Archbishop Lori’s Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Athanasius Church, Baltimore
October 30, 2021

What the World Needs Now 

Those of us old enough may remember this refrain from a popular song: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.” I will spare you my rendition of this old Mo-Town favorite but it does seem like a good jumping off point for reflecting on today’s readings, readings which are all about love – love of God and love of neighbor.

In our angry and divided society, love seems to be in short supply. Whether in-person or on social media, people seem to be shouting at one another, and all too often, the shouting turns to violence and violence leads to death. Absorbing our daily dose of bad news, we can easily conclude that hatred has canceled out love and that violence has canceled mercy.

But just when we are feeling depressed about the lack of love in our society, something happens that convinces us that love is still alive. Such a thing happened to me last Sunday. While in Rome for meetings, I went with the new head of the Knights of Columbus to visit the Missionaries of Charity at their convent on the outskirts of the city. There, these sisters care for profoundly disabled children from Afghanistan, refugee children who had been abandoned by their parents on the streets of Kabul. The sisters literally rescued these children from the streets and when they could no longer remain in Kabul, the sisters brought them to one of their convents in Rome where they provide loving care for them day and night. Only a few of these children can speak; some cannot walk; another was blind; all of them need constant care and attention . . . all of them need love. And, in their own way, all of them return the love that is given to them. Walking into that room, my heart melted, my cares and concerns vanished, for I was in the presence of love … profound love of God and neighbor.

Heroic Love and Ordinary Love 

And we may say to ourselves, “Yes, there are people in the world who love heroically, but that’s the exception, not the rule – mostly, life isn’t like that.” In fact, that very thought struck me as we were driving back into the center of Rome. I thought to myself, those sisters love the poor and vulnerable heroically while the rest of us struggle just to be civil to one another. But when I took that thought to prayer, before the God who judges justly, I was overturned on appeal – the Lord subtly let me know I was missing the point. The point was not that the Missionaries of Charity are the exception to the rule but rather, if they can love heroically, we should be able to love in the little, ordinary things of daily life. Indeed, God calls all of us to a life of love, not merely a chosen few . . . and more than that, God not only calls us to love, he loved us first and best.

This is what the Scriptures are teaching us this Sunday. The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our great high priest – sinless, holy, undefiled. With complete love and generosity, he sacrificed his life for us on the cross, a sacrifice so good and complete, that he took away the sins of the world, once for all. The Lord who was innocent of sin died to save us who are guilty of sin and he continues, as our great high priest, to intercede for us in heaven. At the beginning of Mass, in the penitential act, we often address Jesus and say, “You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us, Lord have mercy!” At every Mass, we re-enact Jesus’ one sacrifice of love and thus the Mass remains for us the source of our love while the Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us when we have failed to love.

Love of God and Neighbor 

Basking in the very source of all love, both divine and human, we are well-positioned to listen again Jesus’ teaching on love. When a sincere scholar of the Law asked Jesus which are the greatest commandments in the Law of Moses, Jesus summed up the whole of the law in two commands everyone could understand. The first commandment is to love God wholeheartedly – with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. Here Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6, our first reading, a prayer called the Shema which Jews recite three times a day to remind themselves to love God wholeheartedly and above all else. By reciting it throughout the day, they kept their priorities straight. Loving God more than anyone or anything else is the first and highest obligation, and it is not only our first obligation but our greatest joy because our love for God is but a response to the love he first lavishes upon us. And God pours out his love upon us, not only when life is tranquil, but especially when we suffer or undergo hardships.

The second command, love of neighbor, flows from and is linked the first: we cannot love God wholeheartedly unless we love our neighbor as ourselves. What does this mean in ordinary daily life? We are to refrain from doing to others what we ourselves dislike, and to love our neighbor just as we might wish our neighbor would love us. The word “neighbor” means any person or persons close at hand. It could be a family member, a colleague, a fellow student, a fellow passenger. Love means being patient, kind, considerate, and understanding even when others do respond in kind to us. At times, love requires us to go way out of our way for someone else, even a stranger, or to repair a broken relationship, or to forgive another, or simply to hold our tongue, or to refrain from sending an electronic message that cause hurt to others. This is how we are to love one another, individually and as a community of faith.

What the World Needs Now 

Yes, what the world needs now is love and while we Christians may not have the answers to many of life’s problems, we have received from the Lord, in abundance, that love which the world needs. For that reason, we have responsibility to love – not only for our personal salvation — but indeed for because the Church is meant to be a great sign love, indeed, a light brightly visible piercing the gloom created by hatred. Our refusal to swell the rising tide of anger coupled with a daily conscious choice and effort first to love God and then to be a sign of God’s abundant love and mercy to those around us, helps the Church to be the bright light into day’s world while attracting others to Christ and to the faith of the Church.

Let us now open our hearts to the source of all love, Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.