Love the Lord Your God
In this beautiful homily for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly suggests that we fall in love with God.
Readings for Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Deuteronomy 6:2-6
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 57
- Second Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28
- Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
This is a wonderful Gospel. And one of the reasons it is a wonderful Gospel is it is one of the few times where the leaders of the Jewish community and Jesus came together at a very important understanding — and that was the meaning of the Great Commandment.
As you know, up to now Jesus is already in Jerusalem. He has already gone up to the temple and now he’s teaching in the temple. And it is a sad occasion, because he knows that he will be rejected and he will soon be marched up the Hill of Calvary and die on the cross.
At the same time, it is wonderful for us to see for a moment, before the great splits and the great problems and the breaking up of this union, this total union between Jews and gentiles, Jews and Christians.
The Great Commandment is at the head of today’s readings. The Great Commandment, we hear it in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is one of the five books of the Torah. And when quoted by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, in Mark’s Gospel it is there because, from the beginning of Deuteronomy, many, many centuries ago, Jew and gentile were one family.
This declaration of God’s unity and call to love God with all our being and our neighbours as ourselves, is still today central in Jewish worship.
Sometimes we think that it is Jesus who brought the word love into the vocabulary of the Hebrew people. But this is far from the truth, as he himself will now show you. Because this part, this declaration of God’s unity and call to love God with all our being and our neighbours as ourselves, this part is called the Shema, and the Shema is the sacred text, the beginning of here, because God has a message for us that will make the difference between life and death.
And it is this. The Scribe who queried Jesus about the Greatest Commandment agrees with Jesus. He says, “Yes, the Shema says to love God and our neighbour wholeheartedly is the path to life in God’s kingdom.”
But how can we love this way? Most of us, you know, are so busy, so distracted with so much coming and going, how can we even choose our priorities?
I was reading a book during the week and there is this lovely thought that was kind of new to me. I mean it was already floating around, but it was kind of new to me as well, because I never put the two together.
Many people, women and men, have recommended, in the past, falling in love with God. Falling in love with God. And nothing is more practical, says Father Pedro Arrupe. Father Pedro Arrupe was one of the great Jesuit Superior Generals of the past and he has gone home to God.
Why does he say this? Why is it so practical?
And then he says, “Because, when we are in love, when we are in love, we know what our priorities are, we know each day how we will devote our time and our talents. And when we are in love we find time to nourish our relationships.”
This is very human. We take it for granted. A mother looks at her children, not only with an understanding that the child will grow to manhood and womanhood, but an understanding that this child must be loved. And it is love that brings this child through life. And because the emphasis is on love, she finds time to nourish relationships.
Father Pedro said this: “Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.” I had never before thought that one of the objects of being a Christian is we must learn to fall in love with God.
What does this mean?
Well, it means, sometimes, maybe, we over-emphasise, especially in our schools, the idea of teaching people what it is and how to explain — how to explain God and how to explain this and explain that.
But this is useless. It’s useless, because it doesn’t reach into one specific area that Jesus again and again speaks of and we pay no attention to it: Love one another as I love you. Love me!
“Peter, do you love me?”
Peter says, “You know I love you. Why are you asking three times? Why are you asking me this?”
“Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep.”
Love is what drives this church on. And love is what we have to begin to judge ourselves on. Not do we understand. Not do we read enough books, are we on top of career charts.
We have to learn how to love. And, of course, that’s what Jesus does.
Jesus has come, not to teach us grammar, not to teach us the wonders of the world, Jesus has come to teach us how to love. Because we don’t know how. We think we know, but we don’t.
Because love gives, love doesn’t take. There’s nothing in love that takes. It only gives and gives.
We worship God, because He’s a giver. God, have you ever noticed, God doesn’t take anything from us; He gives and gives and gives.
And that is what He expects of us as Christians.
We’re not to ask what I get out of things. Will I get this? Will I go to heaven? Will I do this? Will I do that? This is a waste of time.
What matters is: will I learn to love, will I learn to appreciate, will I learn to walk through life knowing that everyone that I see is my brother and my sister and we are linked together in one long march through this life and into eternal life.
The question is not how high you make it in the world, how smart you are, your marks at school, even. The question is none of these things. These are secondary.
The question is can you love, are you afraid to love, are you running away from love, or are you going to follow Jesus’ love which finally leads to a cross? Jesus dies on a cross to tell us that there is only love in life that carries us through life into all eternity.
And so the wonderful thing about this message is it began all the way back to Abraham and it was held by the Jewish people through thick and thin, and they still hold to it, because they still feel that the Messiah is still to come, but, more than that, they still feel that they are here to learn how to love, for that is the Judaic Christian understanding: it’s not success, not heroics, it is learning how to care and love each other.
Sometimes, I remember when I was at home, one of the great moments of my life was when I was ordained a priest and I was saying Mass in the hometown church. And I was late and I was running there, and Morris Kantor, my father’s best friend, a Jewish man, very strict Jew, he’s running towards me and he stops me.
And I said, “Mr Kantor,” (he makes clothes – all during the Depression, he used to make clothes for us), “what are you doing here?” Because I knew it was a Saturday and on Saturday he’s breaking the Sabbath if he works or moves too far away.
So he said, “I’ve come here for you. I’ve come here for you.”
And then he said, “Kneel down.” And I knelt down in front of him.
And then he said, “Now…” He takes his yarmulke, do you know? He takes his yarmulke and he holds it to me and then he puts it back on his head and then he says the following prayer:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
And then he took off his yarmulke and put it on my head.
This is what God intends: that we learn how to love, that we learn how to care, that we learn how to sacrifice, that we learn how to become human beings.
And in all of this we are privileged to know that it is Jesus who has taught us, his children, and continues to teach us, for he is with us all our days, and the one thing he is teaching us is to learn how to love.