A kind amazing phenomenon that pops up in the news from time to time: You’ll see a headline that says something like “couple dies within minutes of each other after 50 + years of marriage.” I had remembered a specific instance of this that occurred some years ago, that it was kind of amazing to see three stories pop up just from this year. In September a couple from North Carolina, married 48 years died within 4 minutes of one another… In July a couple from Texas, married 53 years died within 50 minutes of one another… In April a couple from Florida, married 51 years ago died 6 minutes apart. Never realized that this was something that happened with any type of regularity. But what triggered my internet searching was a story from a few years ago that had an interesting twist…
Hi everyone here’s my homily for the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – October 25, 2020. Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
Gordon and Norma Yeager, a couple who got engaged the day they graduated high school, were married back in 1939 and had been by each other’s side ever since. News stories showed pictures of the couple that their children had shared from over the years. One photo showed Gordon fooling around like he was the life of the party, while Norma has holding her hand up in the air sort of waving him off as she was smiling. That picture seemed to be the perfect illustration of the two who, their son Dennis described saying – “They just loved being together.[my dad would say:] I can’t go until she does because I have to stay here for her and she would say the same thing.”
A few years ago, tragically, Gordon and Norma were involved in a car accident. They were rushed to an Intensive Care Unit in a local hospital. When they got to the Emergency Room, the doctors could tell quickly how serious the injuries were and that there wasn’t a lot that they could do for them. The hospital staff had put them in the same room together. By the time their children came in to visit their parents, there they were; together; in the ICU unit, side by side, holding hands.
Gordon passed away holding the hand of his bride of 72 years with the family they had raised surrounding them, at 3:38 pm, exactly one hour before Norma would pass. Before she died, something amazing occurred. Their son Dennis explained: “It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because his heart monitor was still going. But we were like, he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said because they were holding hands it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and his monitor was picking it up.”
It seems too dramatic to be real, doesn’t it? It sounds like a scene from a movie where all we need is Celine Dion singing a song in the background for the film and then we can roll the credits. Yet it was all true. And that image, that after Gordon had passed away, they could still measure through the monitors her heart beating through him left an amazing illustration of the power of love. Authentic, genuine, sincere love.
Which is at the heart of this Gospel passage.
For the last few weeks at Sunday Mass we’ve been hearing this back and forth between Jesus and those who didn’t accept Him. More than just disagreeing with Him, they had set about trying to entrap Him, accuse Him, discount Him, raise more critics or opponents to Him. So this passage we just heard picks up from those ongoing debates. Today we heard this scholar come forward and asks, of all the Laws that the Jews had, and they had a lot – not just the 10 commandments, there were over 613 laws that could be found in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) – out of all of those – which was the most important.
The reason this was another “trap” was that a variety of Jewish leaders, teachers would have all had a variety of different answers to that. Depending upon how Jesus answered, he could be attacked, mocked… He could lose followers with one answer.
And just like we’ve heard these past few weeks with each of these back-and-forths, Jesus’ speaks in such a clever way that his listeners weren’t prepared for or anticipating. On the surface it seems like he’s answering by not answering. He doesn’t chose one of the 613 they were expecting. Jesus answers by answering with what is called the “Shema” one of the central prayers that Jews would have learned from their childhood and would pray daily“You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind… you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is reminding them and us that the foundation to the commandments, the laws is all about Love. We’re not asked to follow God’s commands out of fear. We don’t obey His laws because we’re imagining some angry God ready to punish us if we don’t… we obey His law, we follow His commands because that’s the only thing that we can offer Him. The only thing God doesn’t have is our obedience. There used to be those advertisements “what to get the guy who has everything…” Well – God who is all powerful, all knowing, all loving has everything He could ever have, except for that one thing – our obedience. He gave us free will taking the risk of our choosing or rejecting Him. So in trying to give a gift to the God who has everything – the perfect gift we can offer God is our obedience.
So this isn’t Jesus dismissing any of the other laws or commandments with some warm fuzzy, hippie sounding “just love” and everything is okay. God’s laws and commandments are important, they mean something because they are ways of expressing our Love for God.
That might sound strange because the word “Love” has been misunderstood even at times manipulated into a distortion of what it truly is. Some have misused saying love when what they mean is “lusting” after someone or “using” them. Or distort it to fit dysfunctional, abusive behaviors. Love is something that costs something, means something, demands something. Love is more than a feeling. Love is a choice, a decision.
The story of Gordon and Norma gives us a beautiful example of marital love, the love of husband and wife. Not simply in the dramatic ending that brought them worldwide attention. But rather in the lives lived for 72 years of a husband and wife who experienced ups and downs, trials, struggles, as well as joys and blessings they could never had imagined as two young 18 year olds out of high school.
What made the end of their lives so dramatic was that it was a perfect expression of what had been happening for all those years. They faced a trial together; they held one another’s hands; and their love, their hearts beat through one another right to the end.
For Christians, we see the perfect example of Love in Jesus laying down His life for us on the Cross. When we lay down our own desires, wants, needs; when we are willing to “die to self” for another we replicate what Jesus has done. Whether it’s the parents as they care for their child from changing diapers to sending them off to college (and then helping to care for their children’s children) or the husband and wife putting the other ahead of themselves… or the person who pours out their life, their resources, risks the ridicule of the world in a variety of ways that humble and inspire us. Just this past week I heard from three former students shared how they’re doing that in humbling and inspirational ways. One is working with “Christ in the City” which is a community of young people who live in prayerful communities and serve the poor and homeless in Denver… A second is a missionary with FOCUS the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and works to help her peers come to know and love Jesus.. And the third who is becoming a religious Sister with the Sisters of Life, where she and her fellow Sisters call attention to the horror of legalized abortion and not only work to raise that awareness of this human genocide, but also provide life-giving alternatives and support to assist mothers and children in crisis. There’s no money -two are fundraising their salaries to be able to do the work their called to do and one has taken a vow of poverty there’s no fame, no notoriety involved in what they are doing. In there own unique ways, we see glimmers of what Loving God and our neighbors can look like.
Whatever shape or form it takes, the point is listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and responding generously to those opportunities. And we do so because, as St. John wrote “we love because He first loved us.” When we remember that, then Jesus’ “command” reveals something that is pretty revolutionary. God’s asking us to love Him this way, because that’s how He loves us. The creator of the universe loves you and I with all His heart, all His Soul, all His Mind. That’s breathtaking when you think about it.
When we allow ourselves to be pursued, and found, and enraptured by the one who made us… When we respond by obeying His commands, imitating His example…. When we open our hearts to receiving His Word, When we open our hands to receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we find He is grasping back …so tightly, so much so, that one might be able to pick up Jesus’ heartbeat beating through us…