How Do We "Love One Another?"

10-29-2017Pastoral ReflectionsFather Brian Manning

At Christmas time our parish participates in "the Giving Tree" which is a beautiful and wonderful way to remember others in need. What makes this such a wonderful charitable activity for all of us is the reality that no matter your financial means, you can choose an ornament that allows you to help. Sometimes in life we only see others who are better off than ourselves and judge that they should be the people to help. Our "Giving Tree" allows all of us to recognize that God has gifted each one of us and that we need to respond in charity to helping someone else. In recognizing that we all are called to help others, we can recognize that others feel pain and empathize with them despite our circumstances. Being empathetic allows us to understand about people who feel alienated or sorrowful or just "not like us."

In today's first reading from the Book of Exodus, we learn that God reminds the Israelites that they were once outsiders. They know quite painfully how it feels to be foreigners or aliens in a strange land, and therefore they should do nothing against the disadvantaged or people who are branded or labelled as "less." How quickly people forget that usually in their family history or their own personal history they were once outsiders, strangers or aliens in some way. First, second or third generation adult children often have scorn for most recently arrived immigrants, though often some of their family did not arrive "legally."

In today's Gospel passage we learn the answer of Jesus to another trick question from the Pharisees. How plain an answer it is! Jesus gives us God's greatest commandment: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love one another as we love ourselves … whether we've been where they are or not. And what possibly might this mean among many meanings?

Are you aware that many people are engaged in the helping professions? Educators, those working in the medical fields, counselors, priests and ministers, are only a few professions that are service-oriented. Are you aware that many of the people in these fields and others volunteer their time and talent to build up the reign of God by helping directly in their church or in their community? Many, many folks of all ages volunteer in our Parish.

Bear in mind that if we consider power and importance to be signs of strength, we miss the greatness of humility. Throughout the Gospels we listen to the passages about Jesus turning everything upside down with his ideas of the last being first and the humble being blessed. Clearly the words are confusing until you think about them a bit. This is the message that he expresses in Matthew's Gospel today. In order to be great in God's eyes, we need to love God and one another with as much love as we have for ourselves.

Most days, it is probably easy to love ourselves. But yet there are days when we are not so loveable. How do we think about and care for ourselves when we come up short of our expectations and disappointment clouds our vision? These are the very times when we need to know and feel God's love for us first and then return that love through prayer, quiet reflection, and outward-directed action. We need to nourish our soul so that we can love ourselves and pass that love on to others. Jesus showed us how to do this. In the Gospels we learn that he took the time to be alone, to pray and reflect. Jesus then used his recharged strength to reach out to others so that they might love themselves and others. In our humble service, we lift up our neighbors and they will in time pass on humble service to others. If you or I do not practice and do this, then who will? Sometimes the world can only be changed by what you do. Others may follow if you lead. Sometimes in life goodness cannot begin until you personally begin it.