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The greatest failure of the Church in our time is not the abuse crisis, it isn’t the lack of catechesis, and it’s not the liturgy. It is our failure of Jesus’s words in the Gospel this Sunday, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
But there is no point in scolding each other about it. This failure is too important for that. Every Christian’s job is to make it right.
Jesus first tells us the greatest commandment, without which even the second greatest commandment is meaningless.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” a scholar of the law asks him. He answers: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
If you look at it one way, this commandment is an impossibly high standard. I, for one, can’t even say the Our Father all the way through with my full attention, let alone love God with everything in me.
But look at it another way and this high standard of love is something every one of us has done and can do again.
Anyone who has loved another human being — a family member, friend, or spouse — knows how this “heart, mind and soul” thing works.
For me and the poet Dante Alighieri, love at first sight was very real — though it is by no means necessary or even an ideal. Dante saw Beatrice Portinari when he was a child and she filled his thoughts the rest of his life. I saw April Beingessner crossing a room in college and was struck by her simple elegance, and a combination of kindness and confidence that I saw in her. I reconfigured my schedule to see her more often and I joined good things she was doing — pro-life work and promoting Eucharistic adoration — to be with her.
In other words my heart fell for her beauty, and my soul was moved to participate in her goodness. But then I did something more: I filled my mind with her. We did what young lovers do — talked late into the night, and made time to be together as often as possible — because we wanted what love always wants. We wanted to “see” our beloved more clearly and “be seen” for who we are.
Something similar happens between parents and children and between good friends. It happens the same way with God.
Recalling your special moments of beauty, goodness, and truth can help you fall in love with God all over again.
It seems impossible to love God with my whole heart, my whole soul, and my whole mind — but I think I have done it before, at least in part.
I think I have loved him with my whole heart — maybe when I entered St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time or when topping a cliff on Pusch Ridge by my childhood home north of Tucson, Ariz., and seeing the mountains above me and the valley below. In other words, when his beauty filled my heart. His beauty is in all the things he made, but none of them satisfy us. We always want more beauty — more completeness, more harmony, more glory.
I think I have also loved God with my whole soul — when I stepped out of the confessional after an enormous load was lifted off my shoulders, or when I inspired someone else to return to confession. God’s goodness and justice have inspired great love in me also — on mission with Father Felice in Tijuana, or reading Mother Teresa. So has God’s justice: Jesus tells us to “hunger and thirst for justice” and fighting for justice makes us long for God’s perfect justice.
Last, I think I have loved God with my whole mind — in those moments when God’s plan for the world came into focus for me. Some (not me) have been touched by the truth of an equation and how it draws attention to the perfection of the design of the universe. For me it was taking classes with Dr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in college or listening to homilies by Bishop Robert Barron. I am also moved by the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” kinds of truths I have found in studying the Miracle of the Sun or the Shroud of Turin. That is a response to Truth too.
To love him with your whole heart, seek beauty; to love him with your soul, seek goodness; to love him with your whole mind, seek truth. Love will grow.
But love is more than these helpful experiences. Love can be commanded.
Love means aligning my will with God’s will. Love of God should change my life even more than the love of April Hoopes did. And hers changed nearly everything.
Paul described what this looks like in his letter to the Thessalonians. His flock there fell in love with God. Their hearts “received the word … with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Their souls shared in his goodness and they “became a model for all believers.” They fell in love with God with all their minds and became evangelizers from whom “the word of the Lord has sounded forth.”
Jesus Christ captivated them and they longed to share him. Which brings us to the second greatest commandment which “is like” the first one, says Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This “is like” the greatest commandment because your neighbor is like God. In the first commandment, we serve God. In the second, we serve his image and likeness in other human beings.
The devil understands how like God every human being is.
He knows he can’t attack God, so he does the next best thing and attacks us, because he sees the image of God in us, and he knows he can at least steal away something God loves.
We need to have faith like the devil’s, and see those around us as reminders of God, and beloved by God — and then serve them, knowing that we are indirectly serving God.
I started out by saying that there is no point in scolding people to try to get them to love. But maybe there is. Twice in today’s readings, the Church tells us not just to love for the sake of it, but to love because we’ll get in trouble otherwise.
The Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath,” says Paul.
In the first reading, from Exodus, God tells believers to serve the destitute for “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans. … for I am compassionate.” God sees it as an act of compassion to have vengeance on Christians who treat his image and likeness poorly.
That is Scripture’s message today: See the beauty, goodness, and truth of God and it will transform your life. And if you don’t, you will be giving your heart to something that will drag you into the wrath of God that is to come.
Also, serve God in others, loving them as you love yourself, because they are in God’s image and likeness. And, by the way, if you don’t you will be treating them like the devil does, and the compassionate God will deal with your accordingly.