HOMILY WEEK 25 04 – Year I
God at Work in our World:
Optional Memorial of St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions
(Haggai 1:1-8; Ps 149; Lk 9:7-9)
“The Lord takes delight in God’s people.”
What a wonderful Responsorial psalm antiphon! But do we really believe that God takes delight in us? There is an invitation here to live the third part of the Great Command that Jesus gave us – to love others “as we love ourselves” which just might be the most ignored and unlived commandment of all.
At a Lenten Mission that I was conducting, a frail woman came to talk one morning. Her problem was that she saw herself as a nobody, a non-person, a person of no importance. She was sexually abused as a child, and was now in an abusive marriage relationship with a husband who constantly put her down and demeaned her. The only thing that kept her going was that she had a key to the church and came each day to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. One could she was a classical “church mouse.”
When we lack the love and affirmation we needed as a child, and are not receiving it as an adult, it is difficult to see ourselves as loveable, and even more difficult to love God back and love others, let alone love ourselves.
I congratulated his woman on at least having the honesty, courage and humility to share her situation, and suggested that she was beginning to love herself just by naming her reality, feeling the emotions involved, and risking to share them with another. I then tried to reassure her that there was nothing that she could do to make God love her more than God already loves her. I invited her to pray with Isaiah 43:1-4, a passage in which God ends up saying that she is honored and precious in God’s sight just because God loves her.
Rick Warren, author of the book The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of the huge Saddleback Church in California, shared a touching and beautiful incident that relates to this challenge to love ourselves. He would go to the crib where his little child lay sleeping, and just gaze at the child, delighting in that child, watching the little chest move up and down with each breath. The child wasn’t doing anything at all, except sleeping and breathing. He delighted in having a role in co-creating this miracle of life and tiny bundle of joy.
It struck Rick that is exactly how God is looking at us right now – every moment of every day, just delighting in us, just for being, without our having to do anything or making any effort at all to earn that love of God. God loves us, as we are, just because God loves us. Our task is to humbly believe that and begin to live out of that belief.
I know that I am not alone with my history of trying to earn my father’s love for many years through hard work and dutiful obedience, much like the elder son in the parable that Jesus relates. What I didn’t realize was that I was also probably trying to earn God’s love in that misguided effort. That of course proved frustrating and futile, for love cannot be earned – it is a free gift that can only be received.
Sr. Teresita Kambeitz OSU wrote years ago in the former Oblate Our Family magazine words that struck me then and have helped me shift away from that stance of trying to earn God’s love, to a stance of believing in how loved we are by God: “God accepts us as we are, but believes in who we can become.” Wise words that we can take to heart to help us believe in ourselves and how loved we already are by our God who is love.
A healthy self-love leads to a healthy self-confidence, like my niece Chantel who had a way with words from the age of three. Very secure in her parent’s love, she could recount the Purple Puzzle Tree with great enthusiasm and spell complicated words. When she showed me her piggy bank, I thought I could challenge her by my comment that she was a very “frugal” little miss. She looked at me with wide eyes, said “Thank you” and walked away – leaving me stumped – did she understand that word or not?
Today, the church honours some who gave their lives for Christ. Between 1633 and 1637, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and 15 companions were martyred in Nagasaki, Japan. Most of the group were members or associates of the Dominicans. Lorenzo, a husband and father, was a native of the Philippines. The group spent several years working as missionaries in the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan) and Japan. Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions were canonized in 1987.
The Eucharist is a daily reminder of how loved we are by God, who gave us his Son out of gratuitous love for us, and who continues to pour out on us that love through both Word and Sacrament.
May our celebration empower us to truly believe in that psalm response, that God delights in God’s people, and help us to live out of that belief by loving God back in worship, and loving others as we love ourselves.