Sunday, March 02, 2008

True love, or self-love?

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

I want to open today’s homily with the words that our dear friend Fr. John Limbeson would use whenever he would give the sermon here. Fr. John (May his memory be eternal!) would always begin by saying, “My brothers and sisters, remember that God loves you!” This seemed an appropriate reminder on this Meatfare Sunday as we contemplate today’s gospel lesson on the Final Judgment. It is not at all out-of-place to speak of the love of God and the fearful and terrible judgment of mankind together. The two absolutely go together, and if our Christian lives are to have any eternal value at all we must understand how this is so.

First and foremost, let us be quite certain to understand that the judgment described here in Matthew 25 is the one that will be faced by each and every human being, including you and me. This is not some sort of “separate judgment” reserved only for those who “come out of the tribulation period” as many of us were once taught. I’m sure we can understand the motive behind such a teaching. Given a choice, who wouldn’t want to sidestep an actual judgment in favor of the idea that believers need only gather before that happy place called “The Great White Throne” to undergo a mere formality of “giving an account” for their lives, the outcome of which will in no way affect their salvation which has already been assured by their faith alone? It’s not too hard to see why this is a popular belief and why people defend it so fiercely.

Unfortunately, it’s a false and misleading belief. From the beginning, Christians have always understood and taught that every human being—believer and unbeliever equally—shall on that one dreadful Day be made to stand before God to be judged for how he has lived in this life, for the choices he has made, and in turn, for what those choices have made of him. This isn’t a matter of “faith vs. works”. This is a matter of whether your faith has worked and made you one with the love of God, or of discovering that it was an empty faith which made no measurable difference in your life.

This is where the connection between the love of God and our ultimate judgment is made. When we each stand before the Judge, He will be searching our lives for evidence that His love has taken root in us and produced some measure of fruit, or whether there is no love in us and we have been left barren.

This is exactly what we see in Matthew 25. The Judge scrutinizes each person to see if during his lifetime, he had made it a priority to do such things as feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and those in prison. God looks for genuine love in the hearts of people. This is a remarkably simple standard of judgment, and yet how many human beings will ultimately fail it because such a love will not be found within them?

Some complained that the judgment was unfair. “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty and not minister unto Thee?” But that was the problem. Being so completely out of touch with the love of God, they never saw Christ in any of the hurting, lonely, or needy people that surrounded them daily. So entirely self-absorbed, they were oblivious to everything except the pursuit of their own pleasure and happiness.

Life is not meant to be such a selfish pursuit. We human beings were designed by God to participate in His life and be shaped by His love. We were created to share eternally in the perfect communion of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But our First Parents rejected that love, and every generation since has rejected that love, preferring to embrace a counterfeit that in reality is the exact opposite of the love of God.

The love of God can be described as selfless, always mindful of the other, always willing to give all for the benefit of the beloved. The love of God is perfectly seen in the humble self-emptying and sacrificial self-offering of Jesus Christ for our sakes and for our salvation. The more we come to see the love of God as the true definition of genuine love, the more we realize what the opposite of that love is. The opposite of love is not “hate” as most people might think, but rather, the opposite of genuine love is self-love.

Unlike God’s love which is fundamentally the love of the other, fallen human love is the love of the self over the other. Even when we make our clumsy attempts to love someone else we often do so selfishly, mostly concerned with our own feelings, our needs, or even just our fear of being alone. Self-love, rooted in the sinful passions and directed by them, in every way manifests the exact opposite of what we see in God’s love. Self-love is not long-suffering; it does not bear all things, believe all things, or hope all things. Self-love is easily offended, remembers every wrong, envies the good enjoyed by friends, and rejoices in the evil that befalls those whom we dislike.

But there is more. Because of self-love we shy away from spiritual practices and nearly always refuse to be strict with ourselves in the ascetic disciplines of our faith. Self-love doesn’t think that we should “work too hard” for God, but rather should enjoy life. Self-love is also the reason why we refuse to give up our favorite sins or to struggle too earnestly against them. If the truth were told, we enjoy our sins so why should we give them up? Motivated by self-love, we would rather pamper ourselves, go easy on ourselves, shrug off anything the least bit difficult, and pursue every delightful, pleasant thing in this fallen world. It’s the broad and easy way to destruction that self-love leads us down. And all the while it assures us, “Do not fear the judgment, for God loves you!”

Yes, my brothers and sisters, God does love you. And because He loves you, He wants you to die to your twisted self-love so that you might come alive to His genuine love and be saved. Another sign that God loves us is Great Lent, which is our annual opportunity to attack the spiritual sloth and indifference brought about by our self-love and not simply cave in to it forever.

If you’ve let anything limit your Lenten participation in the past, why not approach it differently this year? Before you fall into the habit of staying home and skipping most of the services, or ignore the fast, or refuse the prayers and almsgiving, take a look at yourself and ask, “How long am I going to let my twisted self-love limit my communion with God? When will I take on the challenge to be a bit hard on myself and try to make a positive difference in my soul?” Once you ask yourself that, may I suggest your answer should be, “This year! This Lent!”? And why not? God is with us. He has given us these spiritual disciplines so that we can make a difference in our lives. The only thing that’s needed is our willingness to be courageous, to make the effort, to give it our best.

Thank God for Lent! Thank God that He loves us, though we mostly only love ourselves. May His love, through the Lenten season, deliver us from self love to embrace the genuine love of God. And may His love, shared among us as genuine love always is, save us from destruction in the coming judgment.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 3/12/2008 8:57 AM , Blogger E Rica said...

I really loved this sermon. :)

At 3/13/2008 6:40 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Father, Thank you for this homily, all the work you put into it, and your committment to our parish. Your example has been a great source of encouragement to me. I would really like to make more progress to become like Christ. I'm figuring out that there are no shortcuts!! Wish there were!!


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