30th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 25 October 2020
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 22:20-26; Responsorial: Psalm 18; II: I Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Gospel:Matthew 22:34-40
The complexity of life in our times presses on. It might be getting tiresome but these are the times in which we live. Elections, not just for a president but numerous offices and propositions have presented many views on many issues. Some choices may be very clear. Some are not. Health, both of body and our economy, have also brought many challenges we must navigate. And our faith is not near as simple as it once seemed. Mass attendance and the sharing in the sacramental treasures of our faith are are uncertain, at best. And this week Pope Francis shared some statements about non-traditional relationships that have challenged or troubled many and encouraged and brought hope to others. Indeed we share many challenges, complexities and….opportunities.
As always the Bible readings for Mass bring the light of the Holy Spirit to offer us insight and wisdom that we may live our faith in God in a genuine and faithful journey of growing in the graces of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. Although the journey, these times, are not easy they hold no surprises for God. And with our Lord, again, they hold intense promise.
For the faithful there is a fervent desire to live out our faith in our responses to all these issues. How to vote? How to navigate the intricate steps of a pandemic and all the social, economic changes it brings? How to live as faithful followers of Christ when simply going to church or gathering for Bible study just isn’t available for the foreseeable future, with any consistency, what do we do with that? And the many complicated social issues that press upon the Church, how are we to respond? It is necessary to recognize that we are surrounded by a maze of life of seeming insurmountable odds. But our faith is not in moods, fears, even what we may think. Our faith is in God and the promises of the King of Kings.
We must remember that in this maze of life we never walk alone as long as we seek and allow God’s guiding help. It is as we remember to listen to God’s quiet voice and take His wounded hands we discover that these uncertain steps become a journey of a maze of grace. It is as we walk, learning to practice the Presence of God we can learn and grow in the freedom and power of the simple words that Jesus gave in response to the question pressed upon Him in our Gospel today. “Good Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” or perhaps we may ask: “Jesus what is most important if I am to follow you?” Again His response is found in a few simple words. ” You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. And: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The path is really quite simple. The opportunities are eternal. But humanity, including Christians, Catholics, have seemingly cherished the ability to make it as complex as possible.
And we often take these complex rules, interpretations, traditions (again speaking of ALL Christians) with intense fervor. The very diverse schools of philosophy, Bible interpretation, Natural Law applications and intense personal perspectives and fears have built a incredible maze of Christian thought and beliefs. This isn’t to say that these disciplines are bad. They are indeed necessary gifts of God for the faithful soul when they are used and applied with a growing fullness of grace. But when that grace, that simplicity of the Gospel is obscured they can become perilous.
So what is this simple path that Jesus gives to us today in the Gospel? The path is one filled with challenge and even greater opportunity.
YOU SHALL LOVE….
THE LORD YOUR GOD, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL AND MIND.
AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOUR SELF.
We are created and called to LOVE God and each other. FULL STOP. PERIOD. In this portion of Matthew the Greek verb is the same: Agape. This has, from the beginnings of the Church, meant the love of God. A love that is universal, unconditional and that transcends circumstance. Agape love is a desire and choice for the best, God’s best for the beloved. Now some speak and think of this love, with disdain, as “sloppy agape”. For some would see it as a “love” where anything goes. Others would say that God does love us unconditionally BUT that we must show, we must live lives worthy of His love. This love of God is difficult to…understand, to organize regardless of how we may try. God call us to simply grow in this love, who is God (I John 4). How Jesus calls us to grow in this love is simple and powerful. We are called to love God with:
ALL YOUR HEART: Again looking at the Greek we see the word “kardia” (yes, you are right, it is the root of the medical word.) we see this means, from ancient times, the center of our being. The heart holds the affections, the character, the emotions of the person.
ALL YOUR SOUL: Greek: “Psuche” (again a root of the medical discipline of psychology). Our soul encompasses our will, our talents our orientations and our links to the spiritual. It is infused with the breath of life given us by God at conception.
ALL YOUR MIND: (Greek “Dianoia”) Meaning our mind, intellect, understanding the place of our knowledge. Our abilities of reason.
Now some other Gospel segments include the call to love God with all our strength. This refers to the our body, the vessel of our heart, soul and mind. That there are different expressions from Jesus of these vital words should not be troubling. In using different frames of reference Jesus was showing us a vital truth. Love is not, cannot be confined to a specific set of words or understanding. Love, Who is God, is infinite and beyond our ability to organize or understand but fully within our grasp to embrace.
It is very important to note some significant points. We are created, called to love, wholly, with ALL our being. But the Gospel life and message of our Lord shows us this is a progressive, growing reality we are called to experience. The heart and soul, the mind of a young baby at baptism will not be the same as a child receiving First Communion or a young adult receiving Confirmation. But this also applies to the truth we are all…different. And that is, at times difficult. But it is ok for it is what He designed. The heart, soul and mind of someone born into and raised in the faith in 19th century Ireland will be distinct from a soul born and raised in Soviet Russia. But these differences are even greater than our geographic origins. The faith, intellectual, relational, athletic (to name but a few) orientations, talents and skills of people are vastly diverse. So my ability to “love God” with ALL my musical talent will be far different than a musician or singer who can give their ALL in a vastly different (and more beautiful manner. What Jesus asks of us is that we, each as the person He made, that together we love God.
This brings us to the next dimension of this love for which we are made and redeemed. We are to love our neighbor (again agape love) as ourselves. It may seem so much easier if Jesus would have said…..”love those you like and who agree with you..as yourself.” But He didn’t. Jesus purposefully calls us to love our…neighbor. In the world Jesus walked and shared these words, this message, was volatile at best. Jews feared and, as a rule, hated Romans. Romans and other Gentiles , generally looked down upon the Jews with deep prejudice. But they were ALL neighbors. Jesus allows no prejudice, preconceived conditions, exceptions to His commandment. He kept it very simple. But difficult.
And it is in those difficulties, that are very real, we find our solution and strength. For it is as we grow to more fully love God and each other that we are more in need of God’s grace, strength, power. For it is God, it is God’s love we are called to live.
This brings us back to the challenges we shared at the beginning of this reflection. As we travel the difficult steps of these times, election issues, pandemic uncertainties, concerns in church and home let us seek to travel, together, in a growing love for and with God. May this love transform how we see these issues, each other and ourselves in the light of His love and mercy. May we see each day, each challenge as an opportunity, allowed by God for us to grow in the love of the Redeemer.