Reading 1: Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading 2: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
Pope Francis gave us a new encyclical message earlier this month. Its subject was social friendship. But another way to think about it would be to say that the encyclical concerns our relationships. Pope Francis wrote that his hope is nothing less than “the rebirth of a universal aspiration to friendship between all men and women” (8). This could sound like a lofty or even irrational goal if it were not also our mission as Christian believers in the world. All of our social relationships must be relationships of friendship. Those things that keep us from being friends to all people everywhere are the things that need our most urgent spiritual attention, because the things that separate us from one another also separate us from God.
Relationships are the most important topic of our readings this weekend. Our first reading is drawn from the Book of Exodus, where Moses receives the covenant. We see that the covenant is preoccupied not just with the relationship with God, but also with justice between people. Murder and violence, theft, and other property crimes define the boundaries of our relationships with one another. Failure to respect those boundaries also prevents us from being in a right relationship with God.
Yet it is the beginning of this week’s reading from Exodus that may sound the most important note: it is a reminder. “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” It is no coincidence that reminders like this repeat throughout the Pentateuch. God knows how prone we are to forget. The covenant is here to help us remember. We are reminded not only to remember our own bondage, but also that the God of justice knows and sees our deeds. Justice in the community is found in this remembering and in fidelity to the God who is just and compassionate.
The Gospel from Matthew presents us with the most concise formulation of our relationships and their implications: “You shall 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 is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It would be difficult to distill the Christian message more succinctly. Even the Golden Rule—to love a neighbor as we love ourselves—is not sufficient because it omits our relationship to God. We love our neighbor as we love ourselves because God created us both, and because God loves both of us, because we both bear the image of God. There is a reason why Jesus asserts, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” This is everything in one place.
St. Paul shows us what this can look like in practice when he writes to the church at Thessalonica, telling them “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth so that we have no need to say anything.” The community of Christian believers is here in the world to be a present, visible reminder of God’s love for us that we must mirror in our love for one another. Being “imitators” of the Lord preaches the Gospel more effectively and more attractively than any words we might hope to use.
This fall, I am teaching Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching to twenty-eight CTU students. The class was a difficult one to prepare, not only because it is a large class that needs to be taught online, but also because so much has happened in 2020 that challenges our social witness. Finally, it seemed right for our whole course to be directed toward an examination of racism. We began with a long discussion of the human person — each created and loved by God — because our relationships with one another and with Creation all depend on our shared relation to the God who created and loves us. As we discuss the family, the dignity of labor, a consistent ethic of life, care for our common home, and we direct all of those priorities toward thinking about the injustice of racism, the root of it all remains the same. Every person is an epiphany of God’s love in the world. We love God best when we live in harmony and justice with the world and the communities we have been given.
These are the thoughts we should be bringing with us to the voting booth in these last days before our general election. This is why Pope Francis’s new encyclical is so important. This is what Fratelli Tutti is trying to tell us about “a universal aspiration to friendship.”
Many of us wonder how to vote like a “good Catholic.” The answer is deceptively simple. We vote however it seems most like we can love God by the love we show to one another, the friends created to share this world with us. We reject every sort of division and divisiveness to “recognize one another as traveling companions, truly brothers and sisters” (274).
Associate Professor of Public Theology
Director of The Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry