30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40) “Four Lessons From Bishop Henry” PDF Version
Homily for the 30th Sunday of OT, Year A: 2017 (Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40)
Last weekend, during the baptism of a 3 day old baby boy, the great grandfather of this new Child of God gave me a small square piece of wood with some words inscribed upon its surface. The words were the 4 points that Bishop Frederick Henry used to offer to young people who were about to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
If you attended a Confirmation in the Diocese of Calgary over the past 19 years, you most likely heard the now legendary homily that Bishop Henry would give year after year and yet despite being repeated time and time again continued to be relevant and meaningful to both the Confirmandi and anyone present at that celebration.
As I read the 4 points inscribed neatly on a small piece of wood, it occurred to me that they very nicely sum up the message that Christ conveyed to us in today Gospel’s where He commends a scribe for declaring that the perfect love of God and observance of His law is to love God with you all your being and your neighbour as yourself.
The first word of advice Bishop Henry gave to a Confirmation class was “to do your best.” This is what God asked of His people when He inspired Moses to teach them the great Shema Israel prayer. Every morning, Jewish men would tie bands of leather around their right arm and forehead that contained small leather boxes which had within it a tiny scroll with the Shema Israel Prayer. They would also place these small scrolls on the doors of their homes and touch them when they left or entered their residence. The Shema Israel prayer reminded the people that the God of Israel was the one and only God, and that they were to love and serve Him with all their mind, heart, body and soul. Jesus would have prayed this prayer everyday, observing the customs of His people by placing the words of this prayer on His forearm and forehead, joining Himself to all those who sought to make His Heavenly Father the centre of their lives.
By praying this prayer, the People of Israel were perpetually reminded that they were to give God their absolutely best, be it in their daily work, prayers, family interactions and all facets of human life. Each and every day, they were to give their best and prevent their hearts from ever turning away from the living and true God to serve vain idols, as St. Paul warns us today is in all too common temptation that we will face on a daily basis by giving God some of our day but not the very best we have to offer.
The second point Bishop Henry offered young men and women on the day of their Confirmation was to “do what is right.” By giving God one’s absolute best, we recognize that it is truly right and just to render onto God what His due, namely that we love Him to the very best of our abilities and have that holy satisfaction that we are fulfilling God’s will for us. But to love Him will also necessarily compel us to recognize that it is also truly right and just to love our neighbour as ourselves.
It might come as a surprise to many to learn that in the list of the 613 laws which governed the People of Israel’s relationship with God, that the command to love one’s neighbour did not appear as #2 on the list after the command to love God with one’s whole being. Further down the list one would find the command to love your neighbour, be they a refugee, widow, orphan or someone who is poor, both in material and spiritual means. But with the coming of Jesus Christ into our world, suddenly this commandment moved up the list to be just behind the love of His Heavenly Father.
To be a Christian man or woman who lives in a right relationship with God is to recognize that to love God but hate your neighbour is to deceive oneself into thinking we truly love the Lord of all creation.
The third point Bishop Henry would offer a Confirmandi class was to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We know that our beloved emeritus bishop was not proposing a radically new teaching but affirming that Golden Rule we hopefully learned in childhood. But this perennial teaching of our faith is also a reminder that love of God and neighbour must to manifested in concrete actions and not simply pious and well intentioned words. Our reading from the Book of Exodus today gave very concrete examples of how one was to manifest their love of God by doing good and not evil unto their neighbour.
This reading comes from what was known as the Book of the Covenant, where the People of Israel were taught how they could show their gratitude and love for God by treating others with dignity and respect. It was their duty as God’s Holy People to treat refugees with compassion, to not take advantage of the vulnerability that came from being a widow or an orphan, of treating the poor with patience and not seeking to fall into the sin of holding ransom the goods of another if they were in your debt. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus sought to show the world that He was especially present in the poor and marginalized, and that to love them and treat them with respect, to do onto them what one would have another to onto them, was to love Jesus Christ, hidden in the hearts of the poor of God.
Finally, Bishop Henry would tell young men and women about to be sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that “remember, you are special!” I think we can all agree it feels pretty awesome to be called special and from a Bishop, a successor of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, to be told so, well I for one think that is pretty epic! To love God with all your being and to love your neighbour as oneself is to recognize that we are incredibly special and blessed by God, for in loving Him and one another, we discover our identity of being Children of God.
We are not the employees or voting populace of God, but His beloved children, set from Original Sin in baptism, washed clean of personal sin in the Confessional, nourished with the Body and Blood of His Son and sealed forever with the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. All of this and so much more God gives us, His Children, because we are special and dear to Him.
What better way to express our thanks for His manifold Gifts than to say I will try everyday to be do my best to love God and others, to know in the depth of my heart it is right to live life in this manner, to never tire in doing onto others what I would want to do onto me and to know how incredibly special I am for striving to live this life as a unique and unrepeatable Child of God.