Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 26)

I recently found a story on the internet told by a father about his adopted daughter, Abby. The young girl was eight years old when the family adopted her. Another family had previously adopted Abby, but things did not work out. The father did not know the reason, save for one strange pattern. Every year, the parents of that family would take their biological children on vacation to Disney World, but would leave behind Abby, their adopted daughter. When the father found this out, he decided to take his whole family, including Abby, to Disney.

Six months after the adoption, the father told Abby about their vacation plans. The little girl was excited, recalling the photos and stories of Disney World from her previous family. Up to this point, Abby was adjusting well to her new parents and siblings.

About a month before the Disney trip, though, Abby’s behavior started to change. She took something from the kitchen without asking, then started a fight with her sister. Concerned, the father took her onto his lap, and for a moment, he was even tempted to tell Abby she would not be permitted on the vacation due to her behavior.

Instead, he asked, “Are you part of this family?”

The little girl responded, “Yes.”

“Well, this family is going to Disney World, and if you’re part of this family, then you are going to Disney World,” the father said. “Sure, there will be consequences to help you remember what’s right and wrong, but you are part of this family and we are not leaving you behind.”

Despite the reassurance, the girl’s behavior actually got worse, all during the ride to Florida and right up until their arrival at the hotel room. Heartbroken by past disappointments, Abby was purposely sabotaging her chances of enjoying the long-awaited trip.

After their first day at Disney World, a new girl emerged. The fears of being left out and abandoned had melted.

“Daddy, I finally got to go to Disney World,” Abby said. “But it wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”

The father in this story serves as a witness to God, our heavenly Father, and to his love. In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, Jesus tells us not to fear. How often in Scripture he says, “Do not be afraid.”

Today, Jesus says, “Fear no one,” “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” and “do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Three times in this short passage, he assures us there is no need for fear.

“Why?” we might ask. “There are plenty of things to fear in this violent and broken world? Why is there no reason to fear?”

The answer is, God loves you.

Jesus speaks of the Father’s love throughout the Gospel. The Father’s love for us is reflected in his deep and intimate knowledge of us for who we are in ourselves. Jesus says that the Father knows us so well that he has numbered the very hairs on our head. Nobody, not even we ourselves, has such detailed knowledge about us.

In the words of Jeremiah, God is the one who “probes the mind and heart,” and the “mighty champion” who rescues the “life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”

Jesus tells us of the Father’s love and shows us this love as he takes our sins to the cross. Nothing, not even our sinfulness, can take away God’s love from us. St. Paul describes this today’s second reading, which is from his letter to the Romans. Death is a consequence of sin; and since all will eventually die, all share in sin. Yet Jesus rose from the dead, destroying the power of sin. When he rises, he breaks the power of death; his resurrection is a manifestation of divine mercy. Jesus himself is victory over sin and death, and the primary manifestation of God’s love. No power is stronger than his love.

Our response, then, should be thanksgiving and a life transformed by love. Sin is a reality with which we all struggle. Evil does not go away because God loves us; we still have to wrestle with temptation and the decision to “choose good and avoid evil.” Yet God’s love fuels our desire to please Him and to return to Him — however weak and feeble in comparison — the love He has for us.

Seeking to live this life of love is the best way we can heed Jesus words: “What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops,” or in the words of 1 John 4:16, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.