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Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Opening Prayer: Today, Lord, I make my own the prayer of the Church, the Collect of today’s Mass being prayed all over the world by all your children: Almighty and merciful God, by whose gift your faithful offer you right and praiseworthy service, grant, we pray, that we may hasten without stumbling to receive the things you have promised. That is why I come to you today in prayer, because I want to hasten toward you, to listen to you, to glorify you, and to receive the grace I need to live my life as you want me to live it.
- True Humility: The scribe in today’s passage is one of the few religious leaders in the Gospels who shows true humility. Usually, the Pharisees and the scribes, along with the Sadducees, don’t really care about discovering the truth from Jesus. Rather, they have already made up their minds about him–they have concluded he is a rabble-rouser, a danger, a threat–and they question and converse with him in order to humiliate and discredit him. True humility, on the other hand, is always open to discovering more. True humility is linked to truth, and no one in this life can ever say that they already possess all truth. This is one reason why pride, that cardinal sin of arrogance, is so destructive. It cuts us off from true connection with other people, and from true connection with God. Sinful pride is so committed to self-sufficiency that it wraps our minds and hearts in an impenetrable force field: new insights can’t get in and truth can’t penetrate, and neither can affection or authentic intimacy. How it must have delighted Christ’s heart to find in this scribe someone who really wanted to know the answer to the question he posed!
- The Measure of Our Success: Jesus sums up all our duties and responsibilities in these two commandments: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Nothing else really matters. Everything else must be taken up in service of fulfilling these two commandments if we want to live our lives to the full. In other words, Christlike love is Christ’s only standard of success. Winning is secondary. Wealth is secondary. Achievements are secondary. Honors and recognition are secondary. Pleasure, power, and popularity are secondary. The only thing that will fill our hearts and make our lives take on the satisfying flavor of truly durable meaning is this twofold love. My work is a way for me to love God by putting my God-given talents to productive use and to love my neighbor by providing some kind of useful service for them. My relaxation is a way to love God by taking good care of my own health of mind and body–being a good steward of my life–and by enjoying his good gifts; it is also a way to love my neighbor by giving them the joy of companionship and friendship. The list can go on. To make every activity of my daily life contribute to my lasting happiness, all I need to do is plug it into these fundamental loves. The only activities that can’t be harnessed to them are sins. Sin is disobedience to God, and sin is always destructive, in some way, of myself and of others. Sin is anti-love. But even when I sin, it isn’t the end of the story. In Christ, I can always repent, and repentance, too, is an act of love for God and neighbor.
- The Two Kinds of Self-Love: There is a healthy self-love and an unhealthy self-love. The unhealthy self-love is a kind of idolatry, a worship of self. This is self-absorption, self-centeredness, conceit, vanity, arrogance, and narrow-mindedness. This is sinful self-love. It must be resisted and gradually put to death if we are truly going to enter into Christ’s Kingdom. But there is also a healthy self-love. Jesus mentions it in the second great commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. Healthy self-love involves loving God, because it involves seeing ourselves through his eyes, and he has loved us so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. Healthy self-love accepts the eternal value of one’s own existence, the uniqueness of it, the divine action evident in its very consistency. Healthy self-love rejoices in one’s gifts, opportunities, and achievements as much as in others’. Healthy self-love accepts one’s own limitations and is happy to take reasonable care of oneself as a way of being a good steward of the gift of existence received from God. In a fallen world, especially in a popular culture that has been so thoroughly secularized that we no longer even recognize the true dignity of the human person and God’s plan for us, this healthy self-love is in short supply. That is a big problem. After all, how can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t know how to love ourselves as God loves us?
Conversing with Christ: Help me, Lord. I don’t come to you to ask about which commandment is the greatest; I come to you to beg you, from the depths of my heart, for the grace I need to live those commandments as you want me to. My love is so paltry, so contaminated. I am so insecure, so doubtful of your love for me, so in need of your grace. Please heal me; open my eyes to see you loving me in all things and to see the path forward on which I can grow in loving you and loving my neighbor as myself.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pause at least two times in the middle of my normal activities in order to plug them into the two great loves, simply by offering a little prayer.
For Further Reflection: Watch this Spiritual Smoothie about how the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a flood of love meant to enable us to love him and others in return.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.