“Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
What does it mean to love? God explains love to us through the Scriptures of the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time. First, we are struck with the words, “Hear, O Israel!” God is asking us to listen because our ears may have gone deaf to His love; our eyes blinded by things; our lips unable to speak for God. God tells us that love is not a moment, but it requires all of ourselves all the time. It isn’t just something to which we give credence on Sunday. God says that we are to pay attention to Him 24/7/365 with everything that is ours—our heart, our soul, our strength. He asks us to take His words to heart, to the core of our being.
To the Israelites, God spoke to them 10 times and each one is a command. God created life and it flourishes and multiplies and is fulfilled in response to His ten commands. God calls upon each generation to teach the next generation about God, about His commandments, about His love and how His love is infused in all of creation upon the whole earth. But, that spread of His love does not happen without each one of us.
It is a joyous gift and an earnest responsibility offered to us. Who would want to be disconnected from His love? Yet, we do disconnect ourselves when we fail to participate in the celebration of Mass and receive the nourishment of His love through the Eucharist. We disconnect when we stop praying or when we look with disdain at the immigrants struggling to enter our country or when we speak hatefully about a neighbor or when our righteousness slips away from God. We disconnect from God all the time. God does not disconnect from us. Rather, God shouts for us as He says, “Hear, O Israel.”
As we begin the Eucharistic Prayer of the celebration of Mass, in the Preface, we thank God for His steadfast love and tell Him how much we love Him because He is our strength. Throughout salvation history, the people responded with gratitude when the Lord rescued them from a difficulty or provided safety from enemies or delivered them from some trouble. Like the Israelites, we have much for which to be thankful. The Preface is our collective prayer of thanksgiving for God’s love.
St. Mark speaks of one of the scribes who asks Jesus which is the first of all the commandments and Jesus responds with Scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus could have stopped with that response. But He continued with the Book of Leviticus and brings the two commandments together—love for God and love for neighbor—telling us they are inseparable and complementary. You cannot love God without your neighbor and you cannot love your neighbor without loving God.
Pope Francis said, “The Commandment to love God and neighbor is the first, not because it is at the top of the list of Commandments. Jesus does not place it at the pinnacle but at the center, because it is from the heart that everything must go out and to which everything must return and refer.”
Our neighbor, just like each one of us, is made in the divine image and likeness. Love for God means that we must also love the image and likeness of God in our neighbor. Our neighbor is not a stranger, but of God. Would we not then extend God’s love to our neighbor as we would to God? Jesus boldly tells the scribe that you can’t love God with all your heart, all your soul, your strength without also loving your neighbor.
In a few days, we will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. These men and women are our examples and guides to loving God and our neighbor. Take time to read about a saint or two and how they loved God and served Him by loving their neighbors. See how wondrous their connection with God flourished the earth. Strive to be holy.by infusing every moment with those whom you encounter with love of God. May we take to heart God’s words.