Land of the Giants
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

When preparing for this homily, I was struck by the First Reading, how the Lord loves the widow and the orphan and by how severe is the warning to those who choose to wrong them:

Thus says the LORD: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

The Lord has his eye on the widow and the orphan, the woman and child who have lost their security. And the reason He gives to convince them not to oppress an alien is a reminder: “You were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt”. God loves Israel like a first born son, and the Israel tasted alienation and oppression. What God sees in those who are oppressed and alienated, especially Israel, is His own Son, and all those who are made to suffer innocently are, to some degree or other, images of His Son. The Son of God came to taste human suffering, to enter into it, to taste what it means to be an orphan, for he is the pre-eminent orphan: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Christ tasted the suffering of losing his Father, so to speak, in his Passion. God sees his son and his mother in every widow and orphan, and He sees his son’s tormentors in all who cause suffering in others: “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword.”

The divine anger is something we rarely hear talked about anymore; it’s been swept under the rug for decades now. But the divine anger is the flip side of the divine love. Those who are not incensed at injustice do not love others enough; their love is deficient. But the greater your love of others, the greater will be your anger when you behold injustice towards them. God is absolute love, and that is why He is absolute Justice. We do not want to be the object of that divine anger, as some people will be, as the Second Reading reveals: “...whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.”

God loves those who suffer, for He sees Himself in those who suffer, He sees His Son, who is the perfect image of Himself. God is love, and it is of the nature of love to regard the other as another self. At the end of the First Reading, it is revealed that God is compassionate. The word means “to suffer with”. We see His compassion revealed in the Passion and death of Christ. Jesus is God suffering with those who suffer.

That is why in the Parable of the Last Judgment, Christ will say: I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to drink, naked at you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me, as long as you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me. And as long as you neglected these, the least of my brethren, you neglected me. Christ lives in the suffering of those who suffer, which is why no one suffers alone, despite how they might feel. Christ is there in the loneliness and darkness of every suffering soul.

The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength. Our entire life must be about love: the love of God and the love of neighbour.

I remember a story my mother told me, it was just after my older brother died. It was winter and she was walking in downtown Toronto. She must have been close to 70 years old. She slipped on the ice. She said, however, that she felt as if she was being held and let down slowly. It occurred to her that she should have broken her hip, but it was as if someone held her and eased her gently down on the ice. There she is, flat on her back on the sidewalk, and all she notices are legs walking over her. Not one person stopped to help her. Not one. It took a while for her to get up, but she was amazed at the total indifference so many people exhibited towards her.

If we practice religion but do not love, if we are indifferent to the sufferings of others, if we are not committed to love of neighbour, if we do not look around at our life situation and respond to the needs of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the suffering who are in our midst, then our religion is a sham. It is useless. There is an inseparable unity between the love of God and love of neighbour. God does not have love, He is love. It is His essential nature. If we truly worship God, we center our life around Love Himself. If we don’t love, we don’t worship Him, we just come to Church for one reason or another. To love is to serve, to commit to the well-being of another, to make sacrifice for them, all so that they may know the love of God and that God may be loved by them.

I received a very interesting email from a priest friend of mine quite recently, and it was an article written by a Jewish columnist, Dennis Prager, and the article was entitled: “Why Is It So Hard to Become a Better Person? Thirteen reasons on Rosh Hashanah”. It is a brilliant article, but what struck me was the first reason, which is: “Most people don’t particularly want to be good”. He writes: “The biggest obstacle to people becoming better is that you have to really want to be a good person in order to be a better person, and most people would rather be other things. People devote far more effort to being happy, successful, smart, attractive, and healthy, to cite the most prominent examples.”

They don’t know, or don’t want to know, that goodness leads to happiness. Most people insist on finding a happiness that does not require moral goodness, that does not require a radical change of mind and heart; for many people are comfortable the way they are, and they absolutely hate change, especially a change so radical as a change of character.

And almost everyone sees himself or herself as a good person. I saw an interview with a Neo-Nazi who was saying the most horrible things about black people, about Jews, and about Jesus, things that would make you shudder. And at the end of it, he said he believes he’s a good person, a genuinely “nice guy”, and when the interviewer suggested he might be among the damned, he wondered how God could reject such a good guy as him, a God he does not even believe really exists. Everyone, even many of the worst criminals, sees himself as basically a good person.

But our own view of ourselves is not the standard by which we will be judged. That standard by which all of us will be judged is the love that appears to us from the cross. Was our life an evading of the cross, a continual pursuit of our own satisfaction and well-being, as it is for so many people today? Or, was our life the pursuit of that crucified love? Was every day of our life an effort to become more deeply inserted into the life of the Son of God?

It’s an important question, because the Joy of Heaven is all about love. If we do not know the joy of loving the poor and suffering of this world, we have not yet had a foretaste of the joy of heaven, and we just might feel very out of place in heaven if we die without ever having learned to love, without tasting the joy of loving.

Human beings tend to see happiness as a kind of fulfillment, like a jug that is filled with liquid. But the fulfillment that constitutes supernatural joy results from a pouring out, an emptying, sort of like pouring out the water that’s in the jug. That’s the irony. The more we pour ourselves out, like a jug whose contents are being emptied, the happier we become. Think of the scientific premise: “nature abhors a vacuum”. Perhaps “supernature” also abhors a vacuum, so when we empty ourselves of self, God immediately fills the space with Himself. Thus we become stretched with the divine life. We become larger. The more we empty ourselves and the more God fills the space, the larger we become.

The purpose of this life, you could say, is to become giants. Spiritual giants. If we want to know who is the greatest among us, if we really want to know who the saints are among us, we will need a special kind of binoculars, spiritual binoculars. Imagine having special binoculars that see only the soul. What will we see? Some people will appear very small, puny, barely visible like little shrimps, others larger, but some will be giants. Look away from the binoculars and glance with your natural eyes and you might see a small body, perhaps not a very well dressed person, but they are giants because they love.

In heaven, we will be among giants, the heroic souls of the centuries, the great martyrs, like St. Jean de Brebeuf, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Thomas More and St. John Fischer, St. Lawrence, St. Stephen. Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. St. Paul and St. Peter, and so many more. There’s no doubt that we’ll be tiny in their presence, but the more we learn to love in this life, the more comfortable we are going to be in their presence.