Do Something Loving for Our Neighbor

A woman had three-preschool children (aged 5 months to 4 years) who made every day an adventure.  One morning, her 4-year-old started following her unrelentingly!  When she stopped, he’d run into her; when she turned, she’d trip over him.  “Wouldn’t you like to go outside and play?” she asked.

“No, I’d rather be here with you,” he replied.

And so it continued, until finally she asked, “Why are you doing this?”

“Well,” he said, “our teacher told us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.  But I can’t see Jesus’ footsteps, so I’m walking in yours!”

So where are our footsteps leading? — Wherever it is, someone is almost certainly following us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If you want to be happy; LOVE GOD with your whole heart; and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR as you LOVE YOURSELF.”

In saying this, Jesus is not saying anything revolutionary!  Jesus is not even saying anything that those who wished to trip Him up had not already heard many times before! — In answering the lawyer’s question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?”  Jesus simply quotes the prayer said by every pious Jew at the beginning of each new day (the “Shema”) which says that we must love God with every ounce of our being. — And then, Jesus takes it one step further by quoting from the Jewish Scriptures – (Leviticus l9:l7): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, says the Lord.”

By combining these TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS; Jesus speaks a TRUTH that goes right to the heart of what it means to be HUMAN!  — As far as Jesus is concerned, these TWO LAWS: love of God; and love of neighbor; are supposed to DIRECT and SHAPE: every WORD we say; every THOUGHT we think; every CHOICE we make; and every ACTION we take!

Jesus’ RECIPE for happiness and a fulfilled life calls for EQUAL AMOUNTS of: LOVE for GOD – LOVE for NEIGHBOR – and LOVE for SELF! — HOWEVER, even though all three expressions of love are INSEPARABLE; in the interests of time, I’m going to concentrate on just ONE: the “Love of neighbor!” — (Because, while we live on earth, the ONLY CONCRETE WAY we can show our love for the God we can’t see, is by loving the neighbor that we can see!)

During the past month and a half we have heard about, and read about, and seen on television, the true-life heroics of countless men and women, who have risked their own lives coming to the aid of those in need.  Think about the heroes who waded through rising waters to rescue those stranded by the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean!  Think about those searching through the rubble and unstable buildings in Mexico, searching for the victims of the devastating earthquake!  Think about the First Responders – (the medics and police) – running toward the gunfire in Las Vegas – and the fellow-concert-goers risking their own lives in an attempt to get the wounded to safety!  Think of the Firefighters in Napa and Sonoma and Anaheim, selflessly battling some of the worst fires in recent memory……..

Think of the ordinary citizens like you and me who have responded to these tragedies by gathering water and food and clothing to send to the victims, and by donating blood as well as millions of dollars to help those devastated by these tragedies to rebuild their lives!  As I mentioned three weeks ago, the children of our Academy raised over $1,000 for the relief of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey – and our parish family raised an additional $16,000-“plus” for those victims, as well as for  the victims of:  Hurricanes Irma, and Marie and the earthquake in Mexico.     

Each of these things, (physical and monetary), is a stunning example of what (tonight’s/this morning’s Gospel) is all about!

When Jesus “COMMANDED” us to love our neighbor, he was COMMANDING us to ACT LIKE our Father GOD, who is constantly at work in this world, giving the GIFT of NEW LIFE! — When you and I OFFER: kindness, understanding, compassion, forgiveness or material assistance to someone in need; OR simply offer a sympathetic shoulder to “cry on,” you and I are ACTING LIKE GOD — we are offering our neighbor the gift of NEW LIFE!

Each and every time that you and I accept the responsibility of helping to care for those in need: – when we bring food or clothing for the Christian Community Service Agency; when we take aSaturday to help build a house (or houses), each year, for Project Mercy; when we donate to Casa de los Pobres; or to the Missions (as we were asked to do on Mission Sunday); when we adopt anunderprivileged family from Bayside for Christmas; or serve a hot meal at Fr. Joe’s Village; when the children of our Academy fill a car to the ceiling with diapers and formula and baby clothes for Birthline;or raise thousands of dollars for Raidy Children’s Hospital; when we rise to respond to a parish appeal; WHENEVER you or I share some of our TIME, our TALENT and our TREASURE … we are practicing GOOD STEWARDSHIP! — We are loving our neighbor as ourselves in the CONCRETE — we are FULFILLING Jesus’ GREAT COMMANDMENT OF LOVE — AND we ARE LOVING GOD! – Because, as I said earlier, it was Jesus, himself who asked: – “How can you say you LOVE GOD who you can’t see; when you fail to love you neighbor who you can see!

AND, as TRISH MCCOLL reminded us last weekend, and as (hopefully we have all learned from personal experience), when we GIVE, we RECEIVE!  (Oftentimes more than we’ve given!) — And in giving, we become NEW in some way!  And, over a lifetime of acting in a “loving” way – (over a lifetime of “giving”) – we will end our lives MORE FULL of REAL LIFE than when we began! — THAT IS THE MIRACLE OF LOVE! — THAT’S WHY JESUS tells us today that LOVE is absolutely ESSENTIAL for FULFILLMENT and HAPPINESS in this life; and as a PREPARATION for the life to come!

So, even though you or I may not have yet “MASTERED” the art of “loving our neighbor” as well as some; WE CAN still TRY to DO SOMETHING LOVING FOR OUR NEIGHBOR – today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and each and every day! — And we will do this by using whatever gifts and abilities God has given us – (some very ordinary; and some extraordinary) — but ALL essential —  to build up GOD’S KINGDOM here on earth — all essential to make this world of ours a little better place in which to live – for ourselves and for future generations! 

WHERE are our footsteps leading? — An important question for all of us to ask; because someone will certainly be following!

Read the Lay Witness Talk