02 September 2012

Homily - 2 September 2012

The Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In 1939, the Ministry of Information of the United Kingdom printed a poster that has recently become rather well-known.  With a simple red background and a crown, the poster carries these words: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  They were intended to be used in the event of an invasion of the Sceptered Isle as a means to remind the people to keep their composure despite the difficulties and setbacks that had befallen them and may yet still come.

Each of us needs such reminders from time to time about how we are to live.  For this reason, Moses presented the Law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, but these stone tablets proved – all too quickly – to be insufficient reminders (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1).  So it was that the Lord God announced, “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

Saint James refers to this law when he urges us to “humbly welcome the word that has been placed in you and is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).  In these words, we hear the echo of the words of Moses: “Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples” (Deuteronomy 4:6).

If we wish to be “truly wise and intelligent,” we must follow the “light silent sound” of this word speaking within us (I Kings 19:12).  But if we are to hear this voice, we must be still and silent ourselves.  As Monsignor Nicola Bux has recently observed, “The soul is not for noise and debate but for recollection; the fact that noise bothers us is a sign of this.”[1]

In the quiet of our hearts we continually hear the Lord Jesus saying to us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34). 

The love that Jesus has given to us is no mere emotion, no passing sentiment.  It is authentic love; it is the desire for the good of the one who is loved and a willingness to obtain that good for them, even if it means sacrifice.  By giving his life on the Cross, the Lord Jesus has shown us the path on which we are to walk if we wish to arrive at the Father’s house.

To love, then, as Jesus loves us, we must love without condition and without reserve; we must hold nothing back and give all of ourselves for the good of others.

Our beloved Saint Damien shows us the way forward, he shows us how to love.  Father Damien said, “I would gladly give my life for them.  I do not spare myself when it is necessary to go on a sick call that takes me twenty to twenty-five miles away.”  Too often we are all too ready to spare ourselves.  Through the example of Father Damien, we learn how to love others more than ourselves and to put their needs before our own.

Blessed Marianne, too, shows us how to carefully observe the command of love.  She said, “I do not think of reward; I am working for God, and do so cheerfully.”  Too often we desire credit or recognition for the good we do, and this often leads to much frustration.  Through the example of Mother Marianne, we learn the importance of humility in love.

If we truly seek to love both God and neighbor in every aspect of life – in matters both important and insignificant – we must, as the Psalmist sings, do justice and live in the presence of the Lord (cf. Psalm 15:1).

Justice, simply put, is giving to each person what is owed to him.  Every person, because he is made in the image and likeness of God, deserves to be loved and treated with charity, to be welcomed and loved as Christ Jesus personally welcomes and loves each one of us.

As simple as this is, it is not always easy to do, as we know all too well.  In moments of frustration, of disappointment and of anger, we too readily cast aside our love and think too much of ourselves.  In these moments, the Lord Jesus could rightly say of us, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” because we fail to give the love we have received; we fail to do justice (Mark 7:6; Isaiah 29:13).

Because we do not want to the Lord to speak these words to us, we should keep ever before us the admonition of Saint James to “be doers of the word and not hearers only” so that we might simply talk about living justly but actually live justly (James 1:22).  Both Father Damien and Mother Marianne were doers of the word and not hearers only; you and I must follow in their footsteps, in humble and total love.

A few days ago I walked past a young man wearing a t-shirt that read, “Keep Calm and Live Pono.”  That simple phrase stuck with me.  It is taken, in part, from that poster of the Ministry of Information and, of course, from the motto of the Kingdom and State of Hawai‘i: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina i ka Pono,” “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”.

Pono is generally translated as either “righteous” or “righteousness.”  Biblically speaking, to be righteous is to live in right relationship with God and in right relationship with man, it is to live as one should be living.  As you know, pono can also mean goodness and morality and duty and virtue and proper.  In short, we might well say that to live pono is to live justly and we know that the “one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”  So it is that we could paraphrase the motto of Hawai‘i: “The life of the Christian is perpetuated in righteousness” because the one who lives justly will make their way to the Father’s house.

To live pono is to live a life of love, a life of aloha; it is to conform ourselves always to Christ crucified, to love as he has loved.  It is this law that has been placed within us and that we must observe carefully because it will save our souls.  May the Lord strengthen us in this holy endeavor and bring us safely into his presence.  Amen.

[1] Nicola Bux, Benedict XVI’s Reform: The Liturgy Between Innovation and Tradition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 149.

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