October 22, 2017

Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Greatest Commandment

Sermon on the Moun

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:11 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mt 22:36)

Americans like things summed up easily and in few words. We like short news bytes and easy to understand directions that pop up on our phones. Simple, quick, and easy are words we live by. At first glance, today’s Gospel from Matthew offers such a summary for today’s Catholic. A lawyer asks Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Here is Jesus’ answer: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Simple, quick, and easy—love God and love neighbor. It sums up everything Jesus teaches and is thus the center of the law of Christ.

As anyone who takes faith seriously knows, these two commands of Christ are anything but simple, quick, and easy. They’re easy to say and even to believe; they are something else to live. Indeed, loving God and neighbor is the work of a lifetime of prayer and service.

The requirement to love God and neighbor can be likened to the backdrop of a theatrical production. The backdrop gives form and context to what is happening in the front of the stage, namely, the actors performing the play. Loving God completely with all of one’s being and the admonition to love one’s neighbor, the backdrop of the Christian life, will help the person make daily decisions that are in accord with God’s law. In making those decisions, the faithful follower of Christ refers back to “loving God and neighbor” and uses that teaching as his guide.

Jesus teaches that loving God needs to come from the heart, soul, and mind. The totality of one’s being needs to be geared toward this relationship with God. St. Augustine has a beautiful meditation on the desire for God in his Confessions: “You [God] called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace” (Bk. 10, chap. 27.37). When the human person starts to sense God in his life, there is a desire for more! In realizing he has been created by God, called by God to a certain vocation and to a life of holiness, and when that same person feels God’s presence within him nudging him to pursue that which is good and avoid what is evil, he will respond as did St. Augustine. Knowing God brings with it great love and a desire to be even closer. A life of prayer will help the person grow in that love of God.

Love of neighbor comes from the same place as loving God, namely, one’s heart, mind, and soul. At some point in life, the person realizes that God is the Creator of all, including one’s very self. If the person sees that in herself, she then will see it in others. If I have been created in God’s image and likeness, so has every other human being. I am thus compelled to love those around me.

Love of neighbor is shown primarily through the virtues of kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, patience, and generosity, among other virtues. The Christian never comes to a plateau where she now “loves her neighbors” and there is no more work to do. Instead, attempting to love one’s neighbor is a daily resolution for the serious follower of Christ. It is easy to treat those one likes with respect and dignity; it is another story to respect those one dislikes. Yet that is the call of Christianity. Jesus does not say that his followers only had to love those whom they like. They are simply to love their neighbors. That’s a tall order!

While “loving God and neighbor” can seem quick and easy, it is not. With prayer and firm commitment to God, it can surely happen. Let each of us make a resolution every day that today, in this time and circumstance, I will love the God who created me and those around me, to the best of my ability.

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