Homily for August 19, Friday of the XX week in Ordinary Time</em>
(Note: I linked to the page for the readings on the USCCB website, but there seems to be a problem with their server configuration, so the link doesn’t work at the time of this publication)
The practice of priestly celibacy has many implications and consequences, both spiritual and practical. One of the ramifications is that priests don’t have mothers-in-law. I don’t know whether that is a good or bad thing; it really didn’t enter into my considerations when I chose the priesthood. But even though I have no personal experience, I’d have to live under a rock not to know that the relationship between mothers-in-law and the spouses of their children historically is the subject of many jokes, comments, and perceptions of difficulties in family relationships.
This is not true in all cases, and maybe it wasn’t the case between Ruth and Naomi. But even if they got along well, it was truly virtuous of Ruth to stay with Naomi after they were both widowed and Naomi opted to return to Bethlehem from Moab. Ruth was not an Israelite, and as a foreigner and a widow with no remaining formal link to the Israelites, she would have a hard time being accepted among them. In returning with Naomi, Ruth was also leaving behind her own family and friends, and any support they could offer her. She put her own well-being at risk, because she loved Naomi and wanted to stay with her to take care of her in her old age. It is implied that she had also come to believe in the God of Israel, Whom she had discovered through Naomi’s family, and Ruth wanted to continue in that faith.
Thus, Ruth is a good example of the two greatest commandments, as Jesus explains them today: to love God with all our heart, soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Later on, at the Last Supper, Jesus will make that second commandment even more challenging: to love others as Jesus loved us, which means sacrificing ourselves for them, as Ruth does in this first reading.
It is truly challenging to put others first. We are given the opportunity to do this every day. We can choose to let other people have their way when it goes against our personal preferences, in something as simple as choosing what channel to watch on TV or what restaurant to go to for dinner. Other times we face much harder decisions. For instance, whether to make career choices based on our own dreams, or on what will be best for our families, or for the practice of our faith. May God help us always to be like Ruth, to choose to love God and serve others whatever the cost. We can be sure that God will repay us abundantly for every sacrifice we make for His sake, with peace of heart in this life and eternal happiness in heaven.