Sunday Sermon for October 23, 2011, the Thirtieth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1Th 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40

In the second reading today St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for imitating him and the Lord. He reminds the people of upright and selfless behavior that he and those who were with him displayed while they were preaching the Gospel to them. St. Paul’s desire was to imitate the Lord, to be like Jesus; so, if the people were like St. Paul, they were also being like Jesus.

This is the place we need to begin today: do we act like Jesus? Our Lord spoke the truth and He acted in charity. Sometimes that meant being stern and correcting what was wrong; at other times it meant being very gentle so as not to break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoldering wick. In all things it was about seeking to do the will of His Father and to give God the greatest glory.

Does this sound like us? It was certainly what St. Paul did. He was not looking out for himself, but he served the Lord and he served the people to whom the Lord had sent him. Above all of the others, St. Paul was willing to bring the Gospel message to the pagans and people of any land. Like God, he did not discriminate regarding who could receive the Gospel. The one thing, he tells us himself, is that he was making every effort to be mindful of the poor.

In our society we seem most often to be mindful of the wealthy. It is especially tragic to see priests and bishops swoon over people with an abundance of what this world has to offer. While it is an easy trap to fall into, it is also fatal from a spiritual perspective.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that the two great commandments regarding love for God and love for neighbor are the foundation upon which the entire Law and the Prophets depend. The reason is obvious: both the Law and the Prophets were inspired by God and, therefore, reflected the mind of the Lord. God is love, so what was written or spoken in His Name must be an expression of His love.

In the first reading we have some examples of what this implied for the Israelites. They were not to molest or oppress foreigners, they were not to wrong the widow and the orphan, they were not to be extortionists who demand interest on a loan, and they were not to keep the pledge of a poor man overnight. As usual, our Lord requires more of us by telling us we need to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.

In a society like ours where so many people lie, cheat and steal, it is difficult to know who is really in need and what charities are safe to support. While we have to be prudent and reasonable, it is still necessary that we act in charity. Because we have been taken advantage of so often, we tend to become selfish and defensive. It is understandable that this might happen, but the Lord asks us to forgive and to continue to act in charity. In other words, we are to do things for the good of others, but from the motivation of love for God.

This should be the easiest and most natural thing for us to do. However, sin, both original and personal, have made it extremely difficult for us to do anything with a pure motive meaning without selfishness getting in the way. Because we are so affected by our sins, it is going to take a long time and a lot of effort to achieve this goal, but it is the very thing Jesus tells us is most important. For this reason, learning to do things out of love for God and neighbor should be a top priority for us.

St. Paul started out as a very selfish, arrogant man; by his own admission, the worst of all sinners. If he can be transformed to be an imitator of Christ, so can we! The difficulty is not merely learning to be selfless, but having to endure the sufferings that are required to be able to be selfless. Recall that St. Paul wanted to boast only of the Cross because through it he was crucified to the world and the world to him. It will be no different for us.

Begin slowly, trying to be kind and seek the true good of those with whom you normally associate. Try to keep in mind that you are serving God by serving these people. Once you get used to that, branch out to others through prayer and works of charity. This will provide good things for others, glory to God and the greatest good for you: to be an imitator of Christ by loving God and neighbor.

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