the inexpressible beauty of this Mass makes sense and touches us in places that we never even knew existed within us.

Read more.

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Love Lightens Every Load – A Homily for the 15th Sunday of the Year

By: Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

One could easily reduce today’s Gospel to trite moralisms: Help people in trouble; Be kind to strangers; etc. While these are certainly good thoughts, I would argue that it is about far deeper things than human kindness or ethics. This is a Gospel about the transformative power of God’s love and our need to receive it. It is not a Gospel that can be understood as a demand of the flesh.

Let’s look at the Gospel in three stages.

I. The Radical Requirements of Love – As the Gospel opens, there is a discussion between Jesus and a scholar of the law as to a basic summation of the law. The text says, There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

The Shema, a summary of the law known to every Jew, is quoted by the scholar. Note how often the word “all” occurs. There is a radical nature to the call of love that cannot be avoided. When it comes to love, the requirement is not to give what is reasonable, to give a little, or perhaps to give a tithe. No, the call is to give God all our heart, mind, being, and strength, and to love our neighbor as though he were our very self.

As we shall see in a moment, our flesh recoils at this sort of open demand; immediately we want to qualify it and quantify it somehow. The flesh seeks refuge in law, asking, “What is the minimum I can do while still meeting the requirements?”

But love is by its very nature open-ended and generous. Love is extravagant; it wants to do more. Love wants to please the beloved. A young man in love does not say to himself, “What is the cheapest gift I can get her for her birthday?” No, he will see an opportunity to show his love; he may even spend too much. Love does not think, “What is the least I can do?” Love thinks, “What more can I do?” Love is expansive and extravagant.

And thus the great Shema speaks to the open-ended and extravagant quality of love.

But the flesh, that fallen and sin-soaked part of our nature, recoils at such expansive talk and brings out the lawyer in us, negotiating for lesser terms.

II. The Reductionism that Resists Love After giving the beautiful answer about love, the lawyer (and there is a lawyer in all of us) now reverts to form and speaks out of his flesh. The text continues, But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In other words, he wants to say, “Look, if I have to love my neighbor, let’s make this category as small and manageable as possible.”

Note how quickly he has retreated into a kind of fearful reaction to the broad expanse of love. His fear is likely rooted in the fact that he has reduced the Shema into a moralism, as if he could pull the whole thing off out of his own power. And so he recoils and demands more favorable terms of surrender. Because he thinks he has to do it all, he needs to get its scope into the range of something he can manage on his own. Perhaps he is willing to consider the people on his block to be his neighbors, but those two or three blocks away? That’s just too much.

The fearful lawyer in him has started negotiating a kind of “debt relief.” He seeks to “define down” the category “neighbor.” But the Lord is not buying it; He will expand the concept even further than the Jewish notions of the day.

To be fair to the lawyer in this passage, there is a lawyer in all of us, negotiating for favorable terms. And while it is not wrong for us to ask for some guidance in specifying the law, we all know that the lawyer in us is really trying more to evade the demands than to fulfill them.

In a way we are all like the typical teenager. Every teenager is a natural lawyer. Give a teenager a rule and he will parse every nuance of it in order to evade its demands or to water it down.

Some years ago I was teaching 7th grade religion in our parish’s Catholic school. I told the kids, “Do your work … and no talking!” Within moments, a young lady started singing. Interestingly, her name was Carmen (which means song in Latin). When I rebuked her for breaking the rule she replied, “I wasn’t talking; I was singing … and you didn’t say anything about singing.”  Yes, she was a natural born lawyer.

I remember my thoughts when I was in high school: I couldn’t break the 6th Commandment (forbidding adultery) because I wasn’t married and certainly wouldn’t be intimate with a married woman since they were all “old.” Yes, the lawyer was at work in me, but was answered by Jesus in Matthew 5:27-30.

This is how we are in our rebellious, fearful, and resentful flesh. Hearing a law, we go to work at once and seek to over-specify it, to parse every word, to seek every nuance so as to evade its intent in every way possible. If we are going to follow it at all, we’re going to try to find a way that involves the minimum effort on our part.

So often Catholics and other Christians talk more like lawyers than lovers: “Do I have to go to confession? How often? Do I have to pray? How long? Do I have to give to the poor? How much? Why can’t I do that? It’s not so bad; besides, everyone else is doing it.”

Sometimes, too, we seek to reduce holiness to perfunctory religious observance. Look, I go to Mass; I put something in the collection basket; I say my prayers. What more do you want? Perhaps we think that if we do certain ritual observances (which are good in themselves) we have bought God off and do not need to look at other matters in our life. Because I go to Mass and say a few prayers, I can put a check mark in the “God box” and don’t really need to look at my lack of forgiveness, my harsh tongue, or my lack of generosity.

This is reductionism. It is the lawyer in us at work, seeking to avoid the extravagance of love by hiding behind legal minimalism. It emerges from a kind of fear generated by the notion that I must be able to do everything on my own, by the power of my own flesh. But that’s not possible. You can’t pull it off on your own. But God can, and that is why He commands it of us.

Our fleshly notions have to die. Our spirit must come alive with the virtue of hope that relies trustingly on God’s grace to bring out a vigorous and loving response in us. Law and the flesh say, “What are the minimum requirements?” Love says, “What more can I do?” This is the gift of a loving heart that we must seek.

III. The Response that Reflects Love  The Lord then paints a picture of what his love and grace can do in someone: Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

There is a very important phrase that must not be missed, for it gives the key to the Samaritan man’s actions: “[he] was moved.” Note that the verb “was moved” is in the passive voice. That is to say it was not so much that he acted, but that he was acted upon.

More specifically, love and grace have moved within him and are moving him. The Greek verb here is ἐσπλαγχνίσθη (esplagchnisthe), a third person singular passive verb meaning “to be deeply moved” or “to be moved to compassion.” The verb is also in the aorist tense, signifying that something has happened but also that it has a kind of ongoing

Why is this phrase “was moved” so important? Because it indicates for us the power of the gift of grace. So many of our fears about what God asks and what love demands are rooted in the idea that we must accomplish them out of our own flesh. No, that is not the Gospel. In the New Covenant the keeping of the Law is received, not achieved. The keeping of the commandments is a work of God within us to which we yield. To keep the commandments and to fulfill the law is the result of love, not the cause of it.

We do not know the Samaritan’s history; the Lord does not supply it. And because this is only a story, the Samaritan is only a literary figure.

But for us the teaching must be clearly understood: Our receiving and experiencing of love is and must be the basis of our keeping of the law. Experiencing and receiving God’s love for us equips, empowers, and enables us to respond extravagantly as joyful lovers rather than as fearful lawyers.

Love lightens every load. When we love God and love other people, we want to do what love requires. Even if there are difficulties that must be overcome, love makes us eager to respond anyway.

When I was in the 7th grade, I found myself quite taken by a pretty girl named Shelly. I was quite “in love.” One day she was walking down the hall trying to carry a pile of books to the library; I saw my chance! I offered to carry those books at once. Now I was skinny as a rail with no muscles at all, and in those days the books were heavy. But I was glad to do it despite the effort. Love does that; it lightens every load and makes us eager to help, even at great cost.

Perhaps it’s just a silly story of an awkward teenager, but it demonstrates what love does. It “moves” us to be generous, kind, merciful, patient, and even extravagant. We don’t do what we do because we have to, but because we want to.

The Samaritan in this story, was “moved” with and by love to overcome race, nation, fear, and danger. He generously gave his time and money to save a brother and fellow traveler.

Let love lift you. Let it empower you, equip you, and enable you! Go to the Lord and pray for a deeper experience of His love. Open the door of your heart and let the love of God in. Go to the foot of the cross and remember what the Lord has done for you. Let what He has done be so present in your mind and heart that you are grateful and different. Let God’s love come alive in you.

As a witness, I promise you that love lightens every load and makes us eager to keep the commandments, to help others, to forgive, to show mercy, to be patient and kind, and to courageously speak the truth in love to others. Yes, I am a witness that love can and does change us. I’m not what I want to be, but I am not what I used to be. Love has lifted me and lightened every load of mine.

Again, today’s Gospel is not a mere moralism. The main point is that we must let the Lord’s love into our heart. If we do, we will do what love does and we will do it extravagantly—not because we have to, but because we want to.

The grace of love lightens every load and equips us for every good work.

This song says, “More of his saving fullness see, more of his love who died for me.