04Nov 04 November. 31st Sunday

1st Reading: Deuteronomy (6:1-6)

Israel’s fundamental act of faith: the Shema

[Moses said to the people]
“This is the commandment that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children, may 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.”

Resp. Psalm (Ps 18)

R.: I love you, Lord, my strength

I love you, O Lord, my strength,
O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. (R./)

My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the Lord, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies. (R./)

The Lord lives! And blessed be my rock!
Praised be God my saviour.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews (7:23-28)

Christ’s priesthood is new and utterly unique

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. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Gospel: Mark (12:28-34)

The greatest commandment of all

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus 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.



[José Antonio Pagola]

Many people nowadays have moved from a superficial faith in God to an equally frivolous atheism. Some have eliminated all practice of religion from their lives and have no visible relationship with the church or any faith-community. But what about the personal position one needs to have in the face of the ultimate mystery of life and death?

Some say they don’t believe in the Church or in any «priestly fables», but that they still believe in God. But what can it mean to believe in a God that you never remember, with whom you never dialogue,  from whom you expect nothing? Others feel that in our modern world it’s time to learn to live without God, allowing the individual to live with greater dignity and honesty. But when their lifestyle is examined, it’s not easy to see how abandoning God has helped them to live a more dignified and responsible life.

All too many seem to fashion a religion  and morality to suits themselves. Never have they sought any horizon  other than a certain amount of comfort in life, avoiding any question that might seriously challenge them to conversion. Maybe sometimes we ourselves don’t know to what extent we really believe in God. We go about busily, so taken up by the issues of each day, by our work, by watching TV and by planning how to spend our weekends, that God has little space in our lives. Let’s not imagine that a materialist mindset is limited to professed atheists. This attitude can also infect the hearts of believers. Sometime we ourselves realise that God isn’t the only Lord we worship, nor even the most important.

Let me try a little test. What do I feel deep down when I hear these words: «Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is one, the only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength»…? What space does God really occupy in my heart, in my soul, in my mind, in my whole being?

With all your heart

Today’s gospel repeats ideals that were already clear in the Old Testament. The command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind,” was imprinted on the heart of every Jew, as their central daily prayer. This prayer is the Shema, since the Hebrew “Shema” means “Listen.” “Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord”. What is special about today’s Gospel is where it says that love of God is inextricably interwoven with love for each other. Any claim to love God is illusory if it it does not result in loving other people, reaching out to embrace them as God does.

Rabbi Hillel was a renowned scholar, with a great following around the time of Jesus. When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Hillel gave the famous reply, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.” Jesus closely links love of God with love of neighbour, to jointly form the greatest commandment. St Augustine said we should “Love God first, and then do what you will,” meaning that if we love God properly, we cannot but want others to share in that love. The fourth evangelist, John, saw everything in Christ’s life on earth in terms of love, and kept preaching this into his old age. He even declares that “Anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, for how can one who does not love the brother that he can see, love God whom he has never seen?” (1 Jn 4:20).

Loving with all of one’s heart is a truly radical challenge, in imitation of Christ. But it is our Christian vocation. For we believe that life comes from death, that gain comes from loss, that receiving comes from giving, and that Jesus himself had to die to come to the fullness of life. We profess to be followers of one who made a complete offering of himself to the Father and spent his energies and his time in the service of others, who returned to his Father devoid of any earthly goods.

This does not imply that we have to tread exactly the same path as Christ. What it does indicate is that genuine surrender to God does not allow us to retreat into a paradise of unreal spirituality. It means that if we love God, we need to be concerned for others, for the members of our family and community. We need to rise above our selfishness and realise that “there is greater happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).

“The world is too much with us,” wrote William Wordsworth, “late and soon / getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” We pass this way but once, and while we are on this journey we need to do as much good as we can with our God-given powers, for serving God and others. Always we need to keep in mind the promise of Jesus (Jn 15:5), “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.”


The purpose of life

“Complex,” “authoritarian,” “slow to adapt,” are some  ways of describing our church. We should declare more frankly that religion and life are centred on love, just as Moses so marvellously said. Cut to the core— What is our religion really about? Our powerful, loving God has loved us into being, and wants us to love, in our turn fully, unconditionally. Jesus quotes Moses for the first half of his reply to the lawyer’s question. perhaps the deepest part.. but he stops us from sliding into false mysticism by adding part two: the daily application – loving the people right next door. It’s a lifelong task, to love that next-door neighbour; a challenge to know how to do it, to re-start doing it, after a lapse. But it’s part of the very soul of Christian living, and why we need our Eucharistic food.

“Which is the greatest commandment?” was a great question for that Jewish teacher to ask of Jesus. In our Catholic tradition, we also feel the need for a simple guideline: Which rules are major, and which are relatively secondary? Without rejecting any Church teaching, we need to know what the core of our faith. Still more was a rule of thumb required to interpret the Jewish law. In a system which listed over six hundred religious laws and regulations, even the most pious would fail sometimes to keep them all. So, how could one distinguish the main duties from all the rest? In answer, Jesus quotes the two highest commands of the Old Testament and gave them new force by linking them 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.

How does the love principle intersect with the Ten Commandments, which both Jews and Christians revere as key moral rules? Echoing Jesus, Paul sees the Decalogue as spelling out some specific implications of love; for whoever loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8). But that sentence cannot be simply reversed, as if keeping the law were the same as loving our neighbour. There’s a real shift of emphasis from the Decalogue’s “Thou shalt not” to the imperative “Thou shalt.” Of course murder, theft, adultery and lying are forbidden; but Jesus asks much more than that of us, both by his own example (“love one another as I have loved you’) and by the compassion of the Good Samaritan and the motto: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). It is not enough to refrain from sin; we must keep the commandments in a spirit of love.

Can we really love God “with all your heart?” Or to cherish another as much 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 I am on the point of finding out, wll you persuade me to draw back?’

At funerals, we recall our relationship 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.”

Machtnamh: An Grá agus na hAitheanta (Love and the Commandments)

Cad é an nasg idir an ghrá agus na Deich Aitheanta, atá faoi urraim ag Iúdaigh agus Críostaithe araon, an teagasg morálta is áirde dar leo? Mar aon le hÍosa, feiceann naomh Pól nasc riachtanach idir an Dlí agus na himpleachtaí a bhaineann le grá: “Iadsan a chleachtaíonn an grá, tá an Dlí comhlíonta acu” (Róm 13: 8). Ach ní féidir an abairt sin a aisiompú go simplí, amhail is dá mbeadh an dlí a choimead ar aon leibhéal le grá comharsan. Ar ndóigh, tá cosc ​​ar dhúnmharú, ar ghoid, adhaltranas agus bréag; ach iarrann Íosa i bhfad níos mó ná sin, de réir a shampla féin (“bíodh grá agaibh dá chéile faoi mar atá agamsa libh”) agus de réir sampla an dea-Samaritánaigh: “Téigí agus déanaigí mar an gcéanna” (Lk 10:37). Ní leor peaca a sheachaint, ní mór dúinn an dlí a chaomhnú le grá.


(Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop)

Carlo Borromeo (1538 – 1584) from a noble family in Arona, Lake Maggiore, was archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584. Among the major Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century, he was responsible for significant reforms in the Church, including the founding of seminaries and organizing the final session of the Council of Trent (1562-63).

4 Responses

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    Two important fundamentals as we ponder these readings.

    First: the paradox of a commandment to love, in a world where so often the word “love” is used to refer to feelings and emotions. These cannot be “commanded”, and fluctuate and vary considerably depending on circumstances and happenings beyond our control, so love cannot be commanded. If we talk of a commandment to love, it must be something quite different. It does not exclude feelings and emotions, but is not determined by them. Rather than an internal emotional state, the love we speak of here is the external bond which is the “glue” of a community, and which maintains that unity, that community in all situations, including disagreement and strife and hurt and our own personal failings. It is not an emotional state, but a firmly established faithfulness. Perhaps one of the examples we might use is that of the faithful love of parents for a child, which is not always a positive emotion when the child is the source of disruption and pain and sleeplessness and worry; and yet the faithful love maintains the relationship.

    The second fundamental is to remember the question which was asked: “Which commandment is the first of all?” A commandment is a law by another name, and we know the struggle in the thinking of Paul in relation to the place of law for a Christian. The commandment to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength is indeed the first commandment. It is not, however, the first foundation of our faith. 1 John 4:8;19 says: “God is love … We love because God first loved us.” The very nature of God is love. Knowing this is what makes it possible for us to live by the first commandment.

    How can we know this? There are many and varied ways. We use the word “God” so easily, as if we know what or who we speak of, and yet human language is never adequate to express who God is. Even the very best of human expression falls far short. How can we experience the love of God? How is it possible in a world of so much suffering and cruelty and injustice?

    We may take so much of our experience for granted. Yet our experience of the world can be seen as overwhelmingly positive. When I think of all the love and friendship and support in my life, or all such experiences in the lives of the people in our congregation today, I may contrast that with a possible world where hatred and cruelty and selfishness are the norm everywhere. Why is it that that the world we experience, with all its problems, is a positive experience; and where the negative is experienced, it is known as such in complete contrast to the positive world we expect as the norm. I know of no jurisdiction where there is no legal prohibition of the taking of the life of another human being.

    Why should it be so? Why is our world not a desolation of hatred and cruelty? Our experience of the positivity of life, and of the contrast of the opposite, perhaps is the initial source of our pondering the source of the goodness. We do not experience the love of God for us in the same way as we experience the love of another human being, and yet the goodness we find in the beauty of the world and in the love of other people is a sacrament of the love lavished on us by God.

    As poet e e cummings pondered:
    the mightiest meditations of mankind
    canceled are by one merely opening leaf
    (beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

    If we go beyond such pondering to find the source of the mystery of goodness, and to recognise that we are children of God, then to live in that grace is to be children who embody that same love for God and neighbour. It is not just that we are not far from the kingdom of God. It is that the kingdom of God is already within and among us. Jesus, the word incarnate, is our way and truth and life.

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Thank you, Padraig, for that excellent insight/reflection on today’s readings.
    Something I am now exercised by is my need to reach a more mature understanding of the actual nature of God; what is the essence of God?
    So your words:
    ” We use the word “God” so easily, as if we know what or who we speak of, and yet human language is never adequate to express who God is”
    struck a chord with me.
    I have retained my childhood –childish even –understanding and image of God until quite recently. I never really felt any reason to explore the issue to any great depth which is quite remarkable, I suppose, given how important the matter is those of us of faith.
    So,Tony Flannery’s excellent essay, “The Language of Doctrine” really made me sit up and start to think for myself. I have now, on occasions, asked the question of like-minded people “what is your understanding of the essence of God?” and I have not yet received a helpful response. I think most people hang on to their image from childhood.

  3. Pádraig McCarthy

    Thanks, Paddy.
    As we read at the end of John’s gospel, not all the books in the world could tell the full story!
    But there are four Latin words which, for me, encapsulate some inkling of how I think about the God who is beyond all telling: “Bonum est diffusivum sui.”
    There’s no pithy way to capture the Latin in English, but it’s something like this: “The very nature of goodness is to give itself away, to share its very being and nature widely and generously.”
    So if I say “God is good”, I mean it in not in any restrictive way, but in the widest, most infinite embrace possible.
    And God sees the whole of creation as very good.

  4. Pat Rogers

    Thanks Padraig (and Paddy) for those splendid added reflections on last Sunday’s “Shema” command to reach out to God with such a total love.

    Your comments on the Sunday resources are always very welcome. They bring a stimulating change of style and perspective to spice up the column. They also motivate me to improve my editing of the homiletic material, into 2019 (le cunamh Dé) Please keep them coming!


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