Wednesday, October 19, 2011

St. Paul de la Croix - Sunday 30A: Double Love Commandment

Saint Paul de la Croix, le fondateur de l’Ordre Passioniste, a enseigné l’amour de la Sainte Passion comme le remède le plus efficace pour tous les maux du monde. Sainte Gemma Galgani a pris ces enseignements à cœur et a offert ses grandes souffrances pour la conversion des pécheurs.

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Saint Paul of the Cross, Priest

May the Priest Saint Paul whose only love was the Cross, obtain for us your grace, 0 Lord, so that, urged on more strongly by his example, we may each embrace our own cross with courage. Through our Lord.

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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "A") - October 23, 2011


         [Texts: Exodus 22.21-27 [Psalm 18]; 1 Thessalonians 1.5-10; Matthew 22.34-40]

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain a wide-ranging set of prescriptions for ordering God's covenant community.  While a casual observer may be overwhelmed by these commandments and ordinances, careful study uncovers patterns that organize the statutes God gave to Israel.

In the central section of Exodus, research into the text reveals that the content of chapters 20.22-23.33—material which follows the Ten Commandments—may be grouped under the rubric, “the Book of the Covenant”, a term used in 24.7.  Similarly, chapters 17-26 of Leviticus have become known as the “Holiness Code”.

Within this “Book of the Covenant”, there are many sub-divisions.  The verses read at Mass today seem to form a series of commands and prohibitions that have as their goal the protection of defenceless and disadvantaged members of Hebrew society.  One writer (I. Lewy) has called these a “Torah of humaneness, justice and righteousness”, anticipating the concerns for social justice proclaimed by the prophets.

What is striking about the first concern—relating to that of the stranger in the land—is that it evokes Israel's own experience of the same condition:  “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt”.

It is as if a preacher today reminded his congregation, as it reflects on the place of refugees and [illegal] migrants in their society, that, in the past, their forebears, too, were immigrants, perhaps even destitute ones.

Feeling sympathy for what one knows another must be enduring, because one has been there oneself, opens up the line of thought with which the passage will conclude, God's feelings:  “If your neighbour cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate”.

Newcomer aliens, equivalently tourists of ancient times who stayed on in the land they were visiting, often found themselves without national, family, trade or professional connections.  Thus they were open to abuse, exploitation and maltreatment.

As this line of thought gets developed, members of the Israelite covenant community are told not to mistreat, humiliate or weaken their own kin who have become subject to similar mistreatment when a death of the male in the family rendered them widows or orphans.  For the Lord God has pledged to be their protector.

As the prescriptions continued, we learn that what God had commanded as treatment for the foreigner, the orphan and widow, should also be extended to the poor.  The truly destitute poor were to be treated as members of God's family and not as beneficiaries of a commercial loan transaction (“if you lend money to my people—to the poor among you—you shall not deal with them as a creditor”).

When a cloak is given in collateral, it could be seen as highlighting the personal dignity of the one borrowing rather than for its slight monetary advantage accruing to the money lender.  When necessary, the lender should take thought to restore the cloak before sundown to the one borrowing money, as it might be the person's only cover against the night cold.

Sensitivity to the needs of the other in the covenant code of Exodus prepares for the teaching of Jesus about loving God totally (“with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”) and one's neighbour as oneself.  The first and great commandment is to love God with all one's being, however one wishes to define this (mind, heart, soul, strength, and so on).

Jesus calls this command to love God completely “the greatest and the first commandment”.  His answer would have been perceived as a good one by the Pharisees, for it included the duty to obey all God's commandments.

Then Jesus proposed a second commandment “like it”, citing Leviticus 19.18, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.  This two-fold love of God and one's neighbour became the ground of all New Testament ethical teaching.

Jesus observed that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.  Earlier, he had noted that the law—such as the prescriptions of Exodus—and all the prophetic teachings find their synthesis in the “Golden Rule” (“in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” [7.12]).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this reflection. It hearkens to what I think is the most misunderstood area of church teaching, namely, the social doctrine. Would that more of our efforts to aid the poor, the displaced, the mistreated, etc..., including in our international relief efforts (Caritas International) better grounded in a visibly Christian commitment. Too easily the social doctrine gets politicized. However much it might have implications for public policy, as John Paul made very clear, the social doctrine is theology, and moral theology in particular.