by Father William R. Dulaney
IN THE WELL-KNOWN musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye and Lazar sing, “God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor; how much more could we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for?”
Fortunately, even in the midst of life’s trials and tribulations, there are many things for which we can be joyful. We frequently observe or hear about heroic deeds, acts of kindness and examples of concern for others, which gladden our hearts.
We’re inspired by the generous financial contributions, the donations of food, water and clothing, and the efforts of caring people who help the victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, or reach out to aid those suddenly widowed, orphaned, homeless or bereft of their possessions and resources.
On a daily basis, individuals and families in need benefit from emergency relief and services provided by churches, soup kitchens and shelters. Parish, school and community service programs are possible because of dedicated volunteers year in and year out.
When conscientious, selfless adults give of themselves to help others, they set good examples and become role models for their children; when young people participate in service programs, they learn that the good they do makes a difference.
Such a litany of good deeds indicates many of us have taken seriously the call to love our neighbor so evident in today’s Scriptures.
The passage from Exodus warns us not to take advantage of the poor, wrong orphans or widows, or mistreat foreigners in our midst.
In Thessalonians, Paul exhorts us to turn from our selfish ways and serve God through our love of others to such an extent that we become models for all believers.
When asked in the Gospel which commandment is the greatest, Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your hearts, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In connecting these two commandments, Jesus is saying the total love of God required of His followers cannot be separated from our love for one another. The love of God is first in the order of precepts; the love of neighbor is first in the order of practice.
Praiseworthy as it is that we are rich in good deeds, we must be careful to keep alive and develop our personal spiritual relationship with God. We can’t ignore our need to set aside time for formal prayer and worship and receive frequently the sacraments Our Lord has given us as means of His grace.
Past experience and mistakes remind us we are human. Even the most idealistic and energetic among us get tired from time to time. When our strength, resolve, patience and endurance reach their limit, we need to renew ourselves; we simply cannot run on empty. We need someone greater and stronger than ourselves to sustain us. As we are doing good for others, we can’t ignore our own need for God.
During the fast-approaching holiday season, we will put together food baskets, participate in toy drives, and contribute to the Bright Christmas fund, all while holding down jobs and keeping our families going.
If we’re not careful, we run the risk of burning ourselves out and allowing the opportunities for spiritual growth unique to Thanksgiving and Christmas to pass us by.
It’s no accident that today’s Gospel passage ends with Jesus reminding us that the law which guides our lives as His disciples depends on both of the great commandments.
Let us never tire of helping others; let us never forget whose presence in our lives we cannot do without. As we strive to love God with heart, soul and mind, let us remember we can always be joyful because of God’s abiding love for us.[hr] Readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 22: 20-26
Psalm 18: 2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22: 34-40[hr] Father William R. Dulaney is a parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great parish, Bellerose.