homily text from 31st Sunday in ordinary time (11/4/18- Fr. IVÁN)
“One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Mk 12:28B-34
A couple of days ago, we were gathering in our Faith – Food – Fellowship Thursday meeting, and one student asked: “how can we love God with all our hearts? That seems pretty difficult to me!”
I am glad that I have the chance to comment on that question.
First, let’s expand the question. It would seem that it’s impossible for two reasons.
The first one is that we don’t see God. We cannot see God, or touch him, or contemplate Him in his glory and beauty, yet.
The second reason is that Love cannot be imposed as a commandment. If love is something that we feel, how could that be under a commanding scripture?
St Augustine wondered about this. In his Confessions he wrote:
“What are You to me? ... What am I to You that You demand my love?”
In other words, who are you that I might know you, and knowing you, love you? And who am I that you would care?
These are deep questions. We don’t see God, but we seek him; we don’t interact with Jesus in the same way we interact with other human beings, but we seem to love him. And as we hear this Gospel, we even might feel moved to love him more…why? Why would we even want to love God more?
The reality is that we are able to love God, and we seek him, because he has loved us first!
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes:
“True, no one has ever seen God as he is. And yet God is not totally invisible to us; he does not remain completely inaccessible. God loved us first (…)and this love of God has appeared in our midst. God has made himself visible: in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Indeed, God is visible in a number of ways. He comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection (…) he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love.”
So, it’s not true that we don’t see God. We don’t see him with our eyes…but he makes himself present to us.
Another student, that same night, was sharing in a small group a deep realization that she had about the love of Jesus in the Eucharist…it’s crazy! That we could eat his flesh, and be cleansed by his body…that he would want to remain so approachable, so close to us…
The point is that love can be commanded as a response to the one that has loved us so much! He is not invisible, yes, we need faith to interact with him, but God is concrete, and alive, and as soon as we surrender to him, we begin to touch his presence, and his love.
How, then, are we supposed to love God? Jesus is clear, with all your heart, mind, and strength. Let’s break this down a little.
To love God with all our heart mean to want what God wants. It means to obey God out of love. To want to obey him. It is not merely a feeling, but is deeper and more stable. It is an act of our freedom, through which we bind our will to God’s will, because we trust him. Jesus says:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word” Jn 14:23
Do you have this loving willingness to obey God? If not, ask for it!
To love God means to want to obey Him even if I have to die.
Thomas More, imprisoned in the tower of London, wrote to his daughter Margaret:
“His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. (…) I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.”
Martyrs teach us what fidelity is all about!
To love God with all our minds is to accept his teachings. It implies a humble disposition to trust God more than myself, or more than the dominant pop culture around us. Sometimes, and I know this might be the case for some of you, we might find it difficult to understand a teaching of the Church. It could be about human love, sexuality and family life, or gender issues, or abortion; or even some strong positions on social issues, like the call to live an austere life, to combat consumerism, and to put the poor first, or the universal destiny of all goods, and so on.
In those cases, I am not necessarily called to swallow that particular teaching as if it were a pill, without questioning. Questions are good! They make us think, and when we struggle, we come to a deeper understanding. BUT, if I want to love God with all my mind, I have to be humble, and say, ok Lord, you know better. I might not understand this yet, but I trust you…I trust that I might be missing something. I trust you, and your Church, more than myself. That is a huge step, that we need to take if we want to move from pick and choose religion to disciples. To love God with all your heart means to be a disciple.
One Sister, that used to be protestant, shared with me:
When I entered the Church, I had to say, “I believe everything that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” And I struggled with it, because I didn’t understand many things yet, and some things seemed unfair or outdated. . . Could I say this truthfully at the Easter Vigil when I had all these questions? Finally, in prayer I saw I could say, “Jesus I don’t understand everything, but I trust that You know more than me, so in faith that You have called me here, I will say this, even though I can’t understand yet.”
To love God with all your strength means with your energy, with your time. It means to serve Him. There are so many ways to serve God. So many ways to volunteer, to practice philanthropy, to help those in need, to serve in the Church.
One way that I would highlight this morning is to serve him by inviting others to come. We are about to organize the Alpha course next semester. It’s a concrete way to pave the road together, so that others can come closer to God.
Jesus spoke often about this King offering a banquet, and no one wanting to come…and how he sent his servants to call everyone in, so that they might enjoy the banquet! We can be those servants! We have such a substantial banquet!
Francis of Assisi would sigh “Love is not loved!”
This leads us into the second commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. In reality, these two loves are only one, poured out in two directions. You cannot love God if you do not love your neighbor more and more…love of neighbor is a proof of authenticity of your love for God. And at the same time, your love for your neighbor will be very limited if you don’t love God. It will be narrowed, bound to your own ideas, tastes, and inclinations. These 2 loves don’t compete, they feed each other.
To summarize: God comes to us, in Jesus Christ. He loves us first. He equips us to love him back, and to love the ones around us. He pushes our limits. He puts in our path people that we wouldn’t love naturally. He pushes our ideas, he challenges us. He pushes our already filled calendars, presenting opportunities to serve; he pushes our comfort zones, sending us to mission.