Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and you're listening to Season 4, Episode 31 for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sept. 26, 2021. Our Gospel reading is from Mark, Chapter 9, verses 38-43, 45, 47-48
At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
The Gospel of the Lord
“God's Sacred Essence” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
Jesus summarizes God's precepts in his two-fold primary commandment: to love God and to then love your neighbor as yourself. He goes on to say, all of the precepts of the law are built on that solid ground or base. So if you look at the Ten Commandments and all the other prescriptions that we find in scripture: Jesus striving for justice, equity, peace, and absence of violence, all of it all falls under that umbrella of love of God and love of neighbor and love of self. All of those things are extensions of those very primary precepts. As is today, when we hear him speak very tenderly about the little ones and doing nothing to cause them to sin; again, an extension of the love of neighbor.
Now, when we hear that commandment, those two commandments, we're so familiar with them that we probably say to ourselves, "Of course I love God and I love my neighbor and I love myself." But often when we make that remark, we do so from an intellectual place. It makes good sense to us; so therefore, because we are Christian, therefore, we do those things, or believe those things.
But then when it comes to actually implementing them in our lives, when it comes to extending them outward from ourselves to others, that's where it gets a bit challenging. Because when we have to take love of God, love of neighbor and put that into practice in a very practical, daily way, that's when we start to bristle our feathers a little bit and we pull back. So we can find ourselves saying it, intellectually believing it, but stumbling over the doing of it.
Neighbor is defined not just by those who are in the purview of our lives: those with which we live, those with whom we associate, our physical neighbors next door. It goes beyond to our social circles; those people we bump into every day and then beyond, universally, throughout all corners of the world, every one of God's children is our neighbor. And so that precept of God's extends all the way to them as well.
And that precept not only tells us how to conduct our behavior, what we ought to believe and order our relationships with one another, it actually structures our very lives. It tells us what it means to be a human being. So, in other words, in order to truly appreciate the essence of myself, who God has made me to be, I have to connect the dots. It's not just enough to love because I want to love,or it's going to bring me some kind of self-benefit. That it's all connected under this big umbrella that starts with God: God is the author of life and love, and that is why we associate ourselves with others in that same vein and see in the face of my brother or sister, the very image and reflection of God looking back at me, because it is all connected. It is all connected.
God's sacred essence is found in all of life and every one of his children. And, so, therefore what I do to my neighbor is a direct reflection, then, on what I'm doing to God, and vice versa. And so there's a check and balance that has to be kept in place. So it's not enough just to love, but we have to also live in the truth of that love. And that truth is part of the precepts that we are part of a bigger picture here. We are not here just because. I don't do good works just because they benefit you and make me feel good; that we love and extend ourselves because it is how God has ordered our lives. It's how he has put things together.
And so when I connect those dots and see myself in relationship with God and my brothers and sisters, I do, in fact, experience joy because I'm resting in truth. And so that may seem kind of trivial, but it's pretty huge. Because if we don't understand the truth of who we are, we're not going to be able to properly love, and if we can't properly love, then those around us who are most vulnerable can easily fall into sin as a result of that.
And Jesus says, "If something we do causes one of the least ones to sin, it is better then that a millstone be placed around our neck; that there is a problem here that must be rectified.
So God wants to level the scales of life, so to speak, and get us on the same page with understanding who we are and what it is to be a human being. So being connected to this bigger picture of life is really what understanding God's precepts is all about.
Now, as we look to the world and we consider ourselves as a part of this bigger picture, we begin to realize then that as much as God has my soul, the essence of my being in his tender, loving care, He has within that same tender, loving care, the soul of every other human being on the face of this planet. Even the worst of sinners, the folks in Ethiopia, the folks in Haiti, those that are in South America, those in Alaska, all over the face of the earth, God has the essence of each one of his persons, his children in his care, in his purview, just as much as he does mine.
We aren't a religion of special interest. We don't get privileged because of something we've done, said, or did that somehow makes us more favorable than someone else: God's love is in every one of us; every one of us.
St. John Bosco, then, has a great quote. He said, "It's not enough to love. It's not enough to love. People have to feel that they are loved. They have to feel that they are loved."
And that's where all of this becomes a bit of a challenge. I can say that I love that's the easy part, but because of my presence and how I present myself to others, do people feel that they are loved? Because when we translate that into action, what we, in essence, have to do is step outside of ourselves, free ourselves up from ourselves so that we can be available and giving to others. And so for love to be effective in God's understanding of love, it has to come with self-detachment, with self-detachment. If it's filled up with too much of our needs, then we're really not loving.
If I'm loving you because I need you to love me back, that's not love. If I'm loving you because you're going to provide some benefit for me, then that's not love. True love is altruistic. It propels us outward from a detached place with no strings.
And so, therefore, when it comes to the corners of the Earth, and the folks that are struggling in all parts of our world, how do they, as Christians we are, how do they feel our love? Say, I can say I love them, but how do they feel it? How does it get expressed? And that is the challenge that each one of us, as a member of the body of Christ, has to face. That's the challenge to us collectively, as church, as the body of Christ has to face.
This past week, you hear stories of folks fleeing Haiti. It doesn't matter the rhyme, reason, or wherefore of at all, someone is feeling the need to leave where they are and go somewhere where else, because they're feeling threatened, they don't feel that they are able to sustain themselves. Whatever the reason, God has their soul in his purview.
How do they feel love?
I heard a story this past week of folks in a section of Ethiopia, so hungry, so starving. There's no food; no food. What are they eating? Leaves. Leaves. That's all they have. How do they feel loved? How do they feel loved? You see, in all corners of the world, people are hurting and suffering. We can't judge humanity based just on our own experience of life. We have to, through God's eyes, open our vision to what's happening in our world, what's happening in our world. Then, what we do as human beings, as Christians, then can affect all of those things.
And we sit here and we feel somewhat helpless, don't we? In the midst of all of these problems. Well, if we keep our vision where it needs to be and be open-minded to what's happening around us, we certainly can, as many of us do, share our resources with those in need. There are organizations that can help these folks who are hurting so badly so that what they don't have can be replaced by something which would then extend love to them. So we can certainly help with some of those tangible worldly needs. But even on a spiritual level, we can connect with them through a very powerful tool called prayer. Now, see, we are always very accustomed to prayer just being something that we do that benefits ourselves, but actually it's much bigger than that.
It's much more powerful than that. Because prayer, when we enter into this prayer and we bring someone else into our prayer to pray for, or with someone, what we're doing really is opening up the channels to all of those relationships between God, myself, others, and we're opening up the door to perfect love.
And when I do that, then, in prayer, your concerns become my concerns. Your suffering becomes my suffering. And there's power to be found in being in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who are hurting and so desperately in need in all corners of the world. We don't know their names. We've never seen their faces, but we know their struggles.
And when I opened myself in prayer to my brothers and sisters, even those around me, it connects us in a very powerful way. It connects us through the gift of love. And that power and that presence can change us. It can change us. And in changing us, it helps us then affect change outside of ourselves; change outside of ourselves. And that's really the power of this whole thing.
And so, to keep our vision outward, but also to keep it close to home. Sometimes loving is even more difficult with those who are under the same roof in which we live, those with whom we associate most. You know, sometimes we're dealing with problematic personalities, people who are struggling, people with whom I am in conflict, people who are extremely difficult to love. And we ask ourselves that question, "Well, how can I share love with them? It gets rejected. It's so difficult. I get hurt."
Again, through the power of prayer, through the power of prayer, and to make sure that our loving is absent of our own needs; to put our ego in check, to make sure I'm not loading it up too much with my own self-preservation, my own wants my own needs, my own satisfactions.
You see, there are two sins that can have catastrophic results if we don't keep them in check. The first one is a failure to love, a failure to love. And so, whatever it is in our life that causes us to fail in effectively loving, if we're a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ, believes in God, we have to do all in our power to root that out, to find out what it is that is causing me to stumble what it is that is causing me to fail in loving.
And the other big sin is a failure to live in the truth. And this is the one that has even more catastrophic results for others. If we don't connect the dots of our lives, if we don't allow ourselves to be immersed into the divine mystery of who we are, if we don't see ourselves as children of God, if we don't see God is first in the connection that we have with others as an intimate part of that relationship, then others we influence others who are a part of our journey can fall into the error of untruth and be led astray because ,we are off axis ourselves.
,And so we're called to be prophets. We're called to be heralds of this good news that connects the dots of our lives, that tells us it's not just enough to love, but we have to have people feel that love. That it's not enough just to be a human being, but we're a great human being who has a truth about us that is connected in God and my relationships with my brothers and sisters.
So, as we have an opportunity this week to reflect, we can perhaps reflect on the depth and the quality of our love and also of our willingness to accept the truth of our lives, to live the truth of our lives, and then to proclaim the truth of our lives, so that all of God's little ones can benefit from the truth and beauty of God's kingdom as God intends it to be not as we often wanted to be.
Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.