Saturday, September 9, 2017

HURRICANES, EARTHQUAKES, and THE GOSPEL



Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments,“You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)


As I was meditating on this text (this coming Sunday’s second reading at mass), I kept thinking about floods (Houston), earthquakes (Mexico) and hurricane Irma, in terms of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  I kept thinking about a New York firefighter who was interviewed on the radio as he set off for Florida to help with the anticipated destruction -- he was using his vacation time to volunteer his services.

There were lots of stories from Houston about private citizens setting out in their own boats to rescue their neighbors, and others who opened their homes to strangers.

I can imagine what kind of selfless helping has been happening in the Caribbean islands in the wake of Irma.

Wanting to look deeper into the passage, I looked it up in the original Greek as I sat in church (thanks to my Kindle Fire), and my eye fell right away on the word heteron, “the other,” in the opening verse: “the one who loves the other has fulfilled the whole law.” It doesn’t say to love ones brother, or even ones neighbor, but, simply, to love another human being. Okay, cool; we all understand that. By coincidence, today is the feast of St. Peter Claver, the Spanish Jesuit, who spend his entire life helping the newly arrived African slaves as they got off the boat in Colombia.

The question now becomes, to what extent can a principle or command such as "Love one
anther" apply to a whole group of people (specifically, a nation)? Does the Lord expect a nation to love “the other?” To the extent that a nation doesn't have a soul or a conscience in the strict sense, it can’t strictly “love” at all. But I remember traveling in Europe in 1976 and having people tell me how grateful they were to America for delivering them from the Germans and sending food and clothing, and helping them rebuild after the war. I believe that we have always had a reputation for being a generous people.


So I was a little uneasy listening to a representative of the United States reminding Americans and the world, earlier this week, that our first principle will always be to put America’s interests first. Granted, “America first” can mean many things to many people, but I must say that, even if it is not shouted at a political rally, it sounds like a cloak for a host of opinions and principles that don’t agree with the Gospel message.

I pray that St. Peter Claver will intercede for us, so that the Lord may show us how we as a nation can continue acting as a generous helper to less fortunate countries around the globe -- after all, “America first” can also mean a lot of beautiful and live-giving things as well, depending on what it is that we want to be first in.  

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