This Sunday, the Only Love God Accepts

This Sunday, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus in the Gospel gives the long sought answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. He explains who we are, why we exist, and what we long for.

He also gives the one piece of advice that will transform our lives if we let it: “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 neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus’ advice simultaneously sums up all we already know and subverts our expectations.

Loving God with your heart means loving him with your deepest desires.

We would love to be able to win God’s favor through some external action — through “burnt offerings and sacrifices,” as the Gospel puts it. We would be fine making a few grand gestures to keep God happy.

But just as family members demand more from us than symbolic gestures, God demands more too. He wants our core desire and commitment to be for him. He wants us to love him with our heart.

Loving God with all your soul means loving him with religion.

It is also true that religion can sometimes get in the way of faith, making us focus on the external trappings of church-worship more than God.

After all, as the second reading points out, religion is a human thing, and “the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests.”

But in Jesus Christ, we have true religion, because “He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day … he did that once for all when he offered himself.”

In the sacraments we have a worship whose reality is far greater than its trappings. In them we can love God with our soul.

Loving God with all your mind means using your brain for God.

There are two traps when it comes to intellect and faith. One is to turn the faith into a thought exercise only, a list of apologetics arguments. The other is to turn faith against reason, deciding God is so mysterious that it is useless to question him.

By commanding that we “love” God with our mind, Jesus (and the Old Testament) split the difference, asking us to make our thoughts about God another way to serve him.

This is what the Scribe in today’s Gospel does. He agrees with Jesus intellectually, and that leads to Jesus embracing him in his totality.  For us, loving God also starts with loving doctrine.

Loving God with all your strength means trusting him alone.

It is hard to love God with all our strength. We want to hedge our bets with God. We want to love God, but keep a little something on the side in case he doesn’t fulfill us.

To love God with all your strength is to love him like this Sunday’s Psalm, and embrace him as the one all-important thing in life: “my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my rock of refuge, my shield … my stronghold.”

Loving God also means loving everyone he made. The mirror shows us how.

Knowing that we have a hard time understanding how to love God, the Father gave us Jesus. By seeing him, we learn to love God properly, because it is easy to love a person who has loved us and died for us.

You can think of Jesus as an icon of what it means to properly love God.

But God also gave us an icon of what it means to love others. He gave us ourselves.

We know how important every person is, because we know how important we are. We know what people need and want, because we know what we need and want. We know people need love even though they are far from perfect, because we are far from perfect and we need love.

Every Sign of the Cross sums up the ways we should love.

In the Catholic Church we have another constant reminder of both these commandments.

The Sign of the Cross should remind you that you live in God’s name and that the cross marks every life. But it should also remind you of the ways you are supposed to love. When you cross yourself, first you touch your mind; then you touch your heart; then you point across your chest, indicating your soul; and then you point back to your shoulder, your strength.

You could say that Catholics proclaim the meaning of life every time they make the sign of the cross.

This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Benedictine College

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.