NOVEMBER 5, 2006, 31ST SUNDAY: Deut. 6:2-6; Heb. 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34

HEAR, O ISRAEL, THE LORD IS OUR GOD. THE LORD IS ONE! THEREFORE YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART. Surely our Lordís words concerning love of God and of neighbor are among the most characteristic of his teaching. They have been well known to all who are at all familiar with the Gospel, the Churchís teaching and the example of so many saints and faithful. Putting them into practice has resulted in a wide variety of expressions and led to a multitude of distinct life-styles in the course of the centuries since they were first uttered. For although the motive of loving God and neighbor is the same in all true believers yet the differences of character, gifts and circumstances are such that in practice love takes innumerable forms and expressions.

I have cited only the first part of our Lordís answer to the scribe, which he refers to as the first of all the commandments. As Mark points out, Jesus wa not satisfied with leaving matters at that. Although he was asked only about the first commandment our Lord added a second. It would seem that he did so by way of indicating the way more fully to understand and correctly to implement the first. "The second", he adds, "is: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." The answer that our Lord gives to the question, is not supplied in his own words. Rather, he cites word for word the law of Moses as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Hardly any other passage in Scripture was more familiar to the Jews of our Lordís time, for every adult male Jew was bound to pray this passage three times every day, at morning, noon and evening. The ĎSchema Israelí remains the basic creed of the Jewish faith. God is ONE, there is no other. He is not first in a series of other gods; He is unique, in a class of His own. Being one He alone merits total love: the love of oneís whole heart, whole soul and all oneís strength. But notice that Mark adds a phrase not found in the Hebrew text: and with your whole mind." Familiar as he was with the Hellenistic world and writing in Greek, Mark realized how much importance his readers placed on the operations of the mind. In fact, the popular Greek of this text, the Septuagint, does not mention heart at all in this verse but interprets the Hebrew word for heart, lev, with dianoia, mind: You shall love the Lord with your whole mind." We are not accustomed to consider the heart as the seat of thought but rather as giving rise to emotion and deep feeling. Whereas elsewhere our Lord explains that the heart gives rise to thoughts and images and so is the place of moral decision. The state of a personís heart, he taught, in the index of acceptability to God.

In our time it is rare that people, even sincere believers, speak about the love of God. A few years ago a Jesuit theologian wrote an article he entitled "The Eclipse of Love of God." (America, March 9, 1996,13-16). He begins with these words:

When David Hare interviewed cleargy as part of his research for his play, "Racing Demons", he ran nto a problem: None of te priests wanted to talk about God. One of the disturbing questions his play raises is whether Christians, with the exception of a few fanatical fundamentalists, are concerned ab about loving God. In my own conversations with Christians I find that almost all of them talk approvingly of love for others, some talk confidently about Godís love for us, but few are willing to talk about their love for God.

It is not only American men who feel uncomfortable, even unable to talk simply and openly about their love for God. Although St. Augustineís Confessions contains many expressions of deeply felt and aptly expressed love for God, yet he had but few emulators in confident openness. The first treatise written specifically on Loving God was that by St. Bernard in the 12th century. There is not one Saying of the Desert Fathers that treats of Love of God. Though there are some 28 listed under the topic "Charity" all of them deal with love of neighbor. Of course love of God is the motive force of practically all that is written about social justice and other forms of loving service to others; and implicit in all the works on prayer and contemplation is the desire for God which is surely based on love for Him. Still, we do well directly and explicitly to cultivate a love for God and to share with others our experience of our Love for Him and the personal ways it speaks to us in the depths of our heart, in the recesses of our mind, in the hidden places of our soul and in the fibres of our strength. For this is the first and the greatest of the commandments and our highest privilege: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Do this and you shall live, in the light of Godís eternal glory. .

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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