In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told us that, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the second-greatest commandment, second only to “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Everything Jesus taught and (according to Jesus himself) everything in the scriptures are based on these commandments. Everything.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “a society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow individuals to obtain what is their due.” Furthermore, the Church recognizes that the rights of the individual come before those of society and must be respected by society in order for that society to maintain any moral legitimacy. A government that is not built upon the foundation of this golden rule is a government doomed to failure.
And what is our individual role beneath the umbrella of social justice? We are each called to look upon our neighbor (with NO exception) as “another self,” entitled to the means of living life with dignity. It is our obligation to live our lives in community with our neighbors; we are obligated to see to one another’s needs. The Church refers to this as “Solidarity,” and points out that social, economic, political and even international problems cannot be resolved in any way except by practicing the principles of solidarity.
I had known all of this, in one form or another, for my whole life. Being told that God wants us to love our neighbor is hardly a revelation. But what strikes me for its simplicity and depth is the Church’s contention that all of the world’s problems could be resolved by these words alone. And furthermore, none of the world’s problems will be resolved without them.
There’s a tendency in the world today to separate faith from society. To live out our religion within the four walls of our churches and our homes. To leave our Catholicism at home when we head off to work. But when we do that we are leaving our most important tools behind. The principles of Christian charity are just as essential in our work lives as they are in our home lives. And right now, couldn’t our world use a lot more “love your neighbor”?
Today is the feast day of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip was an evangelist, some call him a “re-evangelist,” who lived in Rome in the 1500’s during a time that the Church is not terribly proud to recall. The Church was in need of some urgent housecleaning. The humans-and-God partnership that is the Church had slid toward the human side. We all know what happens when we put humans in charge of spiritual leadership. The 16th Century was a time of scandal, intrigue and generally a very poor time for the Church, particularly the Church in Rome.
And then Philip came bouncing along. He was born up the road in Florence but followed God’s calling to Rome where he founded the Congregation of the Oratorians, a hospital and a confraternity of laypersons. Philip attracted people by his wit. He once shaved half his beard as an act of humility. He would wander around Rome engaging people in conversation that led to spiritual conversions for many. His openness, cheerfulness, and self-deprecating sense of humor drew people to him, and from him to God.
A web site dedicated to St. Philip quotes him saying, “The cheerful are much easier to guide in the spiritual life than the melancholy.”
I’m not suggesting that you shave half your head (but feel free to do so if the spirit moves you in that direction) but be lighthearted today. Remember St. Philip Neri and remember that there are so many things worrying people today the sight of a smile is like an oasis in the desert. God’s children need to be smiled at now and then. Be lights of the world, but be lighthearted lights.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany. It was the day the Magi from the East showed up and started asking folks about the new King of the Jews. That got King Herod’s attention, but it also undoubtedly stunned many of the Jews. “Wait a minute, explain that to me again. You say we have a new king? Well, what do you think about that?!”
An epiphany is an awakening. It’s a sudden realization of something profound. It’s a slap-on-the-forehead moment. It’s that moment in high school when geometry finally made sense to you.
We Christians celebrate this particular epiphany on this particular weekend each year, but it’s not the only epiphany we will experience. In my case, I’ve gotten bonked on the noggin by the Holy Spirit numerous times, and I’m excited by the knowledge that it’s likely to happen again. My epiphanies have run the gamut from the cosmic to the itty bitty. There was the time I realized my carefully-studied conclusion that the Church was wrong about confession was full of beans. (Followed immediately by several rather painful epiphanies about some unconfessed sins that needed to be dealt with.) There was the life-changing epiphany about God’s desire for me to explore my doubts about the faith…which led to lots more epiphanies. There was the awesome epiphany about the joy that exists within a parish when we finally decide to become part of it rather than just a Sunday visitor.
Not everyone will call these experiences “epiphanies.” For some, it’s the coming of the Holy Spirit. For others, it’s simply the warmth of experiencing God’s real presence in our lives. People in a 12-step recovery program might call it a “spiritual awakening.” Pick your noun; it really doesn’t matter what you call it. For that matter, it doesn’t matter if you call it anything at all. But it’s real, and it’s God giving you one more glimpse of the awesomeness that is our true life; our eternal life.
I usually know when I am closer to the Lord, because I go through a pocketful of tissues. God’s presence hits me right between the tear ducts. The feeling of joy when I am open enough to fill His nearness is incredible. Some people shout for joy, others sing and dance before the Lord. I bawl my eyes out. It used to be embarrassing. Now it’s just awesome.
The presence of God in our lives cannot be adequately explained in words. It is, after all, a feeling, a feeling of the greatest love that we have ever known. There are hints about it throughout the Bible and in the lives of the Saints. People are falling down before the Lord right and left, and the two men who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection said later that their hearts “burned,” as He was speaking. During his prayers, St. Francis was heard to beg God, “No more, for my heart cannot endure it.” When he died, it was discovered that his ribs had broken from the power of his heart beating.
You and I are constantly being pulled by that overwhelming feeling of love. Like campers on a cold night, we can’t help but draw closer to the warmth of the fire. Be prepared, however. That fire will melt the soles right off your tennis shoes. And you’re gonna love it.
“Then you shall be radiant at what you see. Your heart shall throb and overflow.” Is 60:5.
Next time you go to church, bring tissues.