“This is My commandment: love one another as I love you” (Jn 15: 12), Jesus ordered us in the Gospel on Mother’s Day. He said this at the Last Supper, just a few hours before He would demonstrate to us how greatly He loves us by dying for us on the cross. This Commandment is very demanding. To paraphrase the famous cook from Fall River, Emeril Lagasse, this is a lot more than “kicking it up a notch” from “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31).
Loving our neighbors as ourselves is challenging, but seems doable. Loving our neighbors as Christ loved us — that looks impossible. But, as Jesus said after the rich young man walked away from His invitation to follow Him with a radical abandonment of his riches, “for men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26; Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27).
St. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). As Christ helped Paul go from being an oppressor of Christians to being foremost in spreading the Christian faith throughout the world, who knows what Christ could do in each of us, if we just let Him?
We are in the midst of our annual Catholic Appeal which provides the bulk of the funding for the important ministries of the Diocese of Fall River. In his letter introducing the 2021 Catholic Appeal, Bishop Edgar da Cunha explained the connection between love and charity: “Sacred Scripture reminds us that love is the most important way we share our Savior’s light with the world: ‘Let love make you serve one another’ (Gal 5:13). In Christianity, charity is the highest form of love between God and our brothers and sisters; the two words, charity and love, are synonymous. When we show charity to others, we bring this love to life in so many wonderful ways and we fulfill our obligation to live in the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who laid down His life for us.”
The current situation of the tail end (one hopes) of the pandemic with the resulting fragile economy both causes there to be more needs to which the Catholic Appeal tries to respond (as you can read in the story beginning on page one) and there to be less ability to give for some folks. Bishop da Cunha acknowledged this. “Should your circumstances allow, please consider making a contribution of any size to help us carry out our mission in real, life-changing ways. As we face many hardships and challenges together as a community of faith, I am especially humbled and grateful for your continued, loving care and blessed to serve as your bishop.”
When we examine our consciences about our love of neighbor, we need to always ask ourselves whether we are doing all that we can to help them. This edition of The Anchor has so many examples of that love being put into action, both by individuals and by groups, in corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.
St. Gregory the Great actually points out that it is not just mercy, but actually a demand of God’s justice that we be generous to those in need. “For, when we administer necessaries of any kind to the indigent, we do not bestow our own, but render them what is theirs; we rather pay a debt of justice than accomplish works of mercy.” In other words, although we are giving from the money in our wallet or bank account, St. Gregory is saying that this money really belongs to the person in need. That’s why he calls it “theirs.” This is something to think about when considering how much we should give (or “give back”).
St. Gregory also raised the issue of another rich man from the Gospels — not the rich young man, but “Dives” (which just means “rich man”) in the “Dives and Poor Lazarus” parable of Jesus (Lk 16:19-31). The sainted pope pointed out that everything that Dives did was legal, but he still ended up in hell. “But [people who aren’t generous] are wont sometimes to say, ‘We use what has been granted us; we do not seek what belongs to others; and, if we do nothing worthy of the reward of mercy, we still commit no wrong.’ So they think, because in truth they close the ear of their heart to the words which are from Heaven. For the rich man in the Gospel who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day, is not said to have seized what belonged to others, but to have used what was his own unfruitfully; an avenging hell received him after this life, not because he did anything unlawful but because by immoderate indulgence he gave up his whole self to what was lawful.”
A deacon from another diocese commenting on St. Gregory online said that we shouldn’t use his words to “guilt trip” a teen-ager who wants to buy some nice sneakers, but that “I hope to encourage us all to look at our own wealth, our stuff, as what it truly is, which is God’s. It is not the 10 percent that is Our Lord’s [referring to tithing]. It is everything. It is all of us and every part of us. It is my property and also my mind, my heart, my daughter’s blue eyes, my son’s disarming smile, my wife’s tender care — it all belongs to Him — and so it is all subject to be prudentially shared.”