The Triangulation of Love

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The Pharisee who asks the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” is asking for one answer.  He wants to know the one commandment that is the greatest.  Does anyone else find it odd, that Jesus gives the Pharisee two commandments!?

We are supposed to be surprised that Jesus has given two commandments… But I think Jesus wants us to see that he is really giving the Pharisee the answer that he is looking for.  In other words, to love God, necessarily means that one loves their neighbor as well. 

One scripture commentator calls this the Triangulation of Love.  Now, what does that mean?  In theology, in our study of God’s love for the world, there is the old adage that says: love is diffusive of itself.  Meaning, love is so powerful that it cannot be contained, it overflows.  So, this scripture scholar argues that this is seen in the Holy Trinity and in the Human family. The Father who loves the Son, and the Son who loves the Father and that loving exchange between the Father and the Son is so powerful that it overflows into another person, that is, the Holy Spirit. And, The love between Husband and Wife is so fruitful that it creates a third person. 

The question for us is: “who is that third person of love that overflows from the relationship between the believer and God?”  The answer is, I love God and God loves me, and that love experienced between God and me moves me to love my neighbor.  “The love of God, if it is active with me in both senses (that is, as. The love first flowing from God toward me and as eliciting a reciprocal love from me toward God), will necessarily bear fruit in my love for my neighbor as defined by Jesus.” 

“No one can love himself or [his neighbor] fruitfully unless he first loves God absolutely”.  Our lives have to be grounded in the love of God before we can love totally those around us.  For me, one of the best examples of this comes from the movie Les Miserables.  There is a man, Jean Valjean, that has become deeply angry towards the world and for his situation.  Out of his desperation, he steals precious silver from a Bishop.  And he gets caught.  When the guards bring Jean Valjean to the Bishop, they inform the Bishop that they have caught this man red-handed.  The Bishop looks at the guards and says:  “this man has spoken true, I gave him this precious silver”.  Then turning towards Jean Valjean he says: “Now remember this, my brother, see in this some higher plan, You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.  By the witness of the martyrs, by their passion and their blood, God has raised you out of darkness, I have saved your soul for God.”

It’s in this moment, that Jean Valjean’s life changes.  He has been loved so intimately by the Bishop that he truly encounters Christ through the Bishop’s loving witness.  The rest of the movie then, Jean Valjean devotes his life to God and to serving the poor.  Throughout the movie, there will be many scenes where Jean Valjean is seen praying.  Soon after his encounter with the bishop, he meets a young woman, Fantine, who is near death. Ironically, she is on the streets because she was wrongfully fired from Jean Valjean’s factory and found herself working the streets in order to make money for her daughter. Eventually. this woman passes away, but Jean Valjean devotes the rest of his life to raising her daughter.  It’s not until the end of the movie where we realize the depth of Jean Valjean’s conversion. 

He is now close to death, and Fantine, “returns” to Jean Valjean to bring him up to heaven.  It’s a beautiful scene because, in that moment, there is the Bishop and Fantine welcoming Jean Valjean into heaven.  And they all sing together, “and remember, the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God”.  The bishop is there because the Bishop loved God through Jean Valjean.  Fantine is there because Jean Valjean’s love for the Lord was expressed in his loving service to Fantine and her daughter.

My friends, we can only love as God loves if we let ourselves encounter God’s love in our lives and be willing to share that love with others.  May the Eucharist we receive today, strengthen us to love God through our love of neighbor.

God Relentlessly Invites us

Next weekend my older sister Erin is getting married.  It is an exciting time for my family. In light of this, I find our Gospel this weekend humorous.  Can you imagine if my parents acted the same way as the king?  What if my Dad were to say to my brother and me, “Ok, all of those people who RSVP’d no, go burn their houses down!” Holy cow!  That seems a little extreme… It seems strange that the King would burn the cities of those people who had rejected his invitation. 

But, I think if we focus too much on the strange actions of the king, then we run the risk of missing the point.  Instead, I think we are supposed to be more shocked by the strange reactions of the invited guests.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  The King has invited his people to join him for a wedding feast.  And it’s not just any wedding feast, its the wedding feast for his son.  And as our first reading illustrates, this feast will be a feast with great food and good wine! 

I think to really grasp how strange it would be to say no to such an invitation it is helpful to put it into our own context.  Imagine that we were all invited to a dinner reception with either the Pope or the President.  Who would say no to that?  And even if the company wasn’t that desirable, the promise of good food alone is enough to make one want to go.  I mean, how many of us here would go to a party just because we knew that there would be good food? I certainly would…

Jesus’ point in the parable is to shock us.  Flannery O’Connor once was asked why her short stories were shockingly violent. Her response: in a deaf society, one needs to shout!  This is why our parable today from Christ is so shocking.  It’s meant to move us.  It’s meant to shake us up and to cause a change within each one of us.

Who in their right mind would say no to such an invitation?  We are supposed to notice how ridiculous it would be to say no to the King’s invitation.  Well, the same is true for each one of us.  The Heavenly Father has invited us to the Wedding Feast.  A feast given to us through a New Covenant, where God gives us His son as bread and wine.   “We believe that our participation in the Holy Eucharist isn’t merely a foreshadowing but a real participation in that marriage banquet in which our God takes all nations to himself in the eternal covenant of love in Christ.”  This is emphasized by our first reading, where God will bring all peoples together, to enjoy rich food and choice wine!

I think in a beautiful way we are called to reflect on the gift that we have received.  The gift of being invited to the feast each and every Sunday. God desires so much to be in a relationship with us that he gave us His Son.  So much so, that we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet each and every Sunday.  This is why Eucharistic liturgy, each week, is essential in the Christian life. 

But Christ warns us through the parable, that it is not enough just to accept the invitation in a willy-nilly way. We also need to prepare ourselves.  The King seems rather harsh to the man that shows up to the wedding feast without a garment.  But for us, in a Christian context, it means so much more.  When we are baptized, we literally put on Christ and we are clothed in a white garment.  In other words, when we come to the feast, we are called to both accept the invitation to the feast and to conform our lives to Christ.  At our baptism, the priest says that parents are called to help their children bring the white garment they have received, unstained into heaven.  In other words, we are called to grow in moral and spiritual excellence.  As we conform our lives to Christ, we grow in our capacity to love; to love God our Father, and to love our neighbor as well.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The Parable of the Two Sons

This weekend, we are being invited to meditate on which son we are most like in the parable.  Are we the son that says, No, I will not go… But then do in fact go? Or, are we the son that says, Yes Father, I will go. But then do not go?

Some of us might be thinking that we want to be a different son.  A son that is not even an option in this parable.  Intuitively, I think we all want to be that son that says, Yes Father, I will go!  But Jesus does not give us this option… But, I think we actually are both sons…

The first son, responds with a No,  but then does go into the vineyard.  I think many of us can relate to this son.  The initial “No” is that tendency in each of us to sin.  One of the most basic definitions of sin is when our will does not line up with God’s will.  So, if all of us are honest with ourselves, I think most of us would admit that sometimes we struggle with anger, jealousy, gossip, and unforgiveness.  Sometimes we struggle to live the life that God has called us to live. Any struggle with sin in our lives is a “No” to God. But, I am also confident that for most of us here, we are striving for conversion.  We are striving to live the way that God has called us to live.  And so, after our initial “No”, we have a change of heart.  And we go back to God in attempt to be more obedient to his plan for each of us.  This is why we go to confession because we recognize the No’s and desire to say Yes more often. This is how we are the first son.

But we could also be the second son.  The second son is the one that says yes but does not Go… Here is the point for Jesus in this parable.  He is speaking to the Pharisees.  And, Jesus is frustrated that the Pharisees have witnessed the conversion of sinners.  Instead of having hearts moved by the conversion of sinners, they scoff at them. How could God save those people?  The hearts of the Pharisees are hardened.  They are like the second son.  They have said “Yes” to God, but they have failed to seek a deeper conversion in their own lives.  They have failed to allow the conversion of others move them to conversion.

So why did Jesus not give us a third option? I think the answer is that Jesus wants us to be the first son. Jesus knows that conversion is a lifelong task.  It is not something accomplished right away. We are living in the moment of transformation.  That is, the struggle, or temptation, to say “no” will persist until the day God calls us home. 

Our first reading gives us greater insight into God’s patience with us. “God does not take pleasure in the death of a sinner; he desires rather that the sinner should live, but this means that the sinner must change his ways”. When we turn away from our sins, then [we] shall surely live, [we] shall not die. Here’s how the first reading is connected to the Gospel: the wicked one who turns from his ways is like the first son, the person who initially says no to the Lord, but then has a change of heart. 

So, Jesus is highlighting the quality in the first son that is of great value. This was willing to be converted, and to change his mind.  He recognized his need for God.  This is what Jesus is trying to convince the Pharisees.  He wants them to recognize that their hearts need to be converted, that they need God!

My friends, this week, may we take time to meditate on the ways that we have said “no” to God and to consider how God is challenging us to change our lives. God desires for us to live lives of integrity.  That does not mean we are perfect.  But rather, if we are Jesus’ disciples, the life of a Christian has integrity when it is open to conversion, open to allowing his heart to be expanded, and opened to turning away from sin.  May the Eucharist we receive today to strengthen our resolve to turn from sin and remind us of our great need for God.


In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen