Father Donald Senior, CP

Oct. 25: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Everything depends on this 

Ex 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40

Catholics can be proud of the church’s social teaching. Built up since the end of the 19th century, this body of teaching brings the values of the Gospel and our Catholic tradition to bear on the key issues of our society. 

Two qualities run through this social teaching. One is the conviction that our Christian faith involves more than our individual welfare. It is, after all, not simply a matter of “me and Jesus” but Jesus and all of us. Second, Catholic social teaching intends to engage not just Catholics or Christians but all people of good will who make up the human family. 

Generally, the church’s teachings on social issues avoid using only biblical and Christian terms in grappling with our problems and possibilities. Key terms such as “the common good” or the “principle of subsidiarity” are meant to communicate convictions rooted in our faith in ways that will also be comprehensible to thoughtful people of all faiths and of none.

I thought of this in view of the fundamental Scripture readings assigned for this Sunday. The heart of the matter is Jesus’ teaching about the “greatest commandment in the law” from Matthew’s Gospel. A scholar of the law asks Jesus a key question (one often discussed in the Judaism of Jesus’ day) to test him: “Which commandment is the greatest?”  

Jesus’ response goes right to the heart of God’s commands: “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 the first commandment,” Jesus tells his questioner. But immediately he adds a second that is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus adds a powerful conclusion: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Both parts of Jesus’ response come from the Old Testament — the command to love God with all your being from Deuteronomy and the command to love your neighbor as yourself from Leviticus. Scholars tell us that fusing these two commands into one set of sayings is a special characteristic of Jesus’ teaching without any clear precedents. All of God’s commands — everything asked of us as human beings — are to be an expression of love.

That command of love is parsed in a very human way in the first reading from the Book of Exodus. Here we find the famous triad of “the widow, the orphan and the stranger” found in several passages in the Pentateuch or Jewish Law. 

The context is the instructions God gives to his people at Sinai as he reveals to them his commands. The Israelites are told “not to molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in Egypt.” “Don’t wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” 

And, in very touching language, the transcendent God tells his people that if you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge on a loan, be sure to return it before sunset “for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has to sleep in?” Please, care for the vulnerable, God seems to say.

Pope Francis restated all of this in his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (On Fraternity and Social Friendship). “Often nowadays we find neither the time nor the energy to stop and be kind to others, to say ‘excuse me,’ ‘pardon me,’ ‘thank you.’ Yet every now and then, miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled. Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared.”


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