Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
In the face of that baby we can see the stars.
I know a man, a fine, thoughtful person, who has decided to become Catholic, and he has asked me to help him get started. He doesn’t know the Bible very well or theology or many of our traditions and practices, and I’m of course really glad to help as best I can. And this is what RCIA is for, in part, and the Catechism.
Faith is in the love of this man for his wife and his children and his grandchildren. Faith is in his kindness and his compassion. Faith is in the music he plays—he’s in a band on the weekends—and in everything that gives him pleasure.
But it seems to me that the three readings for today are a really good place to start. They put everything into perspective, because as the reading from Deuteronomy says, faith isn’t finally complicated or a question of terminology and ideas. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you.” We don’t have to climb mountains or cross seas. We don’t have to read every book in the world. No, faith is “something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts.” Faith is in the love of this man for his wife and his children and his grandchildren. Faith is in his kindness and his compassion. Faith is in the music he plays—he’s in a band on the weekends—and in everything that gives him pleasure. Faith is in his desire to be Catholic, in his very attraction, in the pull itself, and all the terminology and all the history and all the particular practices of the mass are various ways of expressing this longing, this hope, this inner goodness, and honoring it, and acting it out.
When this man comes to understand the teachings, they will be deeply familiar. He will realize that he’s known them all along.
Judaism is characterized by hundreds of laws, about everything from what to wear to how to manage livestock to how to set up a worship space. But in the Gospel today when Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is, he answers without hesitation, and his answer makes everything crystal clear, and simple, and direct—and so all the more challenging. All of the hundreds of laws, he says, come down to two: love of God and love of neighbor. All of the law is based on love—not judgment, not anger, not abstractions, not rituals—love, a devotion to God above all and a compassion for the people around us, and not in some soft, fuzzy sense but concretely, in the world.
This is a man who takes care of his elderly and demented father, visiting him every week and managing his finances and keeping track of all his details. This is a man who takes care of his grown children, financially and otherwise, who spends time with them and talks with them and tries to respect and understand the choices they’ve made. This is a man who the other day walking into a restaurant saw a homeless person begging on the street and who on principle, overcoming his skepticism, stopped, bent down, and gave that person a $100. Just did it. Without fanfare.
And the reason to learn how to pray the Rosary and what the mass is and what the Pope is and how all the Catholic things work is to understand more deeply what is already true, what is already inside of him.
This is a man who is already Catholic in every way that counts. And the reason to learn how to pray the Rosary and what the mass is and what the Pope is and how all the Catholic things work is to understand more deeply what is already true, what is already inside of him.
The ancient church understood that the Bible is often very hard to understand, that parts of it are troubling and violent and obscure. So, they said, let’s use the clear parts to understand the unclear parts– because parts of the Bible are really clear, they said, not obscure at all– so let’s use those parts as ways of interpreting the others, let’s use them as interpretative tools or lenses. And the clearest part of all, the part of the Bible we’d choose if we had to choose one part to define it, is right here, is the Greatest Commandment, the commandment of love.
As St. Augustine puts it, any interpretation of the Bible that is contrary to love of God and love of neighbor is false and in error. Any interpretation contrary to love: it’s wrong.
And this lovely reading from Colossians leads us into the more mystical and the grand.
One of the things this man knows the least about is the Bible and the stories of the Bible. He doesn’t really know who is who and what the overall plot of it is, as most people don’t, and it’s really important for him to learn it—not even the principles of interpretation first but just who is Abraham and who is David and who is Mary and how many disciples there were and what exactly happened when Jesus was crucified and after.
What we believe is that God became a human person at a particular moment and in a particular place and so it’s terribly, terribly important that we learn the story of the historical Jesus. Our faith isn’t abstract. It’s concrete. It’s grounded in history. It’s grounded in a person.
Our faith isn’t abstract. It’s concrete. It’s grounded in history. It’s grounded in a person.
But at the same time we believe that this person who came into history has always been present, since the creation of the world and before, and is never not present. We believe not just in the historical Jesus but in the Cosmic Christ, not as a force or energy but as a person, The Person, through whom all things were created and are continually being created. “He is before all things, / and in him and all things hold together.” There are the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, the stories of Jesus being born in manger and of the shepherds and the wise men, but there’s also a prior nativity story, and it’s the story of the Big Bang, it’s the story of the nativity of the universe, and Christ was there, Christ was what made this creativity and this goodness and this life possible in the first place, and he is still creating and filling and animating all things, so that there’s not a molecule, not an atom, not a quark that isn’t charged with his presence and charged with his goodness and love and always was and always will be.
“For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, / the visible and the invisible.”
And in that sense everything this man already knows about science, about the planets, aboutthe chemistry of the body and the life of the world, everything he feels when he looks up at the night sky and sees the stars: that’s Christ. Everything he knows about life, and about death: that’s Christ.
What’s so amazing and wonderful about our faith is that this Cosmic Christ, so sublime we can’t grasp him, also becomes a child, becomes a person, becomes a man we can see and touch and love, becomes a host, a wafer of bread, enters into the world so that we can tell his story in words that make some sense to us even as they point to a mystery we can never grasp.
In the face of that baby we can see the stars. In the face of that glorious man on the cross, we can glimpse all the galaxies.
How blessed are we in Christ, how blessed are we in our tradition as Catholics. How blessed are we in the scriptures today and every day. How blessed am I to be asked to help this man become who he already is.