Homily 13th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 2, 2017

As we celebrate America’s birthday this coming week, we all have the opportunity to express our love for country by way of enjoying festivities. Cookouts; gatherings with family and friends; wearing red, white, and blue; sneaking in an illegal firecracker or two. You can bring that to Confession.
As Americans of all stripes, it’s easy to love much about the country we’re blessed to call home. Here at Immaculate Conception, we stand on the heels of people like Fr. Ed Connors, whose chaplaincy of the 9th Infantry Division during World War II is well known to many of us. A true Patriot-Priest who served his country with honor and distinction back in the 1940’s. And hanging around these parts until his death in 1986.
To reflect Fr. Connors’ patriotism and love of country, just check out the back two stain-glass windows the good Padre had installed in the Church when it was built back in 1957. One is Blessed Mary blessing George Washington, titled Washington Prays For His Country, which the Bishop of Worcester at the time thought Fr. Connors was a bit too Protestant back in ’57 with that window. You can see who won that discussion. And the other one on the other side is For God and Country. A phrase that goes to the heart of the life of the former Pastor who invited thousands of veterans from the 9th Division back to Worcester each year to celebrate friendships and survival.
For God and Country. For God and Family. And therein lies the Greatest Generation; God, family, and country. I’ve seen this firsthand with many funerals I’ve been blessed to preside at. Funerals of veterans, as well as their spouses who made the country run while the enlisted were overseas. Both of them doing their duty for freedom.
God, family, and country gets to the heart of this week’s Gospel and readings. Readings about love, prioritizing our love, and enjoying the freedom that flows from our love.
“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say you are not to love your parents and children. That we are to somehow leave them destitute and alone, especially in old age and sickness. Yet, my sense is that’s how some folks understand the words of our Lord, and feel offended by them, when the truth of Christian teaching and application is just the opposite. We are to love parents and children, and I would add siblings, friends, and strangers, even enemies. We are to love our country, as Fr. Connors did, with all its issues, bad laws, attacks on religious freedom, its setbacks and shortcomings. That sounds like a family!
But Jesus’ teaching to the Apostles is to help them understand and accept into their Christian discipleship that he takes second place to no one. His purpose has nothing at all to do with an oversized ego. He has no ego. So we can scratch that off the list of reasons why love for him must be given before our love for family.
Here’s the reason why he wants such prioritized love from his Apostles, and from each of us; it’s in Romans, chapter 6; “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Love for the Lord leads to newness of life, where love is fulfilled in dimensions that we can’t even behold right now.
The same goes with love for country. Love your country with all of her blessings and curses. But don’t be so overzealous about her that our love for country supersedes love for our Creator. Remember the hands that brought us into existence, and the hands that will grant us newness of life.
How is this greater love for Jesus manifested for us Catholics? First, through devotion to his holy Name. The only time the Apostles spoke the word Jesus, Yeshua, was when they praised him as Lord, or when they told stories in the oral tradition of what he spoke or did among the people. When spoken, his Name was always raised high. Second, have a steadfast prayer life that searches for the closeness the Apostles have in this Gospel. They’re sitting with him. Take time to sit with Christ, who desires our closeness. It’s not a freaky thing to do. It’s most natural. A Christian who fails to pray is way too occupied with worldly things that are passing.
Third, greater love for Christ is manifested in our solemn, reverent reception of Holy Eucharist. I must admit I get frustrated at weddings and funerals when an individual comes forward to receive the Eucharist and they simply grab at it… Our posture and reverence when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ expresses a greater love for our Savior. It reveals what’s in a person’s heart. A very simple act that takes about 3 seconds, but a very meaningful and profound act on our part.
And fourth, our greater love for Christ is always manifested in the familiar commandment of loving neighbor. Our greater love for Christ is never disconnected from caring about the needs of the real poor and despised, as well as praying for those who abuse power and finances. Love of neighbor is not only about serving the poor, but about the wayward rich also.
Jesus demands our greater love for him so that we may love greatly in this short life. It’s the fool who thinks they can love greatly without loving God initially. People like that take all the credit, and give none to the One who sustains their life. May we love Christ first and above all, and the eternal joys that follow will be ours. Fr. Connors had it right; For God and Country. He had his priorities in order. He understood this Gospel very well.