Falling Short of the Greatest Commandment – Johnny Go, SJ

Matthew 22:34-40, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Singer/songwriter Howie Day has a couple of great lines in his 2003 hit, “Collide”:

Even the best fall down sometimes.
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme.

Never mind the rest of the song–which, of course, is a love song–but I think those two lines capture something pretty basic in our lives:  Sometimes even the best of us can screw things up!

So tell me, what was the Lord thinking when he said what he did in today’s Gospel reading?  When a scholar asked him about the “greatest commandment,” his response was a quote from the Scripture–a text as impossible as it was poetic:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

How do you love someone you can’t even be sure exists?

Just the other day I met up with a former student, a bright young man who had suffered a terrible tragedy in his life about eight years ago.  I was happy to see that he had managed to survive that crisis in his life without any bitterness.  Yet I was also bewildered and saddened to learn that he had stopped believing in God.  We discussed this a little bit, but as we know, it’s hard to converse with people about belief or unbelief because it really all boils down not at all to reason, but to choice.  No amount of proof is going to convince anyone to believe–or for that matter, not to believe–in God.

So if it’s so tough to believe in God, how on earth can we love him with “all our heart, mind, and soul?”

I don’t know the answer to that one.  All I know is that it requires at least two things:  First, it requires hard work on our part.  Learning to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul means we need a lot of practice in order to become good at it.  This means simply loving God even if at times we don’t feel up to it.  We believe that God’s presence is everywhere, but we don’t always have a sense of his presence.  In other words, we should speak, think, and act as if we love him even if all that we are experiencing is God’s absence.  What can be more difficult than that?

But loving God with our entire being also requires one other thing:  God’s grace.  Only with his help can we actually fall in love with him entirely.  And as Frederich Buechner, one of my favorite authors, once wrote, when the Lord Jesus said, “You shall love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul,” he wasn’t just issuing a command.  He was also making a promise.

With hard work and God’s grace, someday we will love him with our entire being.

In which area do you most need God’s help in loving him?

*from pinsoflight.net

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