Hi everyone - here’s my Homily for October 23. 2011 - the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102311.cfm . As always, thanks for reading and your feedback and comments.
Okay so let me warn you, this is a bit of a tear jerker: The headline read “Couple Married 72 years dies holding hands.” I know... seriously, get some tissues. It’s a true story about Gordon and Norma Yeager, a couple who got engaged the day they graduated high school, were married in 1939 and have been by each other’s side ever since. The news stories showed pictures of the couple that their children had shared from over the years. One photo showed Gordon fooling around like he was the life of the party, while Norma has holding her hand up in the air sort of waving him off as she was smiling. That picture seemed to be the perfect illustration of the two who, their son Dennis described saying - “They just loved being together.[my dad would say:] I can't go until she does because I have to stay here for her and she would say the same thing.”
A week and a half ago, Gordon and Norma were involved in a car accident. They were rushed to an Intensive Care Unit in a local hospital. When they got to the Emergency Room, the doctors could tell quickly how serious the injuries were and that there wasn’t a lot that they could do for them. The hospital staff had put them in the same room together. By the time their children came in to visit their parents, there they were; together; in the ICU unit, side by side, holding hands.
Gordon passed away holding the hand of his bride of 72 years with the family they had raised surrounding them, at 3:38 pm, exactly one hour before Norma would pass. Before she did though, this amazing thing occurred. Their son Dennis explained: "It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn't figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going. But we were like, he isn't breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that's because they were holding hands and it's going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up."
It seems too dramatic to be real, doesn’t it? It’s sad that even a priest would be so cynical to say “come on, really???” which was what I thought when I first read the headline to the story. Because we’ve heard and experienced so much broken ness hearing that a couple has remained faithful to each other for 72 years, sounds like something you’d read about in Guinness Book of World Records. When you learn of the dramatic circumstances of how Gordon and Norma passed away within an hour of each other - it sounds like a scene from a movie where all we need is Celine Dion singing a song in the background for the film and then we can roll the credits. Yet it was all true. And that image, that after Gordon had passed away, they could still measure through the monitors that her heart was beating through him kept coming to mind praying with this Gospel passage.
For the last few weeks at Sunday Mass we’ve been hearing this back and forth between those who didn’t accept Jesus, who were trying to entrap Him, accuse Him, discount Him, raise more critics or opponents to Him. So this passage we just heard picks up from this ongoing debate. Today we hear how another scholar comes forward and asks, of all the Laws that the Jews had, and they had a lot – not just the 10 commandments, there were over 613 laws that could be found in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) – out of all of those - which was the most important. The reason this was another “trap” was that a variety of Jewish leaders, teachers would have all had a variety of different answers to that. Depending upon how Jesus answered, he could be attacked, mocked... He could lose followers with one answer (it was like an ancient example of a modern political debate, one wrong answer and you could be toast)
And just like we’ve heard these past few weeks with each of these back-and-forths, Jesus’ speaks in such a clever way that He is able to get out of whatever bind that he’s presented with. On the surface it seems like he’s answering by not answering. He doesn’t chose one of the 613 they were expecting. Jesus answers by saying “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind... you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is reminding them and us that the foundation to the commandments, the laws is all about Love.
We don’t follow His commands, we don’t obey His laws out of fear... we do it because that’s the only thing that we can offer Him. The only thing God doesn’t have (and so the perfect gift we an give Him) is our obedience. Think about that – God who is all powerful, all knowing, all loving has everything He could ever have, except for that one thing – our obedience, so in trying to give a gift to someone who has everything – the perfect gift we can offer God is our obedience. So Jesus doesn’t dismiss any of the other laws or commandments with some warm fuzzy “just love” and everything is okay. Those laws and commandments are important, they mean something because they are ways of expressing our Love for God.
That might sound strange because the word “Love” has been so mis-used and misunderstood. Sometimes people have misused it saying the word love when what they mean is “lusting” or “using” someone. Love is something that costs something, means something, demands something. Love is more than a feeling. Love is a choice, a decision.
The story of Gordon and Norma gives us a beautiful example of marital love, the love of husband and wife. Not simply in the dramatic ending that brought them worldwide attention. But rather in the lives lived for 72 years of a husband and wife who experienced ups and downs, trials, struggles, as well as joys and blessings they could never had imagined as two young 18 year olds out of high school. What made the end of their lives so dramatic was that it was a perfect expression of what had been happening for all those years. They faced a trial together; they held one another’s hands; and their love, their hearts beat through one another right to the end.
Love in the Christian understanding is perfected in Jesus laying down His life for us on the Cross. When we lay down our own desires, wants, needs; when we are willing to “die to self” for another – whether it’s the Mom changing the dirty diaper, the Dad taking care of a sick child in the middle of the night; the husband and wife putting the other ahead of themselves, the child giving their allowance to a charity - there are countless ways and examples where we see glimmers of that Love reflected in our own lives.
And another thing we should note – Jesus’ “command” to Love God in this way reveals something that is really important. He’s asking us to love Him this way, because that’s how He loves us. That the creator of the universe loves you and I with all His heart, all His Soul, all His Mind. That’s breathtaking when you think about it. Jesus invites us to let those words penetrate our lives. To open ourselves to experiencing that Love - in His word; in His body and blood in the Eucharist. And even more, to live that Love - sharing our very selves with one another. To obey His commands. Its in doing those things that we grab onto His hand and if we were hooked up to a heart monitor one might be able to pick up Jesus’ heartbeat beating through us...
Full story about Gordon and Norma : http://www.kcci.com/r/29528191/detail.html