Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22
Naomi said, "See now! Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!" But Ruth said, "Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Ruth 1:16
This beautiful text is often used for weddings and anniversary Masses. It resonates with us because it puts into words and deeds all those feelings and sentiments that have to do with loyalty. We long to have loyal family members and loyal friends. Loyalty is such a rare experience for us. Many of us think that we are much more loyal than our family or friends. We are much quicker to remember all the times when someone, especially someone that we’ve liked very much, has been disloyal to us than the times when we have been disloyal to family and friends. I have been part of difficult conversations when someone says to another, "I was very hurt when you were disloyal to me." More often than not, the other person replies, "I wasn’t disloyal! When I said this or did that did not mean that I was disloyal. That was just the way you were interpreting it." We may not have sensed that we were causing a rupture in the relationship, but the other person certainly felt abandoned and forsaken by our words and deeds.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a loyalty test. He states it in very clear and simple language: to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbors as ourselves. These two commandments are clear benchmarks of our loyalty to God. These two commandments are easy to commit to memory and easy to repeat whenever the occasion calls. However, they may not be so easy to live day in and day out, year after year. As the saying goes, easier said than done.
But this is where my struggle comes in. Many of us consider ourselves faithful Catholics, Catholics whose love for the Church and the Church’s teaching is foundational to our faith-life. I certainly do. But I am not so sure that I have always been loyal to my God and to my Church. I have the very human tendency of choosing what I like about our Catholic faith and somewhat downplaying those aspects that do not appeal to me. I may even think that there are some things that the Church may be in error about. I can easily point to history to demonstrate that truth. So, what does loyalty call me to? Is it possible for me to be loyal to a Church which makes mistakes? Is it possible that my own errors are much more plentiful than the errors made by my Church? Is my God or my Church more loyal to me than I am to my God or to my Church? These are questions I need to take to prayer frequently.
I am grateful that I believe in a God who is so much greater than I am, so much wiser, so much more forgiving, so much more understanding than I will ever be. Loyalty does not come easy to anyone of us. It is a grace that we need to pray for each morning when we get up and it is a way of life that we need to intentionally make every day of our life. We need to make our own what Ruth said so eloquently, "wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge!" May God hear our prayer!
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is stationed in San Antonio, Texas.