The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gave Himself completely for us, not withholding the last drop of His blood. By His Pascal Mystery, He empowers and invites us to receive that gift, and to give ourselves to Him in return. In this exchange of love is the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy.
There are two problems. One, we are free simply to refuse. We can choose to live for ourselves and our desires alone. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25; see Luke 17:33 and John 12:25).” The other problem is more insidious and more dangerous. It is the false gift of self. It allows us to tell others (and often ourselves) that we are really committing ourselves, but the reality is different.
We all know about people who claim to be your friend when it is convenient for them but ignore you when it is not. Sometimes people make a commitment and either never intended to keep it or change their minds when they find out it will be harder than they thought.
This can take many forms. In the Scriptures, there is a continual problem of false gifts to God. God teaches His people how to be in relationship to Him (in the Old Testament this is embodied in the Torah, and in the New Testament it is embodied in Jesus). People keep trying to make it something less. Isaiah 1 and Psalm 50 are about those who offer ritual sacrifices but do not follow God’s teaching, as if they could just buy Him off and continue to do what they wanted. The scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels were classic examples of those who went through the motions, but their hearts and minds did not belong to God, and they refused to be corrected.
The Scriptures make an analogy between our relationship with God and the relationship between husband and wife. The book of Hosea, Ezekiel 13 and 23, and other texts compare idolatry with adultery. God made sex as the ultimate gift of self between husband and wife and the power to generate life. People keep trying to make it something less, and that has caused serious harm to people’s lives, to families, and to society as a whole. People are exploited, children are neglected or considered disposable, and people lose the power to connect on a deep level. To use it as a toy, a sport, or a casual interaction harms the people involved. All of Catholic sexual morality is to preserve its power as authentic gift of self.
Some do charitable work but are less concerned about what will really help people than about feeling good about themselves or having other people praise them.
This Sunday we read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This story, unique to Luke, is a story about authentic charitable work. It involved an emergency, and someone who helped with nothing to gain for himself. His friends would never praise him for helping a Jew, in fact, they would probably sneer in disgust (such was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans). The man he helped would probably be angry he was helped by a Samaritan, and there could not be expectation of gratitude from him. He took a risk stopping in a dangerous place, used his own resources, and now had to walk instead of ride. He even left himself open to extra cost. He probably even had to deal with a feeling of disgust himself for this victim.
We remember that Jesus Himself is the perfect model of selfless love. He was already on the highest throne in heaven, and had nothing to gain by saving us, but He did at great cost to himself. This is the challenge He gives us today.