Is this the hardest of all Gospel passages to follow? Most likely, our impulse would be to say no because we think of so many others that seem even more demanding. To forgive those who have hurt us? Love our enemies? Take up our crosses to follow Jesus? They seem far more difficult. When we hear this command to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] your neighbor as yourself,” the familiarity of it, the fact that it’s something that sounds so promising, so idealistic we can nod in agreement without really thinking and considering how incredibly challenging this is. Particularly for us living here in “the Western World” or “The First World” in 2023, where our lives are so accustomed to comfort and convenience… where even those who struggle financially, comparatively speaking to many of our ancestors and many of our brothers and sisters around the globe would be seen as “wealthy.” love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] your neighbor as yourself,” the impact of those words can be lost when we think about where people are; where are their minds, hearts, and souls, and how our comfort, convenience, and wealth have impacted those things.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 29, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
When it comes to “the mind,” for example: This year, University professors were discussing how to deal with this thing called Chat GPT – which is an Artificial Intelligence computer program that has taken cheating to a new level. Supposedly you can go online, type into this program whatever topic you’re studying, and direct it to write a paper that’s highly specific and even customized to sound as if a 20-year-old college student wrote it. Someone told me that I could go on there and say to this thing what scriptures I’m looking at, and to give it my website where I have posted all my homilies, and it can write a homily for me sounding the way I would sound. I haven’t even thought about looking at it because that just creeped me out beyond imagination. But this is a legitimate thing that academics are having quite a difficult time dealing in all kinds of different situations with their students. Just discussing with a few professors, I couldn’t help but flashback. I never thought I’d say this, but in my day, cheating was more complicated. In my philosophy class in college, a friend of mine got caught plagiarizing something. Our professor pointed out to them how hard they had worked to find something, research, and re-write it in a way to try to cover it up; that had they just put a little more effort in, they could have legitimately written the paper instead of this act of academic fraud. Now, it’s a competition between computers – the cheater having it produce a paper for them and the professor hoping their computer can identify that it’s inauthentic. That’s just one example of how there’s been a dumbing down of the mind…
When it comes to the heart – a few years ago, a priest friend had this young man explaining how he was planning to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He detailed how he had scouted out the location, hired a photographer to hide in the bushes and have a drone overhead, and arranged the families to be there – all he needed from the priest was prayers “for good weather.” My friend, who happens to be a bit more frank and unfiltered than I am, replied to the guy, “Romance is dead.” The poor guy kind of had his jaw drop and wasn’t expecting that reaction. I probably wouldn’t have said that, like that, to a guy who’s obviously put time, energy and thought into trying to make this a special occasion. But I see the point that so often with engagements and weddings, mainly because they’ve become such expensive enterprises, that sometimes people can spend more time, energy, and resources to create an event than focusing on genuine emotions, the sincere affections. That’s just one dramatic example. The advertisements telling us that to demonstrate our love for those closest to us is found in buying something for Christmas have been airing for weeks already. There are a lot of ways a person’s heart, the matters of the heart, can be co-opted in our day and age.
And as for a soul – that sense of the eternal nature of a person is so foreign to a growing and increasingly vocal number of people. Look at the derogatory ways that prayer is treated in public discourse. Where “prayer shaming” has become a thing, people will try to cancel you for daring to say you are praying in response to something notable, something significant, a crisis or tragedy. Just this past week you could see that happening whether it’s for the victims of the mass shooting in Maine or the horrors of War, inflicting violence and death on countless numbers of innocent people in a growing number of places throughout the world. When Pope Francis asked the world to unite in a day of fasting and prayer this past Friday, it wasn’t hard to find people mocking, deriding it, and pivoting it to purely political discussions, where they wanted to criticize things being said or done by anyone who was participating in praying, including the Pope.
Those were some realities that hit me sitting with this Gospel. And how as Jesus reminds us the “greatest” of Commandments in all of the law is “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] your neighbor as yourself,” is so difficult and challenging on a very basic level. The comfort and convenience of our world have numbed so many of our hearts and minds. The wealth of our world has caused many to devalue or even deny the soul. And as for love – Love has been trivialized and manipulated to being seen simply as something of pleasure that I want. Heck, Mcdonalds’ has been for decades marketing that you can love a Big Mac, a Filet of Fish, or an order of French Fries in what has been described as their most successful marketing campaign – their “I’m lovin’ it” campaign. You might enjoy eating a Big Mac – but no, you can’t love a hamburger or a fast food restaurant.
Praise God – we’re here together, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whether you’re a learned theologian, you’re here because someone dragged you to CCD, to faith formation, and you know there’s something of value even if it’s hard to articulate what that is; somewhere in between or even if you stumbled here and are unsure of how or why you found yourself here… it’s a tremendous thing for us to be here – and to hear these scriptures proclaimed. We believe that every time we gather for this sacred assembly, and these words are proclaimed, we’re not reading this for some historical lesson or bible study. God Himself is speaking to us in this present moment.
Each of us knows, without providing a news report of the lack of peace in the world, our nation, and our lives that we are experiencing. How unsettled and unsatisfied so many around us, so many of us are feeling. How helpless we are in the face of so many problems that threaten us. How hopeless so many are becoming as they double down, triple down on turning away from God and trying to convince themselves and others that when everyone falls in line with whatever political talking point is being amplified at the moment; whatever cause is in fashion THEN everything will be fine. Yet inevitably, and every time this has failed and will always fail.
Praise God, we find ourselves here and Thank God, He comes to us and speaks to us in these scriptures tonight. Words that speak to the deepest longings of our hearts: that desire peace, that find a lack of fulfillment from all the comforts, conveniences, and wealth of the world. And in these most familiar of words, Jesus Himself provides the answer – “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] your neighbor as yourself.” Pointing us to the reality that it is when we have a reverence for God’s law that we see the “commandments” as God’s gift to us, that they’re not arbitrary things leveled out to control and inhibit humanity but that they are commands meant for authentic freedom, for our ultimate happiness, for human beings to flourish and live in peace with one another. But that can only be fully realized when love is understood, treated just as reverently, and seen as essential. As one Catholic theologian pointed out, “Without love, the law is cold. Without law, love is mere emotion.”
Jesus calling us to love God:
– with all our heart – having our emotions and affections directed to Him;
– with all our minds – to actively engage our intellects to know God, to learn about Him, to understand the truth of who He is;
– and with all our souls, where we recognize that innermost part of ourselves. That place where we desire greater, meaningful things, things that are not fleeting- that long to be satisfied and fulfilled are nudging at us – that innermost part is our soul. And not allowing ourselves to be tempted to think the soul will be satisfied by something purchased. A fellow human being can’t even fulfill our souls – as well-intentioned as any one of them might be, as intimately close as they can be (like a spouse, a parent or a sibling) simply because they are a fellow, fallen, broken human being as we are. We have to focus our souls on God, knowing He’s the all-good, all-loving, creator of all things. And He wants to fulfill us now and for eternity; He wants us to have that peace that the world cannot give; He wants us to have Him and be united with Him and His perfect love. It’s when we get our hearts, minds, and souls right about what they are and where their energies need to be directed that this commandment starts to be realized and make sense. When that genuinely and sincerely happens, love of neighbor is instinctual. Because we’re not focused on ourselves, we’re not weighed down by pettiness, we’re not competing with one another. There’s no room for that, no time for that.
To this day, one of the most memorable moments of my time in campus ministry has been when we took a group of students on a mission trip in Appalachia. The students had to fundraise to spend their spring break on this trip. Taking a 13-hour van ride from Montclair, NJ, to Kentucky, sleeping in these massive rooms that accommodated 30 women in one and 30 men in the other on bunk beds and having communal showers and bathrooms. Had to wake up at 5 AM for Mass at 5:30, so they could be at breakfast at 6 AM and then be separated from our Montclair group and sent off individually to work sites with a group of fellow college students that they had never met before as they rebuilt homes for people who were poor, elderly, and ill. The rides to these work sites could be 30 – 60 minutes, and the days were long and hard. Doing manual labor for a solid 8 hours with the hope that in the four days we worked and the two other weeks that other groups came and went for this program, that we could help rebuild or do serious renovations to these homes in terrible condition. Anyway, every night, we gathered our students to share what happened on their worksites and their experiences. And at one point, this one girl had been kind of quiet and reflective. She just said, “why is it that I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I haven’t been able to connect on wifi, use my phone and do any social media, these beds and showers are what they are – and yet I don’t know if I have ever felt more joy and peace in my life?”
She needed this dramatic experience to help her conceive of what Jesus is saying in this Gospel – to realize that in her own life. We pointed out to her that it was her openness to coming, her stepping out in faith, and her putting God and others first that helped stretch her understanding of this lesson.
God is constantly putting opportunities like that out there for every single one of us. We cannot all go on a mission trip to rebuild homes in Appalachia. But even here, even now in our time and place we too can be stretched and start to experience why this is the first and most important commandment. If we take these words and constantly use them to challenge us: is what I’m going to say (or not say) demonstrating I love the Lord God with all my heart; is what I’m going to do illustrating I love the Lord God with all my soul; is what I’m pursuing show that I love the Lord God with all my mind? Is the world around me different because my Love of God is all-consuming that I didn’t even realize I love my neighbor as myself?