THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The two great commandments
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
God Loves each and every one of us, deserving and undeserving. He wants us not only to love him in return, but also to love one another. Here in a nutshell we have the whole teaching of the Bible. Let us think about it. [Pause]
The only real failure for a Christian is the failure to love. Lord, you came to teach us how to love our heavenly Father with all our heart and all our soul. Lord, have mercy.
You came to teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. Christ, have mercy.
You came to teach us that these two commandments sum-up the Whole of religion. Lord, have mercy.
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Exodus 22:20-26). God tells the Israelites that there must be no exploitation of, or discrimination against, the weak members of their society.
Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10) Paul tells the Thessalonians that their exemplary lives have become known far and wide.
Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus tells us that the whole of religion can be summed up in two commandments of love.
Today’s Gospel talks about the two great commandments, and states that they must not be separated. In practice, they are often separated. Many Catholics think that when they have attended to their ‘religious duties’ they can sit back and relax. They have done their bit for God! Those religious duties do not commit them to do anything in life. ‘The split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age’. (Vatican II).
In the early centuries of Christianity thousands of people left the world, became monks, and went to live in the desert. They wanted to devote their lives to loving and serving God, and thus ensure their eternal salvation. In the desert they lived very strict lives according to a rigid rule. They fasted, prayed, and undertook severe penances.
Once in a particular part of the desert there was a monk called Moses. In fact he was an abbot. He had a great reputation for holiness, and was looked up to by many. Well, it was coming up to Easter, so the monks met to see what they should do to prepare for it. They were very anxious to do something special to show their love for Christ, who suffered and died for them.
They decided to fast the entire length of Holy Week. Having made the decision, each monk went off to his bare and lonely cell, there to fast and pray. However, about the middle of the week, a couple of wandering monks came to visit the cell of Abbot Moses.
As they were starving, he took pity on them and cooked them a little vegetable stew. To make them feel at ease he took a little of it himself.
Meanwhile the other monks had seen the smoke rising from their abbot’s cell. It could only mean one thing – he had lit a fire to cook some food. In other words, he had broken the solemn fast. They were shocked and saddened at seeing the weakness of their abbot, and in the eyes of many of them, he fell from his pinnacle of sanctity.
In a body they went over to confront him. The abbot came out to meet them. Seeing judgment in their eyes, he asked:
‘What crime have I committed that you look at me like this?’ ‘You’ve broken the solemn fast, the fast we undertook out of love for our crucified Lord’, they answered.
‘So I have’, said he. ‘I have broken the fast. I have broken the commandment of men, but in sharing my food with these brothers of ours, I have kept the commandment of God that we should love one another. Do you not think that Christ would have done the same? Did he not eat and drink with sinners, even though the religious leaders were scandalised and called him a glutton?
‘My friends, you have tom the Gospel of Christ in two. There are two great commandments, not one. Christ said that we were to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts and all our souls, and that were to love our neighbour as ourselves. Hence it is far better to eat meat and drink wine, than by detraction to devour another person’s character. We did not come into the desert to get away from people, and to be alone with God. We came here to find other people – to find them and love them in God’.
The monks went away, humbled but wiser.
This, I believe, is the message of today’s Gospel. It’s easy for us to make the same mistake those monks made, the same mistake that scribes and the Pharisees made – to think what there is only one commandment, namely to love God. We can easily deceive ourselves. Our love for God can so easily be mere love of self. To love self only is to be loveless, and loveless cannot be kept hidden. A loveless life is essentially unhappy, frustrated, and destructive.
We might Climb Croagh Patrick, do the Lough Derg Pilgrimage, go to Lourdes, or to the ends of the earth to see the wounds of some pious padre, and do it all in the name of religion and the love of God. Yet we might forget the second commandment – that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we do this, then our religion becomes an escape, and our holiness an illusion. We are living only half of the Gospel. Love of others is the fruit of our love of God. There is an awful sterility about the lives of those who claim to love God, but in reality dispense themselves from all obligations to love other people.
There are others who go to the opposite extreme . They exhaust themselves in working for a better world (think of some Marxists), but never think of God or pray to him. Though these are on firmer ground, so to speak, they too have only half of the Gospel – the half believers sometimes throw away.
Christ showed us how to live the total Gospel, that is, how to love God and to love our neighbour as well. He is our model. Like Marxists, we too should work for a better world. But we should do so for deeper reasons. The world is not just our world. It is God’s world. We are not just human beings. We are children of God,
‘Love is the spiritual life’. (Thomas Merton).
‘I cannot believe in the salvation of those who do not work for the salvation of their neighbours”. (St John Chrysostom).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray that our Lord teach us to love others, and so prove our love for him and for our heavenly Father. R. Lord, hear us in your love.
For all Christians: that they may never separate the two commandments of love. [Pause] We pray in faith.
For the world in which we live: that love and peace may prevail over hate and violence. [Pause] We pray in faith.
That we may never forget the words of Christ: ‘Everybody will know that you are disciples of mine if you love one another’. [Pause] We pray in faith.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
God our Father, your Son summed up all your law in two commandments, that we should love you and love one another. He himself lived these two commandments to the full. Help us to follow his example. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord.
SIGN OF PEACE
Lord Jesus Christ, you summed up the whole law and the prophets in two great commandments: you said that we are to love God and love other people. Lord, touch our hearts so that we may be people who are able to love, and thus we will enjoy the peace and unity of your kingdom where you love for ever and ever.
Even the scantiest reading of the Gospels
will show that Christ was a man of faith.
His life in fact has no meaning
without reference to the Father.
Often we read how at the end of a busy day
he escaped to a lonely place to pray.
It would be fair to say
that the whole purpose of his life on earth
was to worship and serve his heavenly father.
Yet from another point of View
you could say that his whole life
was one of total service of others.
Is there a contradiction here?
No, for he spoke of two great commandments.
The first – that we should love God.
The second — that we should love our neighbour.
He did not say that they were the same thing;
rather, that they are like two sides of the one coin.
If we want the total Gospel
we must have both.
He himself showed us how to do this.