Past HOMILY of Father Jim Chern.
So it will soon be Valentine’s Day. It’s been hard not to notice. The day after Christmas, the CVS store had already cleared out the Christmas decorations and had boxes and boxes of cards, candy, Stuffed Animals (including my personal favorite, Snoopy) with “I love you” stitched on it. A whole variety of gifts for people to take a moment to express their love for one another. While it’s not just a romantic thing, it’s common to see little kids share a Valentine with each other, children with their parents and grandparents to take a moment to say “I love you”, the greatest amount of stress surrounding this holiday seems to be among guys and girls dating. And call me biased, it seems 100 times worse on the guy side.
Ladies, you can call guys insensitive, whatever – the fact is we don’t know how to make you happy on Valentine’s Day even when you tell us! It can be hard to find the right way to express our love. The last Valentine’s Day of major consequence for me was in college. I was dating a girl, Katie, for about 3 months (but we had been friends for about a year and a half). Anyway, I knew that she always loved the music to Jesus Christ Superstar and that she had never been to a live theatre production- so when I saw that there was a Broadway production touring in Philadelphia (which was about an hour away from where we went to school) and that it was going to be there on Valentines Day, I thought that would be perfect!
$50 a ticket mind you – it’s not a lot now, yeah, well back in 1993 and being a poor college student myself – it was a heck of a lot more! I share that not to complain, but as a preface to this next part that, in the light of the 14 years since I might understand a little better why the night didn’t go as well as I had imagined. After $100 on tickets, and knowing the parking, gas, etc was going to be another 20-30 bucks, well I was more than financially tapped out. And I just hadn’t planned every detail correctly. So as we’re driving around 5:30/6:00 that evening to the theatre, I realized something important. I was kind of hungry… so I said “Katie, are you hungry?” And she said that she was, so being the gentleman I was, I asked her if she had a preference to stop at Burger King or McDonalds. Despite my friends who mocked me later about this, I did not purchase her a Happy Meal. She had a Big Mac value meal (which I told the woman behind the counter to super-size since it was on me…I know how to treat a lady…)
Anyway, the show was great… and I thought that she enjoyed it all, but it wasn’t long after that we broke up. In fact it was less than a week. And in the interest of full disclosure, she broke up with me… citing this night as one reason. Which, ladies, just an F.Y.I. – when you’re breaking up with a guy, telling him he just wasted about $150 on a night isn’t the best time to critique – I remember her saying she did enjoy the evening, but sorry if she didn’t find McDonalds for dinner followed by watching Jesus get crucified set to rock music the most romantic thing I could’ve imagined. The next fall I entered the seminary. (Kidding, it was 2 years later…)
It can be hard to find the right way to express our love. Not just between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, or any of our other human relationships… How do we show our love for God? Is there a Valentine’s Day gift or card that would somehow be able to articulate “I Love you Lord?”
If we look at what Jesus is saying in this entire passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, we find that Jesus is telling us how to love our Heavenly Father. We know that God hates sin… Jesus hates sin. So Jesus tells us how we can demonstrate our love? If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off… No, there aren’t knives and saws in the back of the Church for us to make this a Valentine’s Day God (or any of us) would never forget.
God had given His people a covenant. He had said to them You will be my people… and I will be your God – and the expectations on God’s part was articulated in the Ten Commandments. By following those ten laws, the Lord had said – His people would demonstrate their faithfulness, their love for God. But people being people, humans being human had been looking for shortcuts and loopholes… to do the least that they had to do.
Which is why this Gospel is so real (it almost sounds like Jesus is from Jersey, doesn’t it? I’m almost waiting for Him to say “You think you’re being faithful? You think you’re loving my Father by doing what you’re doing? COME ON) Jesus being fully God and fully human is able to speak even more directly to us. He’s pointing out the inconsistencies, the loopholes we’ve created. Kind of fooling ourselves into thinking that if we were on trial we could say to God – Well Lord, technically we were following your commands… Technically we never took a gun or a knife and killed someone conveniently forgetting the butcher job we did talking about people… Lord, when did I ever commit adultery…me and the people I fooled around with were never married… And so on.
Jesus is trying to move us out of living a relationship that is that shallow into a loving relationship. Which is why he uses ridiculous extreme examples like cutting off limbs that could cause us to sin to point out how ridiculous we can be. How we can fall into the trap of simply trying to fulfill an obligation rather than truly express our love. Because in the end, the body part that matters the most to Jesus is not our eyes or hands but our hearts and our giving them completely to him, He truly possessing them…living in them.
So the way we commit ourselves to following Him more closely, to demonstrate our love for Him is to live an authentic life based on what we’ve heard in this Gospel. Which means that we find the one who matters the most, the decisions, the choices we make in each of our lives are based on only one person, who is often forgotten in the Valentines Day hype is and Jesus Christ. That can seem very un-valentiney, (un-Cupid?) I know… But our late, great Holy Father Pope John Paul II had a beautiful quote that says when we make Jesus first, that doesn’t diminish any of our relationships.n He said – “The Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one.”
When we think about it – flowers die, candy is digested, cards – stuffed animals – gifts will fade and be discarded, even a night at the theatre will one day simply be a memory. In light of the fullness of life Jesus wants us to have right here, right now… Remembering the promises Jesus is offering us of the eternal life that is to come, what greater gift can we give to those in our lives that we care about not just on Valentines Day, but every day of our lives than to fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ.