Fr Thomas’ Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Love your neighbour as yourself

Homosexual people have the right to be in a family.  They are children of God.”  These words of Pope Francis and more were covered in the media all over the world last Thursday, 22 October.  The Holy Father went on to say, “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this.  What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”  This statement was taken from an interview Pope Francis gave for a film, ‘Francesco’, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky.  The Pope in the interview was highlighting some of the challenges of living out our love for our neighbour and for God.  He also suggested a positive way to assist the struggling homosexuals.  The kind of expression we heard from Pope Francis surprised, even shocked, many people. Was the pontiff breaking away from the traditional teachings of the Church? What Pope Francis said was nothing new.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) promulgated by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1992 was an official response to the question of homosexuality.  It says, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. … They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.  These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives..” (Ref CCC  # 2358) (Incidentally Pope Francis’ response hit the media on the feast of Saint John Paul II, 22 October.)

When he was asked “’Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?’  Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’” (Ref Matthew 22:37-40).  The command to love God with all our soul and mind was nothing new to the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus.  In fact a pious Jew would recite this verse about the love of God from Deuteronomy twice a day.  What was new from Jesus was that he expanded on the love of God with the practical application you must love your neighbour as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18).  We cannot love God without having practical ways of showing His compassion.  Pope Francis, in his comments, was showing one of the contemporary implications of loving God and neighbour. Compassion is at the heart of Christian religious living.

We are called to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.  To be able to do this, we need to picture ourselves in their place, mindful of their circumstances.  To see oneself in the place of another is the key to responding with compassion.  Thus, loving others will constantly challenge a Disciple of Christ to find new dimensions of Christian living.  The Church used to think that allowing civil union will undermine the Sacrament of Marriage.  Now after prayer and discernment, Pope Francis sees otherwise, allowing civil union for homosexuals need not diminish the importance and sacredness of marriage, and yet be a proper expression of the love and respect for the neighbour.  Are you up to new challenges in living out your love for your neighbour?