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Monday, first week of Lent

March 6, 2006

Blessed Monday!

Leviticus19:1-2, 11-18 (specific ways to love our neighbor)
Psalm 19: 8-15 “Your words Lord, are spirit and life”
+Matthew 25:31-46 (what we do to others, we do to God)

The word “lent” means “springtime”, and since one of the purposes of Lent is to clear out anything in our lives that gets in the way of our relationship with God, I like to think of this time as a “spring-cleaning” for the soul. At the end of time, we’re going to give ourselves the “white-glove treatment” because then we’ll see the consequences of that dust and grime so very clearly. We don’t now. We don’t even see the dirt very clearly. God lends us His clearer vision by telling us what to look for and then giving us just a taste of the damage it’s causing.

First He tells us what needs to be thrown away. We need to get deception, thievery, cruelty and hatred toward others out of our lives. Then he tells to replace that garbage; to beautify our souls with love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In our Gospel, Jesus puts specifics on that command to love. We must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and visit the imprisoned. You may recognize these (with the additional one of burying the dead) as the corporal works of mercy recommended by the Church.

So now we know what we’re supposed to do. But why? What’s the point?

Well, we already know that Heaven is about being with God forever…and since God is love, Heaven is love too. If we don’t love God here and now, we won’t love Him in eternity either. We won’t want a Heaven that is love, and God won’t force Himself on us. All this seems like it’s quite beside the point if we think love is just a warm, fuzzy feeling. Of course I love God! But Jesus wants to make sure we know ahead of time that love requires sacrifice. Love means laying down your life for the best good of another. And we test the reality of our love for God by examining our love for other people. Jesus says that whatever we do to/for even the least person, we do to/for Him. Can I really say I love God, that I’m giving myself to Him sacrificially, when I just snapped at Him over a misunderstanding? When I shut Him (in the person of someone I find aggravating) out of my life? Is that the kind of love Jesus modeled for us when our sins brutalized Him and nailed Him to a cross? If I don’t love Him here and now in the persons I can see and touch and hear, I don’t love Him in Himself either. That’s what Jesus meant when He told us that the command to love our neighbor was like the command to love God (Matthew 28:38-39). They stand or fall together.

Here we come to the eternal consequences. If I don’t love persons, then I don’t love God, and I won’t love Him in the purifying light of eternity. If I flee from sacrificial love now, I will flee from it in eternity…and the only “place” to hide from the love of God is hell.

God doesn’t want us to go there. Hell wasn’t made for us. We don’t belong there. We’re made in the image and likeness of Love Himself (Genesis 1:27, I John 4:8). Our proper destiny is love. Heaven. It begins here and now.

May our spiritual spring-cleaning clear away the selfishness that closes our hearts to love.

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