30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
One of the most important things to keep in mind
in order to find happiness in this life and the life to come
is the idea of keeping our priorities straight.
And using these priorities to shape and focus everything else in life.
This is the only way to make life both more understandable and peaceful:
remove or reduce everything that doesn’t fit with your priorities.
We might say: put first things first.
That’s what today’s Gospel is about.
A Pharisee scholar asks Jesus:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
In other words: “what’s the priority?”
“Which commandment helps us understand all the rest?”
And Jesus doesn’t skip a beat, but responds immediately:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,… soul, and …mind.
This is the greatest and …first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
What He’s done is lay out priorities, or principles.
And the most basic first priority or first principle is:
“love God totally.”
And from that it naturally follows:
“if you love God, you have to love your neighbor,
because God loves them.”
That’s pretty much common sense, at least to Christians.
And these are the first and second priorities or principles
that govern every human life.
But these 2 principles aren’t anything new with Jesus.
Because He’s actually quoting the Old Testament
in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19,
where we find these 2 “great commandments”
laid out to explain and summarize the TEN Commandments.
So what we have here is a first principle,
“Love God with everything”
which is explained by the 2nd principle of
“love your neighbor”
and both are explained more particularly in these
10 sub-principles, the 10 commandments.
So that the 10 Commandments can only be understood
as how you love God and neighbor,
and the next level of fundamental principles
that govern all other practical choices in life.
Many seem to think that loving God and our neighbor
override or even abolish, the 10 Commandments,
Of course, Jesus rejects that idea, saying elsewhere:
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;
I have come not to abolish them …but to fulfill them.”
And He says: “If you love me you will keep my commandments…”
And, when the rich young man, asks Him:
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus tells him:
“…keep the commandments:
‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, ….” etc.
In other words, first things first, follow the 10 commandments… of love.
Still, many people have some very strange ideas of the meaning of “love”
—ideas that radically contradict these principles.
One of the most bizarre of these is the notion
that 2 men, or 2 women,
can love each other the same way a man and a woman, husband and wife,
love each other.
Some even say, the Bible doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with this.
That little commandment #6, right after “You shall not kill”
the one that tells us “You shall not commit adultery.”
What do they think “adultery” is?
Again, going back to Leviticus, chapter 20,
God gives us a list of the acts that He includes
under the broad category of “adultery.”
And there we find listed, right after incest and before bestiality, this:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman,
both of them have committed an abomination;
they shall be put to death.”
[Now, Christians would interpret this to mean “eternal death,”
in other words, it’s a deadly, or “mortal” sin
—let’s not be stoning people for there sins!].
But in other words, homosexual acts are against the 6th Commandments,
and therefore are contrary to God’s definition
of loving your neighbor.
Now some might say, well, you can believe what you want,
but we can’t make laws just based on what the Bible says.
But the thing is in the case of these fundamental principles
the Bible only clearly states what every human society has always believed
and what any rational human bein should recognize as self-evident in nature.
This is what is called the “law of nature” or the “natural law.”
Another bizarre notion of love today, is that if we love women,
we will respect a woman’s right to choose to abort their babies.
But this is neither love or respect.
The very first commandment Jesus quotes to the rich young man is:
“you shall not kill.”
We need to remember that in every abortion there are at least two victims.
Most people don’t think about how the woman is victimized in abortion.
The mother, who by her very nature loves the baby in her womb,
but is so often she is coerced by others
into believing her only choice is to kill the one she loves.
Words can’t describe the deep wounds she suffers from her choice,
wounds that will fester for years to come.
True love and respect demand that
we not lie to our mothers, sisters and daughters any longer.
But of course, even more than that,
love and respect demand that we not allow doctors
to kill any more of our unborn babies.
The commandment “you shall not kill” is the fundamental principle
protecting innocent human life:
you cannot love God or your neighbor
if you intentionally kill innocent people.
And, again, this not just a matter of Scripture:
it is a basic principle of the natural law that all men should understand.
In less than 2 weeks Virginians will elect a new Governor and other state officials.
In every race in this area one candidate is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage,
and the other candidate is pro-abortion and pro-“gay agenda.”
How should Catholics, and other rational Virginians, cut through the confusion
to make these decisions?
Simple: put first things first.
The first principle to “love your neighbor”,
must be central to political choices and actions.
And certainly the commandments not to kill or commit adultery must be as well.
These, then, are the first principles of our political choices,
and all choices we make must be consistent with them,
flow from them, and protect them.
And in the coming state elections
we have clear choice when we apply these principles,
particularly when it comes to 2 issues:
abortion and so called “gay rights.”
So, how should we choose who to vote for?
First things first.
What are our priorities?
What are the priorities of the candidates?
Are they in line with the principles of Christ and nature,
or do they oppose them?
First things first:
love our neighbor,
do not kill innocent human life,
do not commit adultery in homosexual acts.
How can we vote for candidates who reject the most fundamental human principles,
and hold the direct opposite priorities?
I can’t even begin to think of how anyone can do that.
Some would say, but Father there are other issues we have to consider.
What about the economy and jobs?
And what about health care, immigration, discrimination, the environment ….
Don’t those involve those same principles?
Loving God and neighbor, and the Commandments?
Yes–but not as directly or with the same priority or in the same order
as abortion and the gay agenda.
For one thing, for all of these other problems
there is not one clear objectively determined solution.
As long as at every step along the always we strive to love our neighbor
and protect his life and health…
people of goodwill can differ on our practical solutions to these problems.
In the end it goes back to “first things first.”
Under the principle that “you shall not intentionally kill an innocent life”
is the sub-principle that we must also not
even intentionally injure or harm our neighbor.
And under that comes a lesser sub-sub-principle
that we should also try to take care of our neighbor in need:
to feed him when he’s hungry, to clothe him when he’s naked.
But first things first:
if innocent people don’t have the right to life,
they lose the right not to be injured,
and of course the right to be helped in need.
You don’t have a right not to be injured or to be helped when you’re dead.
Or look at it another way: which is most important, or fundament?
If you had the choice between someone killing you
Or someone hurting you or “oppressing” you, which would you choose?
Or if you had the choice between someone
beating you up or simply not giving you food,
which would you choose?
Better to be alive with a black eye and an empty stomach, than to be dead.
So first, don’t kill innocent people.
Then, don’t hurt them either.
Then, do what you can to get them a job, or give them health care, or whatever.
First things first: priorities and principles.
For example, take the issue of illegal immigration.
In the first reading today, God commands us:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien.”
But what if that alien breaks the law, what if he steals something,
or even murders somebody?
Alien or natural born citizen, you break the law, you can be punished
—in the Old Testament God is very clear
in commanding punishment for various crimes.
And he’s also very clear in explaining that just punishment is consistent with love
toward both the law-breaker and the victims of his offenses.
God doesn’t stop loving when he punishes,
just as parents doesn’t stop loving their kids when they punish them.
So, in the case of illegal immigrants,
we must strive to love them,
and, of course, we must not kill them, or physically or emotionally abuse them,
and we must care for their genuine needs,
but we can disagree on whether or not
we should arrest them and deport them
or let them stay here and give them a path to citizenship.
But comparing that issue, as some try to do,
with abortion or even same-sex marriage,
is a case of equating first principles to merely personal opinions:
it makes no sense.
And equating them is not the teaching of the Church,
no matter what any priest or bishop might say.
We can disagree, and still respect and love each other.
As we continue with this holy Mass,
let us pray that in the hectic confusion of our daily lives
the Lord may grant us the grace to always remember His priorities,
and make truly them our own:
the most basic principles
of loving God and neighbor, and keeping the commandments,
taught by Christ and his Church
and by nature and reason.
And let us pray that in the coming days Our Merciful Lord will give us
not the leaders we deserve, but the leaders we need.
May Virginians, and all Americans, always remember: put first things first.