In our gospel today, we hear of a Scribe who approaches Jesus and puts a question to him regarding the commandments. Many of our parents our grandmothers’ grandfathers would recall having to recite the catechism of the Catholic Church off by heart as it was very much part of Catholic education here in Ireland and Jesus too was able to give the perfect answer to the Scribe according to his teaching and his faith at that time. Jesus responded with the first great commandment from the Old Testament the shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 which is also our first reading this weekend, a text which is familiar with all priests and religious as it is the reading for Saturday night prayer of the church. The second part of his response comes from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus set these as the two major obligations in life.
Our gospel this weekend sets out to remind us what is important in life above all else. The question that we often ask ourselves is what we consider important in our lives. Family, friends, a career with good money, a nice car? Often what we consider important isn’t really that important and that realisation comes at a time of tragedy or some bad news that comes our way or indeed if we watch the news we may see someone who is a little less well off than ourselves. Another important part of our lives may be our faith and our trust and belief in God. Jesus’ answer to the scribe’s question is that what we must put first, the thing that is most important is to love God and to love thy neighbour. In our world and society today, the teachings and the commandments of God have come to seem to be somewhat ignored.
It is often asked why would you become a priest or indeed be a practicing Catholic in a counter cultural world today whereby the authority of the priest and indeed the teachings of the church and the commandments are somewhat ignored. At the end of the gospel those words ‘no one dared to question him’ was the way Ireland used to be but now it is very much called into question and people have very strong opinions. I only realised how much Ireland had changed over the last thirty years while watching Reeling in the years the other evening from 1988. People were up in arms over a film called the Last Temptation of Christ calling it Blasphemy and marching up and down with rosary beads in hand. Roll forward to 2018 and we have just removed the law of Blasphemy from our constitution and it would be rare to see a pair of rosary beads in a person’s hand on our streets. We have gone to the opposite whereby now God is not feared, the teachings of the church are challenged and questioned and there is a disregard for human life and for neighbour. It is shocking to read the number of killings that takes place in our country every day where it is neighbour against neighbour that even a small disagreement means the taking the life of our neighbour.
Loving with all of one’s heart is a truly radical challenge, in imitation of Christ. But it is our Christian vocation which stems from our baptism. For we believe that life comes from death, that gain comes from loss, that receiving comes from giving, and that Jesus himself had to die to come to the fullness of life. That is the paschal mystery that we celebrate here every at Mass every Sunday. We profess to be followers of one who made a complete offering of himself to the Father and spent his energies and his time in the service of others, who returned to his Father devoid of any earthly goods.
God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us. God loved us first and our love for him is a response to his exceeding grace and kindness towards us. The love of God comes first, and the love of neighbour is firmly grounded in the love of God. The more we know of God's love and truth the more we love what he loves and reject what is hateful and contrary to his will. The love of God is so great that he sacrificed his only begotten Son so that we may have life and live it to the full.
A month ago, I was in Knock at a gathering of young people, Transition Year students from across Ireland, who were involved with the St John Paul II awards. These young people volunteer in our communities and parishes for a period of time. Their actions speak to us in action the words of today’s gospel love of God and love of neighbour. A footballer Alan Kearns spoke powerfully about his faith and how it was through the kindness of others made him appreciate and understand his faith. It was the love of his neighbours and their kindness during towards him at a low time in his life that made him really know the love of God. He challenged the young people to do one act of kindness a week that is 52 acts of kindness a year. That is my challenge to you all this week to do a random act of kindness to see where you can help someone without having to be asked or feel obliged to do it, but you do it out of love of neighbour and out of love for God.
The celebration of the Eucharist is not a ritual here in the church but is something that is lived out in our daily lives. Just as Jesus gave himself for others out of love when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist we too strive to become a person for others.
In the words of John Henry Newman;
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.