“The Lord’s way is not fair!” I go to church every weekend, I pray all the time (well, at least, when people are watching). Everyone can see that I belong to three ministries here at the parish. I talk the Jesus talk, but I’m still so unhappy. I always seem to be down and lonely. I harbor bitterness and resentment towards others, even those in my family. Why is God so unfair to me?
The Lord asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord challenges us to look deeply into the mirror to find the painful answer, and then we learn the truth. Actions speak louder than words. “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.” In other words, I can't blame God for the misery in my life caused by my own sinfulness.
Of course, we are speaking of a spiritual death here. We can be physically alive, but spiritually dead. Spiritually dead means we are separated from God and from His sanctifying grace. Not because God wants to punish us, but because we haven freely chosen to abuse our freedom by living against God. In so doing, we close ourselves off from God’s love and mercy.
Too often, we look for happiness in all the wrong places…pursuit of wealth, fame or power…in material things, lustful relationships or addictions. Our hearts will never rest until they rest in the Lord. Can’t blame God for our spiritual death, any more than we can blame Him for getting a bad grade in school or for getting fired from a job.
Thank God, neither physical death nor spiritual death need be permanent. St. Augustine said, “Everyone who sins, dies. But the Lord, by his great grace and great mercy raises souls to life again, that we may not die eternally.” This is the meaning of the cross.
Throughout human history, our ancestors sought to atone for their sins. They offered animal and human sacrifices and burnt offerings to appease the gods they offended. But no matter how unblemished the ram or pure the virgin or innocent the child, these sacrificial offerings were never enough to atone for human sin or to reconcile humanity with God.
So, in the fullness of time, God sent us His only Son who laid down his life in atonement for our sins, so that we might never die, but have eternal life. It is this sacrifice that we offer at every Holy Mass. We offer a sacrifice of bread and wine, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. And we offer our treasure and our hearts when we lift them up to the Lord. Our imperfect sacrifice is then joined with the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s Passion and death on the cross, and then the priest, standing at the Altar in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, says “Pray brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Father Almighty.” And we respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.” These are not just words; this is love in action.
The angels of the Lord take this holy offering to the Altar on High. In response to our praise and worship, we receive God’s sanctifying grace and his healing hands. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine we offered become the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation. We receive the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This sacrificial celebration results in a reconciliation of God and His Church, in the healing and strengthening of His people, and in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.
The Holy Mass is likened to a wedding banquet because the nuptial promises exchanged by Christ and his Church in the Liturgy effectively mirror the nuptial vows exchanged between a bride and her groom at the same Altar of Sacrifice. They offer their very lives to each other for all eternity. And all the family, the entire Communion of Saints, is present to celebrate this union.
Life is all about these kinds of love relationships. About establishing and maintaining good relationships with God and each other. All relationships have their ups and downs. Relationships become strained or even broken. But through His Church, God gives us these marvelous gifts we call the Sacraments. Gifts that give us the strength to forgive the unforgivable and courage to love the unlovable, wonderful gifts that help us heal our wounds and reconcile with God and each other.
On the night before he laid down his life for his bride, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them, “By this they will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” This is the very key to evangelization. We can preach and teach all we want, but if there is no love in our heart, it means nothing. We can wear rosaries around our neck and go to church every Sunday, but if there is no love in our heart, it means nothing.
As St. Paul told the early church in Corinth, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do have love, I gain nothing.”
When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was demonstrating the kind of love that is required of us. Not lip service, but a love that manifests through action…a humbling of ourselves so that we can effectively attend to the needs of others. This is the point of today’s Gospel, actions speak much louder than words. Words are cheap. Action is real, but it takes effort and commitment and sacrifice.
I’m reminded of a wonderful couple from our parish who, some years ago, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. When the wife spoke, she said, “Viejo, it’s been 50 years since the last time you told me that you love me. All I ask is that you tell me that you still love me.” The husband stood to speak, “Vieja, 50 years ago, I told you that I love you. If I ever stop loving you, I will let you know.” For 50 plus years, this Viejo walked the talk.
They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another. Not so much by what we say, but by how we live…by how we care for one another. Others are watching how we treat each other, especially our children.
As a father, one of my favorite “dad” songs is called “I want to be just like you,” by Phillips, Craig & Dean. Goes like this: He climbs in my lap for a goodnight hug. He calls me Dad and I call him Bud. With his faded old pillow and a bear named Pooh, he snuggles up close and says, “I want to be like you.” I tuck him in bed and kiss him goodnight. Trippin’ over the toys as I turn out the light. And I whisper a prayer that someday he’ll see. He’s got a father in God cause he’s seen Jesus in me.
Lord, I want to be just like you, cause he want to be just like me. I want to be a holy example for his innocent eyes to see. Help me be a living Bible Lord, that my little boy can read. I want to be just like you, cause he wants to be like me.