Dear friends. There is a story told of a young priest who came to a new parish. This priest was a gifted preacher – he was eloquent, clear and prepared diligently for every homily he gave. He gave his first homily on a Sunday in his new parish which was well prepared and well delivered as usual. But the people seemed unimpressed. They were yawning, distracted and kept looking at their watches. The same thing happened the following Sunday and the next. After the latest Mass, the young priest came back to the sacristy frustrated and annoyed. He spoke to the parish priest. ‘What is wrong with these people?’ he said. ‘Why am I not connecting with them?’ The parish priest paused before asking him. ‘Those people you preach to every Sunday, do you love them?’ The following week, the young priest wrote his homily with the people in his mind and love for them in his heart. During his sermon on the Sunday, he had everyone’s attention, spoke to their hearts and connected powerfully with the people he choose to love.
The moral of the story is the message of the readings for this Sunday. Namely that love is a choice that leads to wisdom that in turn leads us to become different people. The young priest choose to love his people which changed everything. So often we think of love as a feeling or something that something we must find. But love is a choice. It’s something Jesus asks us to do, to ‘love one another’. If love is defined as willing the good of the other, then every act of love is a choice. This is why the first reading from Ecclesiasticus tells us that ‘He has set fire and water before you – put out your hand to whichever you prefer…man has death and life before him. Whichever he likes better will be given him’. If we do choose to love, choose life, choose forgiveness, choose mercy and choose God then a new wisdom will come with that. We will begin to understand things and people in ways that are impossible without loving them. Take the cross of Jesus and the manner of his death. It is impossible to understand the wisdom of the cross without seeing it from the perspective of God’s love for the world. Only by loving someone can I have the wisdom to know how best to serve them and help them.
Finally, choosing to love and the wisdom it brings, changes us. In the words of the Gospel, it makes our virtue grow deeper. For the scribes and the Pharisees, all that mattered was the action. If you kept the law then you were off the hook and deserved reward. But Jesus said ‘no’. What matters is the spirit behind the action. Often we do the right thing not because it is right but out of fear that we will be punished if we don’t – penalty points for not driving carefully, fines for not paying for parking, being published as a tax defaulter. Sometimes we can be easy with doing what is wrong if we will never be caught. But the message of Jesus challenges us to always do the right thing for love’s sake and for the sake of what is right. And when we do, we are changed. By consistently choosing to love, we become more loving. By consistently choosing to forgive we become more forgiving. To use the example of Jesus in the Gospel, by consistently saying ‘yes’ if we mean ‘yes’ we become more faithful, sincere and trustworthy.
If we always do things out of duty we will get tired. If we do things out of love, there will be life, new energy and a youthfulness that will never grow old. Choose again the path of love for when we choose love we choose God for ‘God is love’.
‘Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them’. St Therese of Lisieux.