October 29, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Scripture reminds us to love God and our neighbor

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today” (Dt 6:4-6).

The Scripture readings for this weekend, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, call our attention to the most important commandments in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are to love God absolutely, and also to love one another as we love ourselves. Nothing is more important than this. As St. Augustine famously said, “Love and do what you will” (St. Augustine, “A sermon on love,” #354-430).

The problem, of course, is that the concept of “love” that is essential to the Biblical tradition of Jews and Christians is easily misunderstood, twisted and turned into its opposite. We believe that love is selfless, sacrificial and service-oriented. That’s not what our secular culture teaches, and it’s not what we see and hear in the media or in advertising.

The concept of love that is too often presented to us is self-centered, focused on self-fulfillment or self-gratification. This is not love because real love is not focused inward, toward ourselves. True love is always concentrated outward, toward others. It is willing to sacrifice our comfort, and even our fundamental needs, in order to meet the needs of others.

In the sermon on love quoted above, St. Augustine says:

“As the Lord himself said: ‘No one can have greater love than this: to lay his down his life for his friends’ [Jn 15:13]. This proved Christ’s love for us, the fact that he died for us. How is the Father’s love for us proved? By the fact that he sent his only Son to die for us. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how will he not freely give us all things’ ” (Rom 8:32)? 

We discover what true love looks like by gazing on the crucified Christ. Or by reading the lives of the saints, especially those who freely gave their lives as witnesses (martyrs) to the Gospel of love. We see love in the selfless response of Mary to the Father’s invitation delivered by the archangel Gabriel, and in Joseph’s acceptance of his unique role as guardian of the Redeemer.

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Mk 12:28-34), we hear Jesus’ response to the scribe’s question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Our Lord’s familiar reply comes straight from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament):

“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” (Mk 12:29-31).

His questioner compliments Jesus and affirms that he has correctly identified the fundamental meaning of the Mosaic Law:

“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” (Mk 12:32-33).

As St. Mark tells the story, this particular scribe “answered with understanding” (Mk 12:34). He was not simply repeating what he had learned as a student of the Law. He takes it to heart and comes to understand deeply the true meaning of the two commandments—to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. As a result, Jesus says to him quite simply: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:34).

This year, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time is followed immediately by the Solemnity of All Saints on Monday, Nov. 1. This is the day when we celebrate all of the ordinary women and men who have given extraordinary witness to love of God and love of neighbor. This great feast gathers us together in joyful celebration of the true meaning of love. It focuses our attention on the fact that the holiness to which all of us are called is not necessarily found in dramatic gestures, but is readily accessible through acts of simple self-sacrificing love.

May the intercession of all the saints help us truly understand the meaning of love. Let us always take to heart the words of Scripture, and may the love of Christ, who freely gave up his life for us, inspire us to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. †

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