The love that will save
Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, June 26, 2022 — The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
About 40 miles from Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast is the small seaside resort of Nettuno. Nettuno is home to the Sanctuary of St. Maria Goretti and is unique among Italian towns in that you are more likely to see children walking around the park with a baseball glove than a soccer ball. Nettuno has picturesque beaches and a beautiful medieval square. It is also home to a small patch of sovereign United States soil, the final resting place of 7,800 Americans. In Nettuno you will find a military cemetery housing the men and women who died during the Allied liberation of Italy during World War II. Like all American military cemeteries, it is meticulously laid out and lined with headstones of white crosses and Stars of David.
Foreign American military cemeteries like Nettuno serve as memorials to those who have died, of course, but they also do something unique: they represent something that remains; they represent the home that these men and women would never see again. Standing on a small patch of foreign land, one can’t help but think of the last time these men and women stood on American soil, probably bidding tearful goodbyes to mothers, fathers, spouses and friends as they went to fight fascism. in Europe. I often think of Nettuno when confronted with one of Jesus’ most puzzling and difficult interventions – his instruction that his future disciple should not go home to bury his father, but put his hand to the plow and don’t look back. At first glance, this seems ruthless and indifferent – how can the God of love command his followers to leave the people and places they care about to follow him?
The sacrifice to which Christ calls us is not in competition with the love we have for our families and our homes; it is rather the supreme manifestation of this love. The men and women buried in Nettuno did not leave their families because they did not love them, but because they loved them enough to offer all they had to fight against Nazism and the Fascist domination of the world. They left their families to save their families. Likewise, the prophet Elisha did not slaughter his oxen and follow Elijah in our first reading because he hated his house and family, but because of his deep love for God and the people of Israel. He left them to save them.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing love as something comfortable and secure, that love somehow manifests itself in maintaining the status quo. The reality that Jesus points to in today’s gospel is something very different. Christian love is different according to vocation, of course. The Christian call to love is a call to sacrifice. Priests and religious are called to offer their projects and their needs at the service of the People of God. Only one person can be called to give their time and energy in the service of a particular mission. A married couple is called to offer all that they are and all that they have in love for each other. Parents also sacrifice the satisfaction of their own needs for their children. Whatever your vocation, however, the Christian vocation is a call to be ready to surrender everything, to surrender everything and leave everything behind in our devotion to God and those who are dear to us. It is love that will fill us. It is love that will save.
Image: Pope Francis walks through the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial during the Italian Tutti Morti holiday, Nov. 2, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released ). Public domain.
Prof. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and is Vocations Director for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he holds a degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.