Deacon Cornellís Homily


Deuteronomy 6:2-6            
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28b-34


November 3-4, 2018 Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

I don't know much; but I know I love you. And that may be all I need to know.

Anthony deMello, in his book Taking Flight, has a wonderful story meditation that is very apropos of today's Gospel message.

A bishop was testing adult candidates for baptism. After several rounds of questions that were taken from the candidates' text, he posed a question that they had not studied, "By what sign will they know we are Catholic?" The candidates were silent. Being a very pastoral man, the bishop asked them again, this time giving them a little hint by making the sign of the cross as he repeated the question, "By what sign will they know that we are Catholic?" The face of one of the candidates in the second row lit up as the answer struck him, and he called out, "Love". It was the bishop's turn to be taken aback. He almost blurted out, "Wrong!", but he caught himself in the nick of time.

How easy it is for us to let commandments or the law and ritual or the practices of our faith get in the way of love. So you probably can guess what I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on with you? Sin. That's right, sin. You see one of the ways that I used to let commandments and rituals get in the way of love is that I really didn't understand what sin was. I grew up, as many of you, thinking that sin was breaking the commandments, or failure to participate in the rituals; that sin was that list of things we came up with to confess to the priest in the sacrament of reconciliation. It took me a long time to be able to say, with that tax collector in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: have mercy on me a sinner. Hey I wasn't breaking the commandments; I went to mass every week. How could I call myself a sinner with it seeming like false humility? In the old testament, the Hebrew word for sin is hata, which is an archery term meaning to miss the bullseye; in the New Testament, the Greek is hamartia, meaning to miss the mark when throwing a spear. So sin, at its root, is failure to love as God loves, or failure to love as creatures made in the image of Love is capable of loving. When I understand it that way, there is no question that I am a sinner.

I mean if we really understood that our very existence is the product of such a passionate love that God had for us personlly that it could not remain just in God's mind, it had to be enfleshed. If we realize that God is with us in our triumphs and disasters to give us what we truly need at that moment, that God loves us and forgives us no matter what we do, and that our ultimate destiny is true happiness for eternity with God, by the very way we are built as human beings wouldn't we love God with our whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength? So why do we need commandments?

After I understood sin differently, I started to see God's law, church law, our practices, very differently as well. God's law is not like the laws passed up on Beacon Hill or in DC, rules that are imposed on us; they are more like the laws of physics which help us to understand how things really are.

I look at commandments as a series of roadmaps or insights about how we are built. When I first fell in love with my wife Betsy, I didn't go looking for rules or commandments or even suggestions from friends in order to respond to her initial expressions of love for me. I just started doing what I thought would make Betsy happy. But just because I was in love with her and wanted to make her happy did not guarantee that everything I thought would make her happy actually did. Over the years I have learned a good deal about what makes Betsy happy (and therefore makes me happy), and I'm not finished yet. I have learned from Betsy herself, from my faith, from friends, from books on marriage and psychology, and many other sources.

A lot of the things I learned meant I had to change. Sometimes I just had to change what I did but other times I had to change who I am, which is something I don't like to do any more than any one else. But because I am in love with Betsy, I eventually come around to changing because I know that I will be happier for it as well. I try to change because I know that it will make Betsy happy and therefore I will be a better, happier, more fulfilled Charlie Cornell for it in the long run.

As Christians we are commanded to be in love with God and each other. If we know who God is and how God loves us, we would look on all the commandments, the law, the beatitudes, and all the wisdom of the Church as sources that help us to understand how to make God happy. And we would want to make God happy because we would understand that making God happy is what makes us truly happy and fulfilled. But just as falling in love with Betsy did not infuse me with instant knowledge of how to please her, loving God does not mean that we magically know how to act in a way that pleases God. The guidance of scripture and tradition and the practice of our faith are proven helps to learning how to love God and one another so that we might be fulfilled in that love. Some times we find how to love God by loving our neighbor, and sometimes we find how to love our neighbor by loving God. They are two sides of the same coin. What is important is that we love, that we hunger for that love in a way that changes our lives, changes who we are. God fashioned each one of us out of love. God is with us in love in our struggles in this world. And love is our fulfillment in eternity with God. That is how we are built. If we really look at our lives, then you and I know that acting out of anything but love hurts us because we are not built that way. Jesus commands us to act, to live out our very reason for existence.

I don't know much; but I know I love you. And that may be all I need to know.

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