“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 in 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 to 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” (CCC 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 2018, there were 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, and 25.9 million of those people were officially recognized as 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. Children under the age of 18 make up one half of the world’s refugee population. More than two-thirds (67%) of all refugees were from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.
Some of these people are welcomed into our country through Catholic Charities of Central Florida. While we strive to laudably resettle these vulnerable people who have already suffered so much, others of us work against these efforts of mercy and instead judge or persecute them through resettlement.
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, whatever they may be. When you receive the Eucharist during the celebration of Mass, remember that from the Cross, Jesus saw each one as His neighbor and loved them completely.
May we go and do likewise.