“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Who is your neighbor? This is an age-old question, not first asked by the disciples of Jesus, but pondered from the beginning of time. For whom am I responsible? With whom should I interact?
It may be easy to identify your neighbor at first. The person who lives next door, the person who sits at the desk next to yours at work, the friend with whom you have shared a lifetime, your extended family of cousins. Your list may be quite large and you may feel justified by its breadth.
Jesus talks to us about our neighbor as being everyone, because we are all created by God for God. There is no one who is excluded from the neighborhood. This identification of neighbor changes our perspective. We don’t choose our neighbors. God places our neighbors all around us and it is up to us to extend His goodness to them. Jesus tells us the story about the Good Samaritan to help us understand the openness we must extend to those around us. This openness may be uncomfortable to us because Jesus is asking us to consider those among us whom we may not wish to be our neighbors.
Whom might you call neighbor? Who is excluded from your list? Pray about why some are included and others are not. Reflect upon Jesus’ words. How might your actions change?
Always in the consideration of others is the gift of forgiveness. Often, in order to forgive others, we must first forgive ourselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, “The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is ‘given up for us,’ and the blood we drink ‘shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.’ For this reason, the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins” (1393). The Eucharist strengthens us to live good and holy lives in the power of Christ’s saving death. Jesus says, “do this and you will live.”
Jesus asks who was the neighbor? “He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Pope Francis comments, “Indeed, to love our neighbors better, we need to know them, and in order to know who they are, we often have to find ways to overcome ancient prejudices.”
It is our faith in God which gives us the strength to love our neighbor – to not disparage others through gossip or bullying; to pray for everyone, even our enemies; and to not let sentiments of envy grow. In living our faith, we realize that we cannot profess a love of God and exclude our neighbor. The fullness of faith is loving God through the love we offer our neighbor!
On June 20, we commemorated World Refugee Day. At the end of 2021, more than 89.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order; 27.1 million of these are refugees, which means they were found to have fled their homelands because of persecution, war or violence and they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” if they return home, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. More than two-thirds (69%) of all refugees come from five countries: Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela.
Some of these people are welcomed into our country through Catholic Charities of Central Florida as we effort to laudably resettle these vulnerable people who have already suffered so much. We also pray for and minister to those who seek refuge from human trafficking and safety for their families across the borders of many countries, especially war-torn Ukraine.
Most of our neighbors are not far away, anxious to resettle. Most are those in our own neighborhoods whom we have rejected because of differences or our judgement of their sins, whatever they may be. When you receive the Eucharist during the celebration of Mass, remember that from the Cross, Jesus saw each one, saw you! as His neighbor and loves you completely.
May we go and do likewise.