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Words to Live

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(03/15/09) How deep and enriching an experience it is to recall the "favorite words" of those who have deeply loved us and befriended us. . . especially when we realized that those same words were somehow backed up by the love these people showed to you and me.. . . words that were not mechanical, but deeply meaningful and still resonate in our hearts. These words somehow changed our lives.. and urged us to move forward with hope and courage. I have tried to speak those words in my homilies, in the sacrament of reconciliation, in spiritual direction and especially to those who are dying.. . . words of love, graced words - from Scripture and other sources--

How sad it is to listen to the life-stories of intimate friends or even of strangers, whose parents never expressed to them such words to live by: uplifting words, "I love you. The Lord loves you always. Mary is with you." In my ministry I have always found it difficult to help those same people believe deeply in the words of grace that God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit speaks to them with a consuming, everlasting love. "You are my beloved daughter or son." Through the years in my various homilies I have somehow worked in that simple message: "The Lord always loves you. . . each of you in your beautiful uniqueness. You are my "beloved." . . . simple words, words to live by. May the Lord give you and me the grace to listen deeply with our hearts to those words and express the truth of them by the way we live. . . to commit ourselves to an ever deepening surrender to the God who in his Son surrendered himself to us

In our lifelong journey we find ourselves wondering at times how we can express our faithful love to the One whose faithful love is ever with us. What can we give in return to the gift of his burning, consuming love for each of us in her or his uniqueness? Barbara Reid, a Dominican teacher of the New Testament states our gift to the "divine giver" very simply: devotion to God and care for other people.

The Decalogue- the Ten Commandments- spells out 10 ways that we can be faithful. The culture in which we live would try to reduce these words simply to 10 suggestions. We would do well, however, to let these words sink deeply into our hearts. These "words to live by" speak for themselves The first part of the Decalogue gives us "words to live by" as we relate ourselves to the Lord. First, we should be single-hearted in our devotion to God who should be the center of our attention. We are to honor his holy name which expresses his "identity and power." We are to spend time- one day a week-with this divine Lover who delights in all that he has made and has given himself to us.

We cannot validly claim a love for God unless we care for other people. Our love for him would be empty if we fail to love other as we love ourselves. And our love for others as ourselves would be blind unless we loved him. In the second part of the Decalogue God in his ardent love for us, gives us, as he gave Moses, "words to live by" as we relate to one another. We are to care for our elderly parents. We are to reverence all life. From womb to tomb we dare not snuff out any life. We are called - commanded- to be faithful in our relationships with others and content with what we own. A person should be devoted to one's own spouse and honest in all their dealings with others.

Jesus, the young man from Galilee -- the "beloved Son of the Father, had been home-schooled and synagogue-schooled in the traditions of his people. He knew well these holy words of the covenant of his ancestors-the "words to live by." Like other Jews, Jesus also realized that faithfulness to God was to be expressed through Temple worship.

The Gospel writer, John, like the other evangelists describes Jesus as "cleansing" the Temple in Jerusalem, the "House of his Father." Unlike the other evangelists who place this "protest action" of Jesus in the temple at the close of his ministry, the evangelist John locates this dramatic incident at the beginning right after the first sign that Jesus gave, 'the changing of water into wine" at Cana. John stresses that Jesus is doing something new both at that fabled wedding-feast and also in the Temple. He teaches us that in Jesus the new age of the Messiah has begun. The bold, forceful action of Jesus signals that his ministry will replace the old system of worship with the new, living temple of his very own body. On the cross Jesus would make the all perfect offering that would go beyond every other sacrifice.

John stresses that the very person of Jesus embodies God's love for us. It is in Jesus and not in a building that we encounter God.

John cuts through the misunderstanding of those who thought Jesus was predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. He points out that Jesus was speaking about the temple of his own body. Like the water at Cana the Temple in Jerusalem would be replaced by the person of Jesus. He, whose body would be destroyed, but raised after three days, would be the place for meeting God. He would be the one by whose words we would live. . the one who would make known to you and me the Father's love for us.

John has Jesus' disciples recalling a verse from a psalm: "Zeal for your house will consume me." That word "house" can refer to the Jerusalem Temple which housed the living God. In preparing today's homily I learned that the word "house" can also refer to the "household" of God. Jesus' zeal for the "household of God"---for the members of God's household--- that includes you and me, folks- that zeal consumes him to sacrifice himself. May you and I imitate in whatever ways we can such consuming love.

The beautiful words of the Jesuit, Father William Barry, bring my homily to closure: "We were created by God's desire, a desire that never fails, a desire that is everlasting, a desire that knows not death and can never be extinguished. That desire creates us, makes us who we are---indeed makes us desirable to God. And that desire lives deep inside us, drawing us to union with God. That desire evokes hope in us, a hope that, no matter what happens, we are wanted by God and will live forever with God." (William A. Barry, S.J. "We Had Hoped", America, April 12, 2004)

Read other homilies by Father Paul