04Nov 04 November. 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Deut 6:2-6. The “Shema” prayer and the commandment to love ” heart and soul.”

Heb 7:23-28. Our high priest always lives to make intercession for us

Mk 12:28-34. All of the commandments can be reduced to two

The Soul of Life

“Complex,” “authoritarian,” “slow to adapt,” are some inadequate ways of describing our institutional Catholic church. We should declare more frankly that the whole point of the Church’s existence is all about love, really, just as Moses so marvellously said. Cut to the core… get to the point!

What is religion really about? Well, for Jesus it seems to be this: The eternal, loving Father-God has loved us into being, and wants us to grow like Him – to love in our turn, fully, unconditionally, with all our heart and strength. Jesus quotes Moses for the first half of his reply. perhaps the deepest part. but he stops us from sliding into false mysticism by adding part two: the daily application – being loving towards the people right next door. As our former president McAleese has been saying recently, and most persuasively, this is the Church’s real task, to love that next-door neighbour; a challenge to know how to do it, to re-start doing it, after a lapse. It’s the very soul of Christian living, and it’s why we need our Eucharistic food regularly. So what is the real purpose of our Church? It’s never been better expressed than in this double commandment that gets to the heart and soul of things.

Many may welcome a word on how the love-principle applies to concrete examples, within real-life contexts (family, work, neighbourhood, employer-labour relations, social involvement, school, church, citizenship, environment, and international issues of conflict and co-operation.) Married couples might also be glad if the “love as oneself” were applied to conjugal relations, family planning and dealing with conflict at home. But since next Sunday’s readings treat of compassion and generosity, we might postpone most of the practical examples until then, and today focus on the ideal of love as the core of Christian morality.

“Which is the greatest commandment?” was a reasonable question for that Jewish teacher to ask of Jesus. In our Catholic tradition, we often feel the need for a simple guideline as to which doctrines are central, and which are relatively secondary. Without rejecting any Church teaching, we need to know which of them express the core of our faith.) Still more was a rule of thumb required in the Jewish tradition. Under a system which listed over six hundred religious laws and regulations, even the most earnest person would fail sometimes to keep them all. So it was vital to distinguish the main duties from purely trivial matters. In answer, Jesus combined the two highest commands of the Old Testament and gave them new force by relating them so closely to each other. There is no genuine love of God without love for our neighbour; and there can be no sustained love of neighbour without an underlying love for God.

Half a century ago, the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love” stated the same truth, in a way that sounded flippant and irresponsible in the sex-charged mores in that era. Seen in a more positive light, the slogan does sum up the Gospel attitude towards morality. In a classic of spirituality, Dom Eugene Boylan characterised Jesus as “This Tremendous Lover.” Love is the most precious and powerful quality in a human life. It is the one value that outlasts all others (1 Cor 13) ; 50 central, indeed, that it best describes God himself: God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God (1 Jn 4:16.)

How does the love-principle interact with the Ten Commandments, which both Jews and Christians have long revered as expressing central moral concerns? Echoing Jesus, Paul would see the Decalogue as spelling Out some of the concrete implications of love; for “he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8). Still, that sentence cannot be simply reversed. There’s a real shift of emphasis from the Decalogue’s “Thou shalt not” to the Christian “Thou shalt.” Of course we must refrain from murder, theft, adultery and false witness; but Jesus asks for much more than that, both by his own example (“love one another as I have loved you’) and by the boundless compassion of the Good Samaritan about whom we are told: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). It is not enough to refrain from sin; we are to keep the commandments in a spirit of love.

Is it really possible to love God “with all your heart?” Or to cherish another as oneself? The love-command is not some regulation that can be simply monitored, and no one can say “I have kept it perfectly. What else is required of me?” Rather, it offers a target, an orientation, a yardstick against to measure the whole thrust of one’s life-style and goals. Its fulfilment is only partial and provisional, always in need of renewal and reassessment. Jewish tradition tells of old Rabbi Eleazar, who bravely resisted the foreign king’s decree that all Jews must conform to pagan ways. He was prepared to die a martyr, rather than submit by eating the prescribed piece of pork. His disciples tried desperately to save the old rabbi. Eleazar need only pretend to conform, in order to be spared a painful death. But he refused this way out. “All of my life,” he said, “I have wanted to understand what this means, To love Him with all your soul and with all your strength. And now that lam on the point of finding out, will you persuade me to draw back?’

At funerals, we discuss the encounters we had with the deceased in order to capture something of their personality. On the grave-stone, too, we often try to express some great value that they cherished. What really counts in God’s sight is, How much did they love? Wouldn’t it be great if, when all the speeches are over, the final verdict on our life was, “Kind, thoughtful, devoted to others, committed to love?”

First Reading: Book of Deuteronomy 6:2-6

You and your children and your children’s children, should fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.

Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Hebrews 7:23-28

Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.

Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’-this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

2 Responses

  1. Ralph Egan

    Am (yes, lazily,) on the last minute to prepare for to-morrow morning’s Mass. I find this most helpful. Thank you.

  2. J Wilson

    thanks this is good.