"I" is a four-letter word

Homily - 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 5, 2020)

I begin with a question. What is the most used pronoun in the English language? Yeah, by far, the pronoun we use most is the word “I”. I suppose that this makes sense. When we are babies, we’re dropped into this great, big world and, as we try to make sense of things, we start with what’s nearest to us - the I, the me, the self. 

Eventually we start to learn that there are things that are “not me” and we learn about you and him and her. But it’s not until much, much later that we start to learn about this thing called “us” and “we”.

And therein lies our problem. For some reason, once we’ve figured out the order of things - it’s very difficult for us to stop thinking in terms of me first, you second and then at some time much, much later - to think about the “us”. 

We like to believe that we sit at the center of our own universe. Take a look at the businesses that are most popular these days and you’ll see what I mean. Bookstores and libraries have entire sections devoted to self-help. Beauty supplies fill department stores. And gyms and fitness centers are filled with equipment designed to help us avoid the ravages of time. Me, me, and most importantly, me. 

Today’s gospel takes us to a different place. It turns everything on its head and, if we are willing, gives us a new way. 

Paraphrasing here, Jesus says in the gospel … everything that I am, everything that I do … all of my gifts come from the relationship that I have with my Father. It’s all about the “we”, so much so that even when Jesus talks about “I” it’s almost as if he does it in the plural form. For him, there is nothing but we.

Does that make sense? Our problem is that we want to focus on ourselves and then decide which pieces we will share with others. This is exactly backwards. Jesus says that by giving everything over to the “we”, something greater and perfect is created. And it’s perfect because it is unconditional love. 

Love isn’t about having the “feels” for someone. That’s lust, or a crush. 

True love is completely giving the self over to someone else, to the point where the “I” has no meaning anymore. Love can’t just be a collection of “me’s” in close proximity to one another. It needs to become something bigger and transformative. 

It’s like when two soap bubbles touch one another. Something amazing happens. They touch and the walls of each bubble disappear so that they become one, big bubble. The same must happen with love. 

This is hard for us because we’ve spent our entire lives focusing on ourselves first. Or, if we’re lucky, we’ve found one special person with whom we are willing to explore giving up ourselves. Good start, but what about the rest of the world? That is the radical truth of today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that we need to stop holding back. Stop being trapped in the loneliness of reserving love for I and me. That path leads to death. 

This can be frightening. Giving oneself can easily be thought of as losing oneself. 

This is the yoke in the gospel. We are afraid that love will bring burdens that we aren’t willing to bear. Jesus tells us that the answer to this is that we need to bring ourselves low. Taking the “I” from here (up) to here (down), giving room for the loving “we” to grow. He gives us the answers. We just need to be willing to trust and follow.

As we go out into the world today, remember the gospel. Challenge ourselves to love one another just as Jesus and his Father love one another. This is our calling - a radical realignment of how we love one another. And this will make all the difference in our journey back to our Father who loves us beyond all understanding.

Amen

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