All Yourself

spider_roll

…all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30, Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

That’s a lot of ‘all’s.  In fact, when it comes to the powers within us, this commandment–the Shema–touches on all the ‘all’s.  Heart, soul, mind, strength.  All of all of them.  That’s me in toto, isn’t it?

God spoke through His prophet Moses, and now through His Son Jesus:  “You must love Me entirely.  Everything that counts as you must love Me.”

Now, before I say something like, ‘Gosh, that’s demanding!’ let me pause and consider:  What else am I going to do with my entire self?

If I never do anything with my entire self, that seems like a waste.  Seems lame.  If spend my life focused on what’s on tv, and leave whole powers within me trailing off, unused–like high-octane fuel leaking out of a tank–then it’s either going to start smelling bad around me, or a dangerous fire will start.

On the other hand, if I try to love anything other than God–or even any array of things–with my whole self, what will happen?  Disappointment with a capital D.

I mean, I love sushi.  But sushi cannot satisfy my every desire; it cannot occupy my every interior power.  Even sushi, with a Sapporo, at sunset, streetside in sunny Sausalito, reading Shakespeare’s sonnets…  sounds satisfying.  But still something in me would remain either idle or unsatisfied.

God’s command that we love Him entirely–it’s not for His benefit.  It’s for our benefit.  It’s because we are bigger than we think we are.  He gave us this commandment to keep us from selling ourselves short.  Everything that we can see, smell, taste, touch, or feel–we are bigger than.

Shema!  Love the Unseen Grandeur!  With everything you have.  Love God entirely.  That way, you can be yourself.

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Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility

 

mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

Reliability

The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” –the Shema.

We might generally associate the word ‘reliability’ with a well-built car or washing machine. But the Holy Father, Pope Francis, uses the word ‘reliability’ repeatedly in the decisive passages of his encyclical on Christian faith. The ‘reliability’ of God’s love emerges as the theme of paragraphs 15-17.

Having summarized the history of Israel, the Pope writes:

The history of Jesus is the complete manifestation of God’s reliability…God can give us no greater guarantee of His love…In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny rest…

The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake…In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myshkin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says: “Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith.” …Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light…

Christ’s death discloses the utter reliability of God’s love above all in the light of his resurrection. As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith, and a solid support for our faith…Had the Father’s love not caused Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death…Precisely because Jesus is the Son, because he is absolutely grounded in the Father, he was able to conquer death and make the fullness of life shine forth.

Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true…It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not.

Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.

Jesus: “Hear, O Israel”

When we hear the Lord Jesus quote the Shema in order to express the greatest commandment, He draws us back into the beautiful drama of the book of Deuteronomy.

Hear, O Israel. You shall not have strange gods.

Now, the “strangeness” of any god other than God—this strangeness runs deeper than just ancient Jewish national identity.

Serving any god other than the real God estranges any human being from himself, not just a Jew.

The ancient Israelites received gestures of love and friendship from the Almighty Creator of heaven, earth, and every nation. Therefore, when we Gentiles read about God’s dealings with the Israelites—that is, when we read the Bible—the storyline does not come off as “strange” at all.

To the contrary, a harmony sounds in the depths of our souls: This God of the ancient Israelites is no stranger to us. He is our Maker and our Lord. We have known Him since the first moment we looked with wonder upon His world. The Bible is not the book of a foreign people. It is our book, because this is our God. The one God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people: Do not degrade yourselves by serving anyone or anything other than God.

Do not degrade yourselves. In other words: We do not serve God for God’s sake; we serve Him for our sake. Unlike the strange pagan gods who manipulate, mistreat, and play vicious games with their adherents, the true God deals with us with strong, serene, and generous love.

Of course, God is nonetheless breathtakingly demanding. While serving Him does not in any way demean us, it does, however, require of us something more than any strange god could ever demand.

A person could spend his whole life as a slave of avarice or lust, exhausting himself while piling up money or chasing pleasure. But the innermost depths of such a man would never be touched. All his other faculties get strained to the breaking point with futile exertion, but his heart of hearts atrophies within him, like an un-used muscle.

Serving God, on the other hand, demands constant exercise of the center-point of my very being. We cannot serve the true God any other way than by loving Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength.

Sunrise at Ben Gurion

We are sitting at our gate, watching the sun come up, wishing we could start the pilgrimage all over again. There are many things to report…

At the empty tomb

Before most of you dear readers went to bed on Sunday evening–after the glorious victory–we were already in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

We celebrated Holy Mass in the tomb of Christ itself, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in the very place where He rose from the dead.

…I neglected to mention earlier that some of us enjoyed camel rides by the Dead Sea…

…We visited the Mount of Olives:

At the top of it, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. On the slope of it, He taught His disciples the Our Father. He descended it on a donkey on Palm Sunday–we walked down the ancient pathway that He used.

At the bottom we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

…We made the Way of the Cross right where the Lord Jesus made it…

…We visited the Pools of Bethesda. The Blessed Mother was born nearby, in the home of Joachim and Anne, near the Sheep Gate of the ancient wall of Jerusalem, near the Temple.

St. Anne, pray for us

Schema, people: I have much more to tell. But it will have to await the gracious period of denouement after a holy pilgrimage.

We will board our flight home shortly. See you back in the homeland.

Saying goodbye to Jerusalem Regency hotel