Priesthood Ordination Homily
July 10, 2022
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
What Must I Do?
In today’s Gospel, a scholar of the Law of Moses tested Jesus by asking him, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus responded by asking the scholar how he would answer his own question. The scholar replied correctly by quoting a Scripture passage that Jews recite daily as part of their morning and evening prayer: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all you heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” . . . and he added, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approved of this answer and urged the scholar to live the law of love. Love of God and neighbor is indeed the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10), and even more importantly, the path to life everlasting.
But if we really want to understand the scholar’s response, we need to keep two things in mind: First is that we are incapable, solely on our own, of loving God and neighbor. We can love God only because God first loved us, a truth that is proclaimed and taught throughout the Scriptures. Scripture shows us the many ways God manifested his love for his people: by revealing himself to them through his powerful Word and Spirit; by giving them the Law and the Prophets; by showing mercy when they went astray; and by working signs and wonders in their midst throughout history. It was because God loved his people first that they could love him in return, and extend that love, not only to relatives and friends, but also to strangers, orphans, the poor, and the sick.
Second is that Jesus Christ embodies God’s love for his people and for all humanity. In our 2nd reading, St. Paul addresses Christ Jesus as “the image of the invisible God”, as the One through whom all things were made, as the One in whom ‘the fullness of God’s love dwelt,’ as the One who came to make “peace by the blood of his Cross” (Cf. Colossians). In a word, Jesus perfectly reflected and fully personified the Father’s merciful love, a love he unleashed in the world by his saving Death and Resurrection, a love that is ‘poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5).
So, the first question that should preoccupy us is not what we must do to inherit everlasting life. Rather, the true starting point is God’s love for his people and for each of us, and the question we must face is whether we are open to encountering his love. Indeed, loving God and neighbor truly becomes possible only when, as Mother Teresa often said, we “give God permission” – that is to say – when we allow God to enter our busy and distracted lives so as to love us and to heal us.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
All this is crucial to a right understanding of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the story Jesus told to illustrate what it means to love and to care for our neighbor, the story by which he definitively expanded our understanding of who our neighbor is. Listening to this parable, we admired the Samaritan, didn’t we? Even though he was considered not only an outsider but indeed an enemy, it was he, and not the priest and not the Levite, who took care of the man on the roadside who had been beaten and robbed. We’d all like to think that we’re like the Good Samaritan, who would stop to help a friend, an enemy, or a stranger in trouble, not merely by calling 911, but by generously tending to such a person.
Sadly, we sometimes are not very good Samaritans. We may go out of our way to avoid a homeless person on the street, fearing that he or she will ask us for money or harm us. We may find ourselves resenting immigrants, heedless of their plight. So too we may avoid spending time with the troubled or a person with dementia, because we fear it would be awkward . . . this list could go on and on. Like the priest and the Levite, we may hurry along our way. After all, we need to get on with our day; we need go about our business. . . . Now, if we find this tendency in ourselves, how then should we apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to our lives? Should we simply chastise ourselves for failing to love others and resolve to do better? Yet, how easily we break our good resolutions! . . . Perhaps a better way to take the parable of the Good Samaritan seriously is to think of ourselves as the one in that story who needs help! Should we not see ourselves as that person lying on the road, robbed and half-dead?
If we identify with the victim, we will come to know who the Good Samaritan really is. It is not really us, but the Lord Jesus Christ, whose heart is full of mercy. Isn’t it Lord Jesus who picks up when we lose our way and are injured? When we are beaten down because of our sins and robbed of God’s grace? It is Jesus, who speaks to us ‘words of spirit and life’, words of mercy and forgiveness; Jesus who, through the Sacraments, cleanses the wounds of our existence, and pours into them the healing and soothing balm of his Father’s mercy. It is Jesus who hoists us, not on a beast of burden, but on his own shoulders, and brings us to the shelter of his Church of which he is the head, the Church famously described by Pope Francis as “a field hospital”. In a word, Jesus Christ is the prototype of the Good Samaritan. He is the One who loves us back to life and health, if we but give him permission!
“Go and Do Likewise”
When, in the Holy Spirit, we give Jesus Christ access to our soul, by an examination of conscience and by a heartfelt confession of our sins, then we gain the vision and strength we need to live the Law of Love. When in prayer we allow the Holy Spirit to flood our minds and hearts with God’s love, then our eyes are opened to the neighbor who needs our help, our limbs are strengthened so that we can go in our neighbor’s direction, our spirits are liberated so that we can speak words of comfort to our neighbor, our hands are untied so that we can bind up the wounds of the suffering persons we meet along the pathways of life.
Yes, when the Spirit of the Lord is truly at work in us, we more easily recognize those in need as our neighbors. It might be a spouse, a son or daughter, a relative, friend, or co-worker. It might be a homeless person, or an immigrant, a victim of racism, or a single mom facing a difficult pregnancy in need of our love and help. It might be a fellow parishioner or someone who turned to the Church for assistance. But it could also be an enemy, someone who has treated us unfairly; or it could be a perfect stranger, or a person whose life is very different from ours, a person who, in our limited vision, we might have regarded as hopeless. Just as the Lord never gives up on us, so too we must never give up on those we meet who need of our help.
We do not need look far to see how we can be “Good Samaritans”. Need is all around us: it is palpable, heartrending, and inescapable. As we enter upon a new week, filled both with routine and with challenges, may we find the grace, right here in the Eucharist, to manifest God’s love for us by offering our love and kindness to those around us. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!