A Harsh and Dreadful Thing

(Homily for Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

A while back I was informed that someone had made an anonymous donation of $15,000 to our parish. Delighted, I shared the news with some parishioners. I did not know who it was, although several people tried to take credit for it! (“Okay, Father, I admit it. It was me who gave the fifteen thousand dollars.”) For a number of days, it affected the way I treated people. “This person,” I thought, “may be the one who made the generous contribution.”

It turned out to be a false alarm, but the episode made me think. If a financial donation could have such an effect on me, what if I were able to see the deeper value of each person I encounter? The Catechism expresses it this way: Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. (#357)

St. Augustine taught that even the person considered most despicable has an incalculable value. That does not mean Augustine had a naïve view of “basic human goodness.” No, he was realistic about our fallen state. Yet, although we are marked by original and person sin, we do not lose the divine image – even if a person falls into hell, the imago Dei remains in the soul. The image might be clouded over by sin, but it still exists inside every human being.

We are called to love each person, including those who are most hateful. That means recognizing their dignity, their great worth, their vocation to eternal life with God. Sometimes one's neighbor impinges upon one's lifestyle; he shows up at the most inconvenient moment. We are still required to love him – for love of God. Clearly this does not mean acceding to every demand - except love itself (which sometimes has to be "tough love"). In the Gospel today, Jesus ties together the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Love of God comes first: without it one cannot properly love the other person. But love of neighbor tests the reality of one's love for God.

The Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky developed this theme in a dramatic way. He writes of a woman who is anxious about the existence of God and life after death. She approaches a priest with her anxieties. He explains to her the impossibility of proving – or disproving – that God exists and that our souls are immortal.* Then he adds, “Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love; you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul.”

The woman, who is a young widow, tells the priest how she had dreamed about giving up her possessions and becoming a sister serving the poor. Yet she also worries what people would think of her. The priest then says these famous words, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”

When Dostoyevsky says that love in action is harsh and dreadful, he means that it requires a radical giving of oneself. That gift of self was illustrated in a TV documentary on the Civil War. The series riveted the country because it revealed the lives and motives of the ordinary soldier. One program featured a letter written by Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, just before the first battle, Bull Run. Realizing he might be killed, he wrote:

"How hard it is to ... burn to ashes
the hopes of future years when,
God willing, we might still have lived
and loved together to see our boys
grown to honorable manhood around us.
If I do not return, my dear Sarah,
never forget how much I loved you,
nor that when my last breath
escapes me on the battlefield,
it will whisper your name. Forgive ...
the many pains I have caused you.
How thoughtless ... how foolish I have sometimes been."

Sullivan was killed at Bull Run.

Most of us will not be called upon to make such a dramatic sacrifice. Yet Sullivan's letter stirs something deep inside each of us. It’s not just that he died on a battlefield. His letter touches us because it speaks about ordinary acts of love: the humility of asking for pardon, the hard work of raising children, the fidelity of being a good husband. Those things require sacrifices which are usually hidden from the public. It sometimes means we love the other person for only one reason: because we love God. By faith we see in him the image of God, someone Christ died to rescue. Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.


*While it is reasonable to believe God exists, to "prove" his existence (or even to conceive what he is) is beyond human power. On the other hand, Christians need not be unduly intimidated by those who try frame the argument as "science vs. religion." It is telling that proponents of unguided evolution have a way of almost demanding acceptance of their tenets. They will not hesitate to urge people to put their trust what they call "science" (but, as far as I can see, is a philosophy). They are even known to become agitated when certain scientists suggest that emergence of species looks suspiciously like a scheme.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 5
2011: We Dare To Say
2008: An Aspect of Love
2005: A Harsh and Dreadful Thing
2002: Why Didn't You Tell Me?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Bulletin (Annual Financial Report, Fr. Ed White - Image of Trinity Corrupted by Contraception, Dates for Confirmation)


During a question-and-answer session with a half-dozen children, one boy told the pope that he had been told that Christ was really present in the Eucharist, or Communion. "But how? I don't see him," the boy said. Benedict chuckled. "We don't see him, but there are so many things that we don't see that exist and they are essential," Benedict said. "For example, we don't see our reason, but we still have reason...

Bill Cork on headlines that really don't say it: Catholic Schoolteacher Fired for Volunteer Work (one more instance of Los Angeles Times bias)

Catholic physician informs patients that he will no longer prescribe contraceptives; Amy says: Amazing that this is news

Pope praises newly beatified Nazi opponent Cardinal von Galen. Here is his 1941 sermon against the Gestapo.

Norma McCorvey (Roe) reveals lies abortion movement is built upon

Novena for Youth (to discover God's plan)

Tragic news: Death of Major Robert D. Lindenau

(Husband of my niece Tonya)

Parish Picture Album
Robbery caught on parish surveillance camera

Can you help the Monroe Police identify this man?
(October 2011)

October 12, 2011 at St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe, WA (longer version):
At 0:03 man enters through open gate in fence, looks, seems to turn around and walk back (going north)
0:43 two men enter slowly, walk along fence (going west), disappear from view of surveillance camera
1:15 one man approaches car, looks through front window on passenger side, inserts tool into upper left corner between door frame and window, pulls causing glass to shatter. He grabs an item from car and leaves quickly. The robbery takes place in less than 20 seconds.

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru