HOMILY LENT WEEK 03 05 – Year I
Walking with God through Love:
Optional Memorial of St. Patrick
(Hos 14:1-9; Ps 81; Mk 12:28-34)
The liturgy today invites us to walk with God by keeping the commandments of Jesus and living out the disciplines of Lent.
The scribe in the gospel wanted to go to the heart of the matter, the core of what walking with God meant, with his question about which is the first commandment of all. And Jesus provided him, and us, with a clear response – love God with our whole being, and love others as we love ourselves.
To his credit, the scribe got the message, agreed with Jesus, and added the amazing insight that this commandment of Jesus was much more important than the whole sacrificial temple cult that had become the focal point of the Jewish religious system. Given this insight from a scribe from that precise religious system, we would do well to delve deeper into that answer from Jesus.
To love God with our whole being is the Grand Shema of Judaism – that they were to wear as an amulet on their foreheads, and as a thong around their forearm. Orthodox Jews take this literally, which I have observed especially at the Western Wall during the Sabbath, but also in airports and elsewhere when they are praying in public.
The first two readings today help us move beyond the literal, external, sacrificial aspect of this teaching, to a deeper living out of that commandment. For the prophet Hosea, to love God is to return to God with sorrow and repentance for the ways we have sinned and stumbled in life, and to receive God’s lavish love as forgiveness for our sins, so we can flourish as a garden, and walk upright in the ways of the Lord.
The psalm adds the dimension of contemplative prayer to our love for God. If we truly believe in God, we will spend time listening to the voice of the Lord, pondering the Word of the Lord, and seeking to discern how we can best walk in the way of the Lord in our daily lives. This is a strong invitation to enter into a more contemplative prayer, focused on God’s word, meditating upon it and soaking up the love of God through that word. Lectio Divina is an excellent method of doing just that – reading God’s word, meditating upon it, praying with it and finally, just soaking up God’s love in contemplative silence, the language God speaks best.
The second commandment Jesus gave to the scribe should have been a surprise to him. Jesus reached far back into one of the numerous laws cited in the Book of Leviticus (19:18), to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, took it out of that lowly spot where it risked being ignored or not noticed at all, elevated it and placed it on an equal par with the Grand Shema of Judaism. That was unheard of before, unprecedented. Now it would be just as important to love one’s neighbour, and one’s self, as it is to love God! No wonder Jesus could claim to be giving us a new commandment, even though it consisted of two statements from the Old Testament. Just that one simple action changed everything, and continues to change the way we should walk with God every day. As Jesus put it, to do this is to actually enter into the Kingdom of God.
St. Paul, in Galatians 5:14, even goes one step further, claiming that the whole law and all the prophets can be summed up in one sentence – to love others as we love ourselves. St. Mother Teresa had it right when she taught “What we would like to do for Jesus whom we cannot see, we should do to the person next to us whom we can see, and we will be doing it to Jesus.” Over and over again, we need to be reminded that Jesus is found not only in beautiful, golden tabernacles and devotional prayer, but especially in the persons we may find hard to accept and love. When I preside at the Eucharist, I am looking at the People of God, in whom the Kingdom of God is found (so no need to all be facing the same direction and waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, as some claim we should be doing).
To love others means to affirm them, trust them, share life with them, bless them, do good to them, genuinely care for them, and especially, forgive them from the heart. But an important part of that second commandment is to love ourselves. We do that by accepting ourselves as we are, valuing ourselves, forgiving ourselves our past mistakes, humbly acknowledging out God-given gifts, and taking care of ourselves through adequate rest, exercise and proper diet. It is hard to give to others what we do not accept in ourselves, and as Marriage Encounter used to teach, we need to constantly remind ourselves that “God does not make junk.”
It is quite significant that the disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting the church gives us for Lent are precisely a way of living out this new commandment of Jesus. Prayer is all about soaking up God’s love, and loving God back through worship, praise and listening to God’s word. Almsgiving is all about loving others by our caring for them and sharing with them. And fasting is all about loving ourselves, by being in touch with our emotions, looking after ourselves physically with perhaps less food and excess, and hopefully more exercise. Not only are we given a new commandment, we are also given through the season of Lent a way of living out that commandment and walking with God.
Today the church invites us to honour St. Patrick. At 16, Patrick was carried off from Wales in a pirate raid and sold as a slave in Ireland. He was made a swine herder, living in solitude on a mountain, where a life of prayer and asceticism marked him forever. Patrick heard an inner voice tell him that he would return to his homeland, and he escaped. After visiting his parents in Britain, he went to Gaul to study for the priesthood, eventually becoming a bishop. By the time of his death in 492, he could see the fruit of his work: a native clergy was in place, Christianity had reached nearly all of Ireland, and churches and monasteries had been established. He is a patron of Ireland and Nigeria, of engineers, of several Canadian dioceses, and of those who fear snakes.
The Eucharist is itself a living out of both this commandment of Jesus and the disciplines of Lent. We are loving God back through our worship, celebrating with others and attentive to our own need for forgiveness. We are also praying our greatest prayer, giving alms especially in the collection, and fasting a little before coming to the Eucharist.
May our celebration today empower us to walk more closely with our loving God, both by keeping the commandments Jesus taught us, and also by living out the disciplines of Lent.