Father David's Reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Love as a Way of Life
Sunday 15, Ordinary Time, Year C
The Sacramentary (missal used on the altar) introduces the Opening Prayer with the words “Let us pray,” and in parentheses: “that the Gospel may be our rule of life.” Would you say the Gospel is your “rule of life”? What is a rule of life? Do you have one?
In the Entrance Antiphon we affirm that if we “see your face, O Lord,” then our “joy will be full” (Psalm 16). Are you following a “rule of life” in order to arrive at this?
The Mass prayers all speak of forward motion: of guidance and growing. Both options for the Opening Prayer ask that the “light of truth” might “guide us” — to the “way of Christ” and to “the kingdom.” So a “rule of life” must be something we consciously follow in order to get somewhere we have consciously chosen to go, or to become something we have consciously chosen to be. In the alternative Opening Prayer we ask: “May your love make us what you have called us to be.” So a Christian rule of life must be God’s light guiding us to love as God loves so that we might become what God calls us to be. The question is, do we consciously look to his light and his love as our guiding rule in all we do, choose and desire?
In the Prayer Over the Gifts we ask that we might grow “in holiness and [in the light of] faith”; and in the Prayer After Communion that God’s “saving love” might “grow within us.” Consistently, the focus remains on light and love, on discipleship and ministry. In practice, however, how do we make these our “rule of life”?
The Responsorial Psalm, which on Sundays always provides the key to the first reading and the Gospel, suggests a first step: “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live” (Psalm 69). Our first move should be to ask God for direction.
Read the Instructions
In Deuteronomy 30: 10-14 Moses tells the people they have a rule of life ready to hand: God’s “commandments and statutes that are written in the book of the law.” This, he says, is not something “up in the sky” or “across the sea.” “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts. You only have to carry it out.” Study and do.
God’s laws are the “manufacturer’s instructions” for getting the most out of the human nature he designed and gave us. But we think of them as restrictive or just don’t think about them deeply at all. As someone said, “When all else fails, read the directions!” What is “failing” in your life? “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live”.
One simple rule
In Luke 10: 25-37 it is Jesus himself who offers God’s law as a rule of life. A lawyer asked him, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life,” and Jesus answered, “What is written in the law?”
The lawyer was a practical man. He knew it is hard to base one’s life on a long set of prescriptions. So — as Jesus himself did elsewhere — he summarized the whole law in two principles: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and your neighbor as yourself.”1
A principle is a guideline, but it does not tell us what to do — just how to figure out what to do. So the lawyer asked for more details. And Jesus told the story of the “good Samaritan.”
The story teaches us, first, that the best sign we are loving God is loving our neighbor. St. Teresa, in her treatment of the mystical “espousals,” describes “one to whom God is truly betrothed” as “one who is already determined to do his will in everything.”
But how do we know we are truly surrendered to God’s will? It is certainly not enough just to say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” That petition has to become the deep, directing desire behind everything we do, our “rule of life.” Teresa makes it simple: “The Lord asks of us only two things: love of his Majesty and love of our neighbor.” And even simpler:
The most certain sign… of whether or not we are observing these two laws is whether we observe well the love of neighbor. We cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor.
This is not mere, humanistic do-good-ism. Teresa adds, “We will not reach perfection in the love of neighbor if that love doesn’t rise from love of God as its root.” If we arrive at constant, habitual and authentic, graced love of neighbor we will experience the deeper mystery of our graced surrender to God. 2
Jesus’ story teaches us that love of neighbor means active ministry. We do something to respond to others’ needs. And we do this without regard for racial, national or cultural differences. The model in Jesus’ story was a Samaritan, an outcast to the Jews. Can you make helping others your rule of life? This is to live out your baptismal consecration as priest.
Focus on Jesus
Colossians 1: 15-20 centers us on Jesus. Our true rule of life is to be Christ: to act “in him” and let him act in us in everything we do. But the mystery of Jesus is unfathomable. We can spend the rest of our lives reflecting just on what Paul says about him in this short reading.
That adds discipleship to our rule of life: to let “the light of truth guide us to the way of Christ.” Light leads to love, and in love we find more light. “Turn to the Lord” for light to love, and you will live.”
1 Matthew 22: 35-40.
2 The Interior Castle, Fifth and “Sixth “Dwelling Places,” ch. 4, nos. 3- 4; ch. 10, no.8.
Can I adopt ministry and discipleship as a way of life? What more would I add?
Read Scripture every day; then focus on showing love to every person you meet.