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The Unconditional Gift of Self

Dear Parishioners,

I believe that there are only a few people in their lives who never truly organize themselves. Most of us get up in the morning and think through our day. Sometimes we prioritize what we need to do. If the day promises to be filled with important tasks and deadlines to be met, we might even make a list to make sure we don’t forget anything. Organizing ourselves helps us to accomplish things. It keeps us moving forward. It minimizes the amount of time we need to spend thinking about “What’s next?” But those of us who are organizers know that simply writing the lists or having clear goals is not the end of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to look beyond the organizing to what actually needs to get finished. We look beyond getting finished to success and reward. Making and keeping laws is a kind of way to organize ourselves within a community, whether that be our family, our workplace, or our neighborhood. The result of laws is the relationships that are strengthened by being together.

“What is written in the law?” Jesus asks the “scholar of the law” in this weekend’s Gospel. Many would tend to answer by maybe citing the Ten Commandments or civil law. But the lawyer in the Gospel answered correctly when he named love as the law. Law is not about keeping rules, or even organizing ourselves, but it is about loving others. And, above all, love is about relationships. Eternal life is not inherited by keeping laws, but rather it is inherited by caring for others and by treating them with mercy. The law of love teaches us to “love … with all our heart … with all our soul … with all our mind … with all our strength.” Love is nothing less than the unconditional gift of self. “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”

The parable about the Good Samaritan is a perfect example of the unconditional gift of self. The Samaritan traveler was “moved with compassion” when he say the half-dead man along the side of the road. But this kind man went beyond the minimum acts of bandaging the victim’s wounds and taking him to the inn to heal. The Samaritan traveler left money for his continued care. The Good Samaritan promised the innkeeper he would pay any more expenses incurred upon his return.

Perhaps the Samaritan traveler hadn’t planned on returning that way. But he had built a relationship of compassion and love with the victim traveler. His returning by way of that inn was probably less a matter of paying any further expenses of the victim, but more of checking on how he was he is recovering. Every detail about the Good Samaritan’s actions models for us love as nothing less than the unconditional gift of self to another.

This is what the First Letter of Saint John reminds us: “for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20b). Each of us must go beyond minimum requirements of good relationships to extending the kind of love that is the fullest gift of self. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are to love, to care for, and to have mercy on others as He did. We need to give ourselves entirely as He did on the Cross.

The “dying” part of Gospel living can get awfully burdensome if we always think of it in negative terms. Our reflection on this weekend’s Gospel invites us to place our self-sacrificing to meet the needs of others in the larger context of love. Love is made concrete in our care for others … love isn’t love until we give it away. This is more than preaching a “social Gospel.” It is saying that there is an indissoluble link between caring for others and loving … between loving others and loving God. Thus doing for others is more than a nice act. It is a way that we make God’s kingdom come.

May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!

Fr. Larry

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