Long live Christ the King! Homily for 11/25/2018

Dan 7:13-14;  Rev 1:5-8;  Jn 18:33-37

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and celebrated each year on this last Sunday of the Church’s calendar, to emphasize that Christ is king of the universe, and that He’ll establish His rule forever at the end of time. So what does this feast commemorate? Well, in the early 20th century, leaders and nations were ignoring Christ’s authority, and restricting the Church’s power to continue that authority. Sure, 100 years later, the same problems remain. But after experiencing the horrific atrocities of WWI, Pius XI and many others had witnessed the rise of non-Christian dictators in Europe, who tried to assert authority over the Church. The same continues today in Mexico, Venezuela, China, and other countries. It shows that when rulers refuse to obey God’s authority and deny Christ the king, then secularism and injustice are the results. Pius XI understood this a long time ago. At first, this feast can be puzzling to us because the idea of kingship is outdated in our modern world. And we don’t have many historical examples of truly sacrificial rulers. And since Jesus came in poverty and humility, it’s easy to lose sight of His authority and kingship. But this feast day reminds us that, objectively, Christ is king. He simply is. All people, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. And “once we recognize—both in public and in private life—that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony” (Pius XI, Quas Primas, 19). But until that time, we inherit only war and discord. Pope Pius XI hoped the institution of this annual feast would have several effects: 1) That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (QP,32)—and yes, this includes religious freedom, which is under attack, even in our own country;  2) that leaders and nations would see that they’re bound to respect Christ as the true ruler (QP,31);  and 3) that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the yearly celebration of the feast, since we remind ourselves that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (QP,33).

And it’s this third point that I’d like to address: that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. So, does He? Is He the king of our entire lives? It’s one thing to hear others say that Christ is king. But Jesus directly asked Pilate, as He asks each one of us today: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” It’s easy to say that Christ is king, but do our decisions align with that truth? To find out, let’s look at these four aspects of the human person (heart, mind, will, and body):

1) Jesus must reign in our hearts, which should love God above all else, including all earthly possessions. If we truly believe that Jesus is our king, then we have to learn from the gospel today that His “kingdom does not belong to this world.” And since his kingdom is spiritual, we can enter it only “by faith and by baptism, which, though an external ritual, signifies and produces an interior cleansing” (QP,15). That’s why a regular sacramental life is so important. God’s divine life comes to us through outward signs, which we call “sacraments.” Yes, our faith is internal, but it’s lived out through external observances, things like receiving the sacraments frequently, doing works of charity. And that’s why it’s a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a good reason. And no, sports is not a good reason. Believe me, I love sports—I play and follow them regularly—but if Christ is our king, then He must be the first priority in our lives. So let’s be generous with our time—to show that God is the most important to us.

2) Christ “must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths of Christ” (QP,33). Jesus tells us today that He came into the world for this one purpose: “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [His] voice” (Jn 18:37). A good definition of truth is the “conformity of the mind with reality.” The mind doesn’t create truth or reality, but rather it understands and accepts it. And for this reason, truth can’t change; truth isn’t relative. Reality—and morality, for that matter—can’t be true for one person and false for another. That’s why it’s so sad to read stories and statistics about a priest or bishop being unfaithful to their sacred promises, or that a majority of married couples use contraception, or that countless dating or engaged couples live together before marriage, thus putting their eternal salvation and their future marriage in grave peril. Or that only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Once again, we don’t create reality; rather, it comes to us from God, who calls us to a higher standard than sin and falsehood.

Ultimately, the truth is a Person, Jesus Christ. Pontus Pilate chose to deny Him, but do you and I live the truth that comes through Christ and His Church? If we belong to the truth, then we must listen to the voice of Jesus, even if His words may be difficult to accept. The truth about the dignity of human life. The truth that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. The truth about the intrinsic evils of abortion and artificial contraception. And the truth about the boundless mercy of God in the sacrament of confession. Each day, our free choices determine whether we accept the truth of Christ, and whether we’ll enthrone Him as our king.

3) Jesus “must also reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God” (QP,33). As king, Christ is a “law-giver, to whom obedience is due” (QP,14). This isn’t blind obedience, but Christ’s rule actually enables us to live in freedom, freedom from sin. God’s commands aren’t burdensome, because He gives us His grace to be faithful. Like the rules of the road, God’s commands are in place to help us all get to our final destination safely. But also like traffic laws, disobeying God’s commands is dangerous for ourselves and for others. No, we don’t understand everything perfectly, but as St. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus exercises his kingly power through His Church, which bears witness to the fullness of the truth in love.

Finally, Christ “must reign in our bodies, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls” (QP,33). The human body isn’t ours to misuse through pornography and abuse. We aren’t our own property, for Christ has purchased us “with a great price” (1Cor 6:20)—His very life. Therefore, our bodies are the “members of Christ.” So we should glorify God with and in our bodies.

In the end, the banner of the kingdom of Christ is the cross; Jesus reigns from the cross. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak often about the kingdom of God: it’s like a mustard seed, a landowner, like yeast, like a treasure buried in a field; these gospels abound with images of the kingdom. But John is different; John uses the word “kingdom” only twice . . . only twice, that is, until chapter 18, which is the start of Jesus’ Passion. And in today’s gospel, the word “king/kingdom” is at the fore, because Christ reigns from the cross. And what’s written at the top of every crucifix? The letters INRI, the Latin abbreviation for “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” An eyewitness to this scene, St. John specifically tells us that this inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. These were the languages of the three major civilizations that Jesus encountered during His life on earth. How fitting, then, that these three were united by the cross—such that any passer-by at that time could read and understand that this was Jesus, a king. Although Pontus Pilate and the Romans meant to mock Jesus with this title, they unknowingly proclaimed Him to the world as the true king. But God went one step further: He used a cross (the universal sign of shame) to be the symbol of the world’s salvation. Celebrating today’s feast helps us to appreciate Christ, not as an oppressive dictator, but one who died out of love for us, and whose mercy endures forever. By His coming, Christ radically transformed the concept of kingship. He gave his life on the cross, and through the kingly power of truth and love in his cross, He has conquered the world. And when we submit to the sweet yoke of Jesus, who sets us free from slavery to sin, we become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. As a confusing and very difficult Church year draws to a close, we begin the Advent season next Sunday, a season marked by hope and expectation for the coming of Christ. So today, we remind ourselves of the tender love and mercy of God, but also we should examine ourselves to see whether Christ is indeed the king of every aspect of our lives. And we can draw courage from the heroic martyrs of the Mexican Revolution 100 years ago, by repeating their motto in our own day: “Long live Christ the King!”

The Mass as a Sacrifice, and the Four Last Things. Homily for 11/18/2018.

Dan 12:1-3;  Ps 16;  Heb 10:11-14;  Mk 13:24-32

To put this gospel in context, Jesus has just arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. There’s a sense of expectation in the air as He prepares to enter the city in triumph. Instead, Jesus predicts a time of great destruction: “The sun will be darkened, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…” He’s addressing two events in particular: the destruction of the temple, and the end of the world. But these ideas are connected because, in the Jewish mind, the temple was a miniature of the universe: “Images of the stars and constellations were embroidered on the temple veils; the seven lights of the menorah represented the sun, moon, and the five known planets” (Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 267). And since the temple stood for the universe, its destruction would be of cosmic proportions. This prediction was fulfilled in the year 70AD, when the Roman armies demolished the temple, permanently ending the old covenant sacrifices. All that remains of the temple today is the Western (or Wailing) Wall, that supported the temple itself. And if the Western Wall was merely the supporting wall, it shows what a great marvel the actual temple was. Yet even the vast temple was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt. One stone was not left upon another.

But this physical destruction was part of God’s plan because, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, ushered in the new covenant. He is the new temple and the Lamb of sacrifice. The daily animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed forward to the one, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, as our second reading said, “For by one offering [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” So you and I are included in the one sacrifice of Jesus, which replaced the many sacrifices of the Old Testament. And that’s exactly what we offer in every Mass: the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner. Not that Jesus is killed over and over again. But rather, His one sacrifice, offered at a specific time and place in history, is re-presented on this altar sacramentally. Jesus lives outside of time, so His sacrifice isn’t limited by space and time restrictions. Such that if we close your eyes, we can imagine ourselves—here and now—being present on Calvary, because, in reality, we are there. The Catholic Mass is the high point of Christian worship because it’s Christ’s sacrifice, not simply a communal meal or gathering. The prayers, especially the Eucharistic prayer, are replete with sacrificial language: offering, oblation, unblemished sacrifices, pure/holy/spotless Victim. To skip out on Sunday Mass means to devalue—in our minds, anyway—the dignity and worth of Jesus’ sacrifice, which is being offered in this church right now. That’s astounding(!)…and people say Mass is boring. That’s because the focus easily slips into the human realm. We don’t account for the multitude of angels adoring our Lord here. Yes, we want the human component to be excellent: the music, the vestments, the surroundings . . . the homily. But when it comes down to it, the liturgy is the work of God, not human beings. That’s why the Mass is absolutely essential for us, and why the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.

As the days get darker, and the weather gets colder, our gospel about all the chaos points to the end of the world. We’re drawing very close to the end of the liturgical year. But instead of trying to predict the future, we should prepare for it; Jesus is calling us to be ready. So we must stay awake, spiritually speaking, if we want to secure an inheritance as God’s children. In addition to readiness, Jesus also promotes courage. He predicted the evil times that His followers would face—we’re still living through them now—but the Lord’s definitive triumph is assured. The wicked will receive a stern judgment at the proper time. But for the suffering Church on earth, persecution will give way to ultimate joy. So we continue to hope in the midst of this present darkness.

Where do we go from here? The Alleluia verse gives us the answer: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you may have the strength to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21:36). Concretely, we can be vigilant by meditating frequently on “the four last things”: Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven. First, Death. Very soon, as Jesus said, He “will come in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.” So let’s consider our entire life right now.  In a very short time, we’ll return to the dust of the earth; our life passes in the blink of an eye. And we’ll leave everything else behind. So are we more concerned about temporal or eternal realities? Is our focus more on an earthly hobby or career, or on where we’ll spend eternity? Meditating on death isn’t a morbid exercise, because all of us will die. But that’s our gateway to eternal life with God. However, if we’re not at peace with God now, then the prospect of death is a terrifying reality. But developing our relationship with Him through daily prayer heightens our readiness for when that moment comes. “Remember you must die” is a good phrase to keep before our minds each day.

Secondly, Judgment. Yes, Jesus is a friend and teacher who enlightens us, but He’s also the Son of Man who brings definitive judgment on the earth. As our first reading said, “Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” At the judgment, we won’t be able to make excuses or ask for more time to repent. Our actions on earth will be weighed on the scales. Do we tremble at the prospect of standing before Jesus the Judge? The image of Jesus-as-judge isn’t easy to accept, but the Jesus of our somewhat-frightening gospel is the same Jesus whom we profess in the Creed each Sunday, “will come to judge the living and the dead.” How different this picture is from a ‘nice Jesus’, who some say doesn’t care what lifestyle they live! On judgment day, Jesus won’t look kindly on some of the things we and others have done. So the prospect of a future judgment should call us to conversion now, by inspiring in us a holy fear of God, and by casting ourselves on His mercy. In fact, one great way to overcome the sin of sloth—or any sin, for that matter—is to meditate on judgment day; that should get us moving.

Thirdly, Hell. Let there be no mistake: hell is real and its punishment is eternal. Hell is that sad and lamentable state of eternal death, the eternal separation from God (CCC1035). To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means to be separated from Him forever by our own free choice. There are no second chances after death. But “God predestines no one to hell; for this a mortal sin is necessary, and persistence in that sin until the end” (CCC1037). If someone is so hardened against God’s love and commandments here on earth, why would that person suddenly want to live in His presence after death?

Purgatory, although not strictly one of the four last things, isn’t so much a place, but a state of purification. It’s for those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but are still imperfect in some way. They’re assured of eternal salvation, but after death, they’re purified to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. In Purgatory, God prepares that soul in its festive garment, so that it can fittingly enter the wedding feast of the Lamb. And right now, we can help these poor souls by offering prayers and Masses on their behalf.

Saving the best of the four for last, we consider Heaven. Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ (CCC1023). In heaven, we shall see God as He is (1Jn 3). As we heard in our first reading, “The wise will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament.” Heaven is perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity, the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme and definitive happiness (CCC1024). Ultimate joy and peace with God forever!

So today, Jesus advises us to get our priorities straight, by focusing the most important things, like where we’ll spend eternity. It’s a simple fact that we find time for what’s important to us, whether it be work, sports, technology, or other hobbies. So why not prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, and fellowship in the Church? Despite the impending destruction, Jesus gives a word of great encouragement: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” So let’s take His word to heart by meditating on the four last things (death, judgment, hell, heaven), and realize our lofty calling from God, who wishes all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:3-4). And we’re called to live saintly lives of prayer and virtue here on earth, so that when we die, we may pass over to the heavenly realities which we offer on this altar, the memorial of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Be grateful. Be generous with God. Homily for 11/11/2018

1Kgs 17:10-16;  Ps 146; Heb 9:24-28;  Mk 12:38-44

How often do we thank God? Amid our crosses and difficulties, we’ve all received tremendous blessings from God: the gift of our lives, our family, our faith, the example of Jesus and all the saints. Each new day gives us many opportunities to pick one of two routes to take: 1) to trust in the Lord and to count our blessings, or 2) to focus on ourselves and complain about what we don’t have. So will we be generous with God or will we grasp onto our material possessions?

Our readings present two utterly poor widows, who both trusted completely in God, and who were praised and rewarded because of that trust. They didn’t hesitate to spend what little they had on God. In the first reading, Elijah tells the widow not to be afraid to share her meager possessions (some flour and a little oil). On a natural level, Elijah’s request seems cruel and selfish; he was taking the last bit of her food! But without God, where would she be anyway? Elijah is challenging her to show her faith, which is what actually saves her and her son from starvation. She took a major risk, but because of her trust in God, she received a great miracle. The Lord will not be outdone in generosity.

In the gospel, Jesus watched how the crowds put money into the treasury. At that time, the copper coins would reverberate in the trumpet-shaped receptacles, thus drawing attention both to the gift and the giver. A bigger gift was better noticed. However, the widow contributed only a few pennies, which didn’t add up to much, but it was her entire livelihood. For example, she gave two coins, when she could’ve given just one. Such reckless generosity mirrors Our Lord, who emptied Himself completely by taking our humanity and submitting to death on the cross. So Jesus commended her for her sacrificial offering—the Son of God paid her a high compliment: “This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” God notices how we use our possessions, and He especially sees the intention with which we give. We’re stewards of our gifts, not owners, so we need to be generous in giving them away, in putting them at the service of God and others. Are we being generous with the Lord, and for the correct reasons? Or do we rely on ourselves and act selfishly toward God and others?

The widow’s hunger in the first reading is an analogy for her hunger for God. The Lord was going to help her, but He was waiting to see if she trusted in Him. And only when she gave her all, did God reward her abundantly. Her trust outweighed her poverty; we might even say that her poverty enabled her to trust. So why does God allow poverty and suffering? Well, the quick answer is that there are grave pitfalls in riches and comfort: “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23). In riches, we tend to trust in ourselves, but in poverty, we can only trust God. We have to! It’s often our poverty that enables God to bless us with true riches; our emptiness allows Him to do his work. But so many rich people live empty lives, devoid of true happiness, because they don’t have God alive in them.

Jesus Himself is our model for generous giving. As Christians, we know that the standard of greatness isn’t earthly riches, but the Cross of Christ. Look at the generosity of Jesus: even when He was dying on the cross, He gave us the wonderful gift of His Blessed Mother. In His extreme poverty, there was nothing greater that He could give! But then, even after His death, Jesus gave his Sacred Heart to be pierced by the soldier’s lance. And from that Sacred Heart—which was broken because of our sins—from that Sacred Heart, flowed out blood and water, the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments: the water of baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist. Baptism, which welcomes us into the family of God. And the Eucharist, by which Jesus enters inside us to transform us from within. Such that St. Paul said with great confidence: “It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). St. Paul was a poor man who suffered a lot, yet he was transformed by the riches of God’s grace. For him, everything was a gift from God.

So let’s cultivate the virtue of gratitude. Like any other virtue, gratitude grows when we practice it each day. Yes, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving Day in a few weeks. But every day should be a day of thanksgiving. The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”, and the Eucharist is offered every day. But are we truly grateful for the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that we’re privileged to receive? Do we prepare ourselves for Sunday Mass by praying throughout the week? Gratitude helps us to focus on the good in our own lives, and the good in other people. It means to recognize that we aren’t the source of that goodness; God is. And when we focus on what we have received, we tend to complain less about what we don’t have. Finally, gratitude includes thinking of the needs of others, and using our gifts to help them. Give until it hurts…because if it doesn’t hurt, then we’re still giving from our surplus wealth. But if it hurts—when we make that sacrificial offering of ourselves—then we’re learning to trust in the Lord and to contribute from our poverty, as the widow did in the gospel. Very rich people can easily afford to be generous-givers, since they suffer no real loss in doing so. But a poorer person who gives despite a deficiency is ultimately the more generous giver. And God will reward that person abundantly.

On the Day of Judgment, we’ll have to render an account for what we were given here on earth: our time, possessions, all our blessings and talents. How sad it would be if we were left speechless at this moment because we had failed to use God’s gifts wisely. The poor can’t repay us, and so it’s good to be indebted to them, because God covers the debts of the poor. Besides, Jesus reminded his followers that His gifts are meant to be given away: “Freely you received; freely you are to give” (Mt 10:8). We didn’t earn the love or friendship of God, so we shouldn’t count the cost in being generous with God and others. In the end, God isn’t going to ask we how much money we earned; it’s more likely He’ll ask what we gave away. And not so much the amount, but the intention with which we gave. So generosity goes beyond money; it includes prayer and good works. For example, contributing our time, which is probably the most valuable thing at our disposal. So maybe we could teach in our religious education program, volunteer in our school or food pantry, or sign up for a weekly hour in our adoration chapel. For our high schoolers, this could mean coming to summer Workcamp or our Sunday evening youth group to learn more about faith and service. For everyone, it means giving God his due in daily prayer. God can transform what may seem insignificant, because God sees the heart, and the spirit with which we give

Elsewhere in the gospel, Jesus said, “Much will be expected of the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12:48). We, who’ve been blessed with much, need to open ourselves generously to God and others. If we’re too filled with money and material possessions, then there’s no room for God. But if we learn to be generous with God in prayer and with our possessions, as the two widows were, we realize the truth that God never fails. Of course, this takes trust, and trust involves risk. So, are we willing to risk everything for God? Will we be generous with our time and possessions, so that God can fill us with Himself? Today, let’s thoughtfully meditate on these questions, because our eternal salvation depends on getting the answers correct.

Examine your conscience before God. Homily for 11/4/2018

Dt 6:2-6;  Ps 18;  Heb 7:23-28;  Mk 12:28-34

A scribe, a scholar of the law, asked Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Perhaps this was a test or a genuine inquiry to see Our Lord’s worth as a Rabbi. There were over 600 commandments governing Jewish culture and worship, and it was easy to get bogged down. Jesus summarizes all of these commandments in the two great commandments, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, Jesus isn’t talking about superficial love, but the self-giving and unconditional love that He shows us on the cross. It means to love as God loves, to will what He wills. Jesus was a man of virtue, the beatitudes, and prayer. And if we truly love God, then we’ll strive to do the same—we strive to keep his commandments. Jesus once said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision, an act of the will. Sometimes love will come naturally, accompanied by affections that come easily. More often, though, love will be sacrificial and maybe even painful. But if we’re faithful even when it’s difficult, then we know that we’re loving as Jesus loves us.

1) The first commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.” Jesus is directly quoting from our first reading (Deuteronomy chapter 6), which every devout Jew prays daily. Originally living among people who worshipped multiple gods, the Jews reminded themselves each day that there is only one God. And this first great commandment is spelled out in greater detail by the first three of the 10 Commandments. 1) Have no false gods. Do we worship the false gods of consumerism, video games or other technology, sports, or food and drink? A good test is to ask ourselves: “How do I spend my free time?” And then, “How much of that time do I give to God?” Sure, healthy rest and recreation are necessary for human flourishing, but it can easily be taken to an extreme, to the detriment of our spiritual life. 2) We never use God’s name casually or as a curse. If we’re doing this, then it’s time to repent and change that sinful habit. 3) Keep holy the Sabbath. This means worshipping at Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, and making family activities central to the Lord’s Day. The presence of God must be in our heart, mind, and soul; God must be priority number one.

The second great commandment is “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, Jesus quotes the Book of Leviticus (19:18), and by doing so, He completes the first commandment. Taken together, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” Our love for God must overflow in our love our neighbor, and our love our neighbor must be built upon the foundation of love for God.  To deny one is to deny both. St. John said in his first letter, “It’s impossible to love God whom we don’t see, if we don’t love others whom we do see” (1Jn 4:20). In other words, our love for God is measured by how we treat others, beginning with the members of our own family. And here we turn to the remaining seven commandments of the Decalogue, beginning with the fourth: Honor your father and mother, and by extension, those in authority. Fifth: we do not kill the innocent through willful murder, which extends to abortion, euthanasia, abusing drugs or alcohol, gossip, and harming one’s reputation. Sixth: we do not commit adultery, whether physically through fornication, or spiritually through pornography. Seventh: we do not steal, which includes vandalism and cheating. Eighth: we do not bear false witness through lies, fraud, or deceit. Ninth and tenth: we avoid jealousy, envy, and complaining about the good fortune of others. This is a consideration of the commandments from a “negative” perspective. Of course, we can and should examine our consciences positively: Am I speaking up for innocent human life, living chaste and fruitful marital love, respecting truth and justice? Am I content with what I have from God? How am I living the virtues, such as obedience, purity, honesty, generosity? Do I sacrificially love my family members and treat them as if they were Christ Himself?

It’s striking that when Jesus is asked about the “law,” He responds with “love,” showing us that law and love can never be separated. Today, we tend to separate the two. And maybe we even fall into the trap that “loving someone” means manipulating them or allowing them to wander into sin. Or that keeping God’s commandments will limit our freedom or make us unhappy. Not at all! Jesus has called us to live in the freedom of the children of God (Gal 5:1). But we can’t use that freedom as an excuse to sin. In Jesus’ day, there were many people who obeyed even the strictest commandment of the law, but they lacked charity towards others. So St. Paul says that “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:8). Just as we can’t separate the two great commandments, neither can we separate law from love.

The scribe in the gospel understood that love and obedience are worth more than all the animal sacrifices in the world. And so Jesus, while praising this insightful comment, also proposes a challenge: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”…. implying that he’s not in it yet. As Christians, we strive for the kingdom of God by keeping the commandments, but we go deeper than the surface level, all the way to unconditional, sacrificial love of God and neighbor. True love knows no limits, because Jesus Himself is the standard.

We can’t separate our faith from our decisions. That’s why it’s always so absurd when a politician says that faith won’t interfere with the policies he or she supports. Our faith is part of who we are, so it must inform the decisions we make. We must never choose intrinsically evil acts, because they’re always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Several of these evils include abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex unions (masquerading as “marriage”). The life issues receive top billing, because the right to life is the basis of all other rights. Every human person, born or unborn, is a great gift from God and has a fundamental right to life. “Abortion denies this right to an entire class of human beings, and therefore, permitting it is gravely unjust and fundamentally at odds with the concept of equality” and human dignity (VA bishops). So we can never support the taking of innocent human life, either personally or by our vote. Our vote matters; it has moral consequences because we’re supporting the political positions of that particular candidate. Are we willing to stake our eternal salvation on a candidate and platform that denies a person the fundamental right to life? A candidate who claims to be Catholic, but supports everything contrary to the faith is living a lie. And someone who votes “no” simply to oppose another without hearing him out, someone who so ardently champions the killing of unborn babies under the guise of “health care” or “reproductive rights” is violating both the fifth and eighth commandments. We need to inform our consciences in accord with the truths of our faith, and hold our candidates to the standard of love of God and neighbor. “A well-tuned conscience is shaped by prayer, the sacraments, learning and discerning the issues at hand, and finally, by understanding the guiding principles of our faith” (VA bishops). So yes, our faith is absolutely essential to the decisions we make, and that includes at the polls.

What can we do right now, especially in these next couple days? 1) Pray and fast. These spiritual practices have produced miracles throughout the Bible and in later Church history. Pray the rosary, and entrust our country and its leaders to Our Lady. 2) Do our homework by informing ourselves on the issues and platforms—not the soundbites, not the 30-second commercials. And I highly recommend checking out www.vacatholic.org.  3) Vote in a way that reflects the dignity of the human person, the common good, and love of God and neighbor. And we can’t forget the law of love, which should guide all of our thoughts, words, and actions. We must show charity for all, even to those with whom we disagree. All people are created in God’s image and likeness, and they deserve our respect, our patience, and our prayers. Moses reminded us that keeping the commandments is necessary for us to enter into the Promised Land (Deut 6). So now is the time to put God first, and to recommit ourselves to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. And to love our neighbor as ourselves, so that we might be counted among the elect in the kingdom of heaven.