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Our Commitment to Living a Life of Love – The Solemnity of Brotherly Love

In the month of September each year the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Brotherly Love.  This Solemnity which has its origins during the very early years of the formation of the P.N.C.C., reminds us never to allow a desire for revenge or to seek to harm another to overcome us, but rather to deal with all individuals with an eye towards love.  The teaching is brought to us through the Gospel reading of Jesus answering a question posed by a teacher of the law and a parable which follows it.

In His interaction with this teacher of the law, Jesus gives to us what we have come to know as “The Greatest Commandment.”  “There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Him and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law?  How do you read it?’  He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He replied to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25-28)

Now we see here a very well-known principle that is part of the teaching found throughout the Scriptures.  This duty to love God can be found, very explicitly, in Deuteronomy 6:4-5; “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”  This prayer is a part of the morning and evening prayers, “The Shema” of the Jews and, of course, this general teaching can be found in many places throughout the Scriptures.  The second part of the Greatest Commandment concerning the love of neighbor is also to be found within the rules of conduct in the Law; “You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart.  Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.  Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)

So we see here that the teacher of the Law knew the Scriptures and teachings of the Jewish people very well.  I am sure that the very same can be said of us as well within the Church today.  We have been taught from our earliest years to love God, to worship Him and make Him the center of our lives.  We have also been taught the Commandments and know that we should treat others with kindness.  I would even say that for most of our wider society, even those who do not acknowledge God, still have some sense that we should treat others fairly and kindly.  But  next comes the point that Jesus is actually trying to get the teacher of the Law to come to.  “Is this actually being done?”

When confronted with the idea that we actually must put the love of God and love of neighbor into action, we often find ourselves making excuses; we try to find some way to get out of what we know that we should do.  We see here exactly what is happening in the rest of the Gospel scene.  “But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Jesus replied, ‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him he passed by on the opposite side.  Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.  He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.  Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction. “Take care of him.  If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.”  Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’  He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:29-37)

This well-known parable reminds us that to just know the right things is not enough; we must in fact do them.  These last few lines of this parable have, for that reason, always been very poignant and meaningful to me.  “Who was the neighbor?  The one who showed mercy.”  Jesus then says, “Go and do likewise.”

During this particular liturgical year we also had the opportunity to consider the Solemnity of Brotherly Love in regards to the Sundays which surround it.  And in particular this past Sunday, the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time spoke to open up another dimension of this parable and also to our ability to offer Brotherly Love and to truly commit to living a life of love.

The reading for this particular Sunday had primarily to do with forgiveness.  In the Gospel reading from St. Matthew we hear Peter asking our Lord, “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)  Of course from the reading we know Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22)  We know full well that Jesus, within these words, is not giving an exact number, but is rather telling Peter, however many times you think it should be, the answer is always ‘more.’  In the parable that follows Jesus describes the overwhelming love and forgiveness of Almighty God via the example of an extremely generous king.

In connecting together this Sunday with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, an interesting occurrence happened this week while I was celebrating Holy Mass, it just so happened that I forgot to put the Preface appropriate for the Sunday in the missal.  I only had the Preface from the week before which was that of Brotherly Love.  I sang that Preface because at that point there was really no other choice, but as it turned out the words fit beautifully.  After hearing the reading which focused on forgiveness and then my homily trying to show that we all must try to expand our forgiving attitudes towards one another, the Preface words were “You have called us to love one another, demonstrating harmony among brothers and sisters and friendship among neighbors.  Your Word tells us that everyone who loves is begotten of You and knows You.  Through the love that we have for each other, all will know that we are the Lord’s disciples.”  And the reality is that it is forgiveness that truly gets us to this point when our love becomes active and effective.

In thinking back about the parable concerning the Samaritan, we realize that throughout the entire life of such a person there must have been many insults and possibly even physical confrontations between himself and the Jews.  The Jews and the Samaritans considered each other enemies and a Samaritan would certainly not have been welcome as such in the area of Jerusalem and Jericho.  But in order for the Samaritan to arrive at the place where he could show mercy to one who was in need, forgiveness must have been a strong part of this journey.  It would have been so easy for the Samaritan to just claim that the Jewish victim was an enemy and therefore he shouldn’t care one bit about him.  He could have easily thought of the many times the Samaritan was poorly treated and then think that now a Jewish person has gotten a taste of his own medicine.

But in fact he did not.  The Samaritan was able to put aside all of the many things that may have happened  to him and his family through the years.  He was able to forgive the many injuries that he may have suffered and endured over many years and through this forgiveness he was then able to show mercy and ultimately Brotherly Love.

My dear brothers and sisters, we too are often crippled by the hatred and hurt feeling that we have received throughout our lives.  Sometimes these hurts are not even our own, but rather ones that we have appropriated through our friends and family.  And these cause us not to be able to show mercy to others, or sometimes to limit the mercy we show only to those whom we think are worthy of it.

This is not the way of Jesus.  Jesus tells us to forgive, not only those we like or those we judge to be worthy, but rather to forgive generously because the Lord has forgiven us so generously as well.  Then realizing that the Lord loves all and forgiving any hurts and wrongs we hold on to, we are able to show mercy.  We are able to “do likewise” as Jesus commands and be the bearers of Brotherly Love, the love that shows itself in actions of mercy.

So while we often think of forgiveness of others as merely an internal action within ourselves as we cast aside our anger and give up our desire to seek revenge, it is rather the first step of our commitment to living a life of love for others.  This love, a brotherly love, shows itself in acts of mercy and kindness towards another person, but it begins by knowing that all have been generously loved and forgiven by God and therefore, knowing that we should, “do likewise” we will love and forgive each other.

These words are wonderfully summed up in the writing of John the Apostle, who tells us, “We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)

 

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