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A few years ago, the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., commissioned a poll to find out why Catholics had left or stayed in the Church.
Their answers show why this Sunday (the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A) is important.
The lapsed often left for reasons having to do with human relationships: “My daughter came out as gay.” “Being divorced they do not let you take communion.” “My parish was a cold place.”
Those who stayed faithful, however, stayed for reasons having to do with their relationship with God: “Our Lord gives me comfort.” “I attend to be close to Jesus.” “Our faith is an integral part of who we are.”
In today’s Gospel, the Lord gives the two chief commandments, and we can trace all the problems in the Church to this day to the failure to follow both, together.
Said Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Love of God and neighbor is the glue that holds the Church together. Without love of God, the Church is just a club; without the love of neighbor, the Church is just a theological society.
Getting this right is crucially important because when God became man he united two disparate things: Divine perfection and human frailty.
When he chose to make the Church his chosen instrument of salvation, he hid his Real Presence behind the appearance of bread, his Divine Mercy behind the face of a priest and his Saving Word in the voices of sinners.
The only way to bridge the gap is to love. We must love God; we must love one another.
In one sense it is hard to love God. His ways are not our ways and we reject his doctrines before we give them a chance. Worse, the behavior of some of us who appreciate his doctrines might actually make it harder for others to do the same.
The lapsed Catholics who answered the poll often found the Church’s rules to be rigid, inhuman and a source of sadness. We know that they are in fact lifelines, but we don’t always act like the Good News is Good News and we don’t always share it with others.
A friend recently posted on Facebook a nice summation of what our attitudes should be: “Instead of asking if others are following the rules, ask yourself if you’re loving them. God gave us rules to protect us, not to condemn others by them. They need God’s love and if it doesn’t come through you who will they experience it from?”
This seems to be the kind of believer St. Paul was. In the Second Reading, he is able to tell the Thessalonians, “You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Paul and his crew treated these people charitably, and love of God followed.
We should live and interact with others such that we will be able to tell pollsters: “I know and love Christ because of the Catholics I saw who were so filled with God’s love.”