Sunday Sermon for October 31, 2021, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Deut 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34

In the Gospel reading today one of the scribes questions our Lord about which commandment in the Law is the first, or greatest.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6, which we are given in the first reading, Jesus answers that the first commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.  The scribe concurs with Jesus’ response, and states that to love God this way is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  Then Jesus acknowledges the scribe had spoken with understanding.

I bring up this point because in the second reading, St. Paul speaks about sacrifices.  He explains how the Jewish High Priests needed to offer sacrifice day after day for their own sins and for the sins of the people.  Jesus, however, offered one sacrifice when He offered Himself.  So, from what we read in the Gospel, it seems that God just wants us to love Him and not to offer sacrifice.  However, in the second reading, it appears that God does want sacrifice and that Jesus Himself, who approved the scribe’s understanding that to love God is better than offering sacrifices, offered Himself as a sacrifice.  So, which is it?

God wants us to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.  If we truly love God, then we will want to offer sacrifice to Him.  However, if we do not really love the Lord, we can still offer sacrifice, but it amounts to little more than going through the motions without putting our hearts into the offering.  God wants our love.  One of the primary ways to express our love is through sacrifice.

We all know this from human relationships.  When someone is in love, that person is willing to sacrifice many things for the one who is loved.  Anyone who is married knows the sacrifices that are required.  They are required, not because they need to be done, but because of the love one has for one’s spouse and children.  Of course, one can do the right thing in these situations just because it is the right thing to do or because one feels forced into doing it.  But if it is being done out of love, then the sacrifice becomes the lived out demonstration of the love for the other person.

This kind of sacrifice can be anything.  Perhaps we sacrifice some time to listen to another; maybe we set aside our plans in order to help this other person.  Some sacrifices might require us to give money or material possessions for the good of another.  When these actions are done out of charity, they become true and real sacrifices.  So, the love and the sacrifice are united.

If we love God, we will be willing to sacrifice some time every day for prayer, we will be ready to endure some inconvenience to get to Mass, we will generously give up areas of sin, bad relationships, selfish attachments, and the like because they inhibit our ability to love God more.  Most importantly, we will unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus. 

St. Paul, in the second reading, said that Jesus offered Himself once for all, but this does not imply only that the offering was for all people, but that it is also for all time.  So, His sacrifice, which perfectly expresses His love for His Father and for us, continues to be offered at every Mass.  This means that if we unite ourselves with His sacrifice, our offering becomes part of His offering.  This is why we can bring our sacrifices, our pains, our sufferings, our struggles and difficulties, and give them all to the Lord as an act of love.

This means that we try not to complain or draw attention to these acts when they are performed.  If we are doing something out of love, then we are doing it for the other, not to gain attention for ourselves.  Remember, the Lord told us that if we do things to be noticed, we have already received our reward.  If we are acting in love, then the reward is found in the good the other receives. 

This is true on both the human and divine levels.  In other words, by loving God and neighbor, we can rejoice in the good the other person receives, and we can offer it to the Lord as well, so we can rejoice that He is receiving our gift of love.  If it is done in love, we are not seeking anything in return.  However, God is love and He will always be infinitely more generous to us than we are to Him.  So, it is all for our good: unite yourself with the sacrifice of Jesus, and offer yourself as a gift of love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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