Friday, October 24, 2014
Today’s Gospel passage is commonly referred to as the Great Commandment, which is really two commandments – FIRST: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; SECOND: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I like the simplicity of it – and I have to believe that there were some Jews in Jesus’ time who also liked the simplicity of it, because there were actually 613 laws of the Torah to be observed – 248 “shalls” and 365 “shall nots.” Some scholars even speculate that there were over 900 laws that a Jewish person was required to follow with equal obedience and fervor. While Jesus’ synthesis of the law into two commands was not necessary novel – there are passages in the Old Testament that similarly synthesized the Law into one or a couple statements – it was Jesus’ authority and insight into what it means to be in relationship with God that is significant then and now. To be in relationship with God means to have this intimate, personal love relationship with God; this is what we are made to do and what we do best; to love freely and completely, holding nothing back; to love with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. If we love God in this way, we will experience great joy and peace. We will also naturally want to follow his commands – to do his will. And, we will want to care for and respect all of his creation, especially the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, foreigners, the poor – as today’s First Reading instructs us to do. We will want to love our neighbor – in the very broadest sense – as our self. Bishop Campbell has asked parishes of the Diocese to focus attention this weekend on the assault of pornography upon men and women – young and old – and on families and society as a whole. I would agree with Bishop Campbell, who said that “pornography has wounded many people and their relationships, and has left disfiguring scars.” And I would add that pornography has left many unable to love God and others as Jesus commands us to do in today’s Gospel and has perverted for too many of us our understanding of the gift of sexuality in the context of marriage and the call to mutual spousal self-giving which mirrors God’s love for each of us. As part of this diocese-wide awareness effort, I want to share with you that there is help if you or a loved one are struggling with this issue. There is a local initiative offering resources 1) to protect families from the onslaught of explicit internet-based material, 2) to promote recovery from pornography use and addiction through counseling and support groups, and 3) to foster prevention through programs that illuminate the nature of the human person and the call to authentic relationships. The initiative is called “My House” – and there are materials in the Gathering Space if you want to learn more. This initiative takes its name from the account in the book of Joshua where Joshua calls the people to decide whom they will serve. He says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It may have been just a nice coincidence that this awareness effort occurs on the weekend with readings so focused on the command to love – but knowing Bishop Campbell a little bit, I am guessing that it was no accident. Regardless, today’s readings challenge us to ask ourselves: who do we serve? In other words, how do we approach Jesus’ command to love God and others; how to we love, especially when we encounter things like pornography, which is the opposite of true love, or a personal illness or addiction, or the loss of a loved one or a job, or any other hardship or difficulty. Are we open or closed to God’s love; welcoming or hostile; skeptical or hopeful; angry or joyful, selfish or selfless? Bishop Campbell reminds us, in his letter regarding the My House initiative, that “We are the people of the Resurrection, called to hope, not to fear.” It is with such hope that St. Paul in today’s second reading relays his efforts to bring the Thessalonians to a personal relationship with God. Paul had only spent three weeks with the Thessalonians, but he – really the Holy Spirit working through him, as he is quick to admit – had great success in converting many to the faith – from idols to serving the living and true God – and those converts to bring others to the faith. It was with great hope that Paul preached and made every effort to do so without seeking glory for himself or relying on the financial support of others in order to prove his motives were pure and his love sincere. Bishop Campbell concludes his letter with this advice: Let us pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to help those struggling with this addiction. We keep our eyes on the risen Lord for He is the one who knows us and loves us in this life and in the life to come.” Yes, let us pray this week especially for those struggling with this addiction. Let us also pray for each other that we may grow in our love for God and others. I urge you to trust in the risen Lord who knows you and loves you and wants nothing more than for you to be loved and to love. Pray this week for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you to be loved and to love. Pray for whatever you need to be open to the love God offers you and seeks in return. Whatever it is that keeps you from loving – from loving the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind AND from loving your neighbor as yourself – ask for God’s help and he will provide.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:13 PM