“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, as usual, Jesus gives us a teaching which is beautiful, and which is elegant…and which is incredibly challenging to follow. What he’s doing today is showing us that there are three big commandments that he’s linking together: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. These absolutely, necessarily must go together; they are inseparably linked. Love of God cannot exist apart from a love of neighbor, and love of self makes no sense without love of God. If someone claims to love God, that invisible love can be verified in some visible way by the way they treat their neighbor. What a great teaching!
Now if only it were that easy. If only it were as simple as just loving God and loving neighbor with no complications, with no challenges, with nothing but rainbows and butterflies in our hearts. Unfortunately, sometimes our faith gets lost in the abstract, and so we might embrace the concept of loving God and neighbor, but we might not really know what it looks like in our own lives. Who is our neighbor? How do I love God? How do I love my neighbor? How do I love myself? Can I love God, and still do such-and-such to my neighbor? What does all this look like?
One great example we have in the Church is St. Martin of Tours. He’s one of my favorite saints, and might have been my confirmation saint, but my mom pointed out that “Martin” was a weird confirmation name. St. Martin was a Roman officer in the 4th century who had just begun receiving instruction in the faith as a catechumen. On one cold winter day, he was returning to the city gates with his patrol on horseback, and he saw a poor beggar. The man was dressed in rags and literally had nothing. St. Martin stared at him for a moment, then dismounted, took off his military cloak, drew his sword, and cut the cloak in half. With a smile, he gave half his cloak to the beggar, and rode into the city, thinking nothing of it. But that evening, he received a dream of Christ appearing to him, surrounded by the angels and seated on his glorious throne in heaven – but he was wearing the half-cloak that Martin had given to the man. St. Martin realized at that moment that Christ was present to him in that poor man. He learned that love for God and love for neighbor are two sides of the same coin and can never be separated.
Now I’m not telling everybody to cut their sweaters or jackets in half this morning, but we can care for our neighbors in other ways. We can be people who give service or money to the poor. We can offer support for a family who we know is suffering from a spouse’s severe illness. We can say a kind word to a coworker who is visibly having a rough day.
Again, however, if only loving God and our neighbor were so easy. One of the ways that all of us have to show our love to God and neighbor is coming quickly this Tuesday on election day. Now, let me offer you a disclaimer. This is what I’m not: I am not a political analyst. I am not an employee for a candidate or party or political action committee. I am not telling you to vote for one candidate or political party. That is not my place, and the Church recognizes that it is not a political entity, so it doesn’t have the authority, the expertise, or frankly, the time to do that. This is what I am: I am a happy Catholic. I am a proud American. I am your priest. And even though most of you have several years on me still, I am your spiritual father. It’s from the love and concern that I have for you as your priest and spiritual father that I speak to you about this topic today. Just for your information, and so you know I am not making this up, I am taking my lead from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
We are only 2 days away from election day – thank you, Baby Jesus! The last several months have been filled with speeches, debates, ads, conflict, and controversy, and if you’re like me, you’re starting to get sick of it all by now. And yet, it’s extremely important that we’re active in the political life of our country by voting, while at the same time, faithfully carrying out what Christ and the Church ask of us. Remember that love of neighbor is tied to love of God, so we can’t simply stop being Christians when we’re doing our civic duty.
When we hear that generic call of Christ to love our neighbor, our faith demands that we do all we can to protect the rights and dignity of all, especially our neighbors who are poor and vulnerable. Like who? Who are our neighbors? Our neighbors are the unborn child in the womb, the poor father struggling to find work and his family, the elderly woman who finds herself in a nursing facility, the immigrant who struggles to feed a family of three, the veteran suffering the mental and physical effects of war. There are a lot of pressing issues that affect our neighbors as well:
- Abortion and other threats to life and dignity
- Efforts to force Catholic agencies and ministries to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need if they aren’t deemed “Catholic enough”
- Efforts to redefine marriage and undermine it as an institution for the common good
- Economic crisis which has devastated homes, put parents out of work, and our duty to respond in ways that responsibly protect the poor and future generations,
- Failure to repair a broken immigration system in a way that will respect the law, while at the same time respecting the dignity of these immigrants and their families
- War, terror, and violence that threaten our lives and the lives of so many others throughout the world
Clearly, some of these issues involve a clear obligation to oppose things that can never, ever be justified.
Can we just worry about God on Sundays and worry about our neighbors later? Absolutely not. We’re called to use the framework of our Catholic tradition and teaching – a tradition that has been around far longer than any political party or candidate, I might add – and examine candidates, positions, and issues. It’s important that we see beyond party politics and personalities, and choose our leaders according to principles, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.
I challenge you to let your love of God inform your love of neighbor in this election. Read some Catholic publications and columns about the issues. Listen to what our archbishop and the other American bishops have repeatedly and consistently taught us. Stay informed as to what the candidates are saying. Most of all: pray, pray, pray. Pray for the wisdom to make good and moral choices, pray for guidance for our country, and pray for those who are elected, whoever they will be.
Brothers and sisters, now is the time for us to show why we’re here. We’ve heard the commandments of Christ to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves. Let us now pray that we might have the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in recognizing who our neighbors are, and how we are to serve them. And through our visible love for others, may we reflect the invisible yet abiding love that Christ has for each of us.