The "sense of the sacred"
Sunday Homily for October 26, 2008
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (30A)
By Fr. Cusick
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The peace of Christ be with you! In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we encounter Christ in conversation with a lawyer who has asked him a question, not in order to learn, but in a malicious plot to destroy Christ: 'Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?'
In the belief that he can lure the Lord into preferring one law before all the others he hopes to set the stage for charges to be brought against Jesus as a heretic. Out of this evil intent Christ brings forth the beautiful gift of the "greatest commandment:"
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Mt 22:37-40)
The Decalogue, the ten commandments, must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law.
"When someone asks him, 'Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?'[Mt 22:36.] Jesus replies: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.'[Mt 22:37-40 ; cf. Deut 6:5 ; Lev 19:18.]
The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:
The commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [Rom 13:9-10.]"(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2055)
"The word 'Decalogue' means literally 'ten words.' (Ex 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4) (CCC 2056) Jesus summed up man's duties toward God in this saying: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' (Mt 22:37) This immediately echoes the solemn call: 'Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.' (Deut 6:4) God has loved us first. The love of the One God is recalled in the first of the 'ten words.' The commandments then make explicit the response of love that man is called to give to his God." (CCC 2083)
The misery index is way up in today's world, all the experts agree. Family breakups, murders, cheating, stealing, lying; all are present reminders that despite the predictions of many, man's lot is not improving. What is needed, of course, is love and concern for neighbor. On that many also agree. But the confusion enters the picture when the experts convene to find the solution to the problem.
For Christians, followers of a revealed religion, no committee is necessary. We worship and obey the Triune God, who has spoken the "words" that will bring us goodness, peace, and love. Man's inhumanity to man must be attacked, but all efforts are impotent without the first step: love of God.
Each man and woman must give first place to God and the kingdom, in love and obedience. This is spelled out in the first commandment, and such love is made outwardly manifest through reverence, defined as sacred actions, thoughts and words, particularly in the presence of God.
The "sense of the sacred" is not optional for the Christian. It must be practiced and improved each day. If we do not reverence the Lord, we cannot with sincerity say that we love him. This we utter his holy name in prayer and praise, and never in vain, and we acknowledge his true and real presence in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as we enter and leave church by a genuflection. Love expressed in reverent thoughts, words and actions is the essence of "fear of the Lord", awe of the greatness of God.
"Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not? I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have - yes, have to an intense degree - if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them." (John Henry Cardinal Newman) (CCC 2144)
A number of Catholic practices are available to aid us in developing our sense of the sacred: genuflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or the prescribed gestures of the liturgy, such as striking the breast when praying the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass, bowing during the recitation of the Creed, and standing and singing Alleluia at Mass out of reverence for the Word of the Lord in the Gospel. We kneel during Mass before His true and substantial presence in the Eucharistic host, and genuflect or bow prior to receiving our Lord in Communion, as strongly recommended by our bishops or kneel for Communion, as is traditional. With these signs of reverential love we can witness to others, and start a revolution of God's love in the world.
Let's pray for each other until, again next week, we "meet Christ in the liturgy", Fr. Cusick