Dear Followers of the Christ,
Mark 12:28b-34, offers us a divine blueprint for salvation. Once again Mark’s text offers us a connection with love and service. We are reminded that our relationship with God is foremost. However, how we express that love in our world is also essential. We are to manifest prayer, ultimately witnessing our own conversion by working for the common good and offering the basics of life to people in need.
God reveals hope within us no matter how old we are, no matter our backgrounds. We can find within us resiliency and love of life. Our essential relationship on this side of the grave is with God, to keep our spirits in tune with how to live, how to serve, how to become whole and generous people. Living apart from God is against our faith, the scriptures and our tradition, and our souls.
Prayer is essential to keep us afloat in life. Without prayer, we succumb to despair, hatefulness toward others, and we lose our direction in life. Without the Eucharist, the sacraments, and personal relationship with Christ, we miss our place in God and we miss out on love. Prayer for most people becomes a band-aid. When we hurt, then we turn to God to fix us. Then we are disappointed when God doesn’t do what we want. Then we leave God altogether. Prayer is not something of a quick fix. God is not a divine aspirin. God is not apart from us, looking down at us with a stern finger of condemnation.
For many Catholics, we were taught that God is a stern, authoritative figure who is waiting to pounce on us and condemn us when we don’t live up to the standards of the past. Frankly, I see the consequences of this nearly every day. I see the shards of this prickly understanding of God in the confessional, within conversations in the parish, within people’s lives at the time of death of a loved one. These shards of violence pierce our understanding of faith. We can never live up to the standards of this image of God.
Prayer is something very different. Loving God with our entire being, heart, mind, soul, and strength is a daily reality for us as believers. God does not carry a divine wand ready to discipline us. Instead, Jesus’ life on earth is our key to understand God’s will. We are called to live in the Father’s love just as Jesus did on earth. We are called to die to our stubbornness so to be converted in love, just as our Creator first loved us and gave us breath. Prayer is openness to divine love. Prayer is using our bodies, minds, and souls to capture the eternal embrace of our Creator while still on earth. Love is the reason for this gospel text, not condemnation. Love is the reason we come to worship at the Eucharist. We don’t worship because we worry about pleasing a stern, condemning figure in heaven. God is love and our mission on earth is to live within such a mystery.
The most difficult aspect of this gospel, I believe, is the sentence that invites us to love others as we love our selves. For most people struggle with self-love. We treat other people as we treat our selves. Therefore, hatred and violence exists. Fear of our past, of our decisions, of our role on earth, squelch our ability to offer love to others. This is the gospel which challenges us on earth to listen to the Father’s call to receive love, and then live that love for the benefit of other people. So, love God with your entire being, and your neighbor as yourself.
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
God give you peace,
Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor