Chapter Talk – 30th Sunday of the Year – October 25, 2020, cycle-A
How do we love God? We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind? This is the first commandment. From an incarnational reality, what does this mean? Well, Jesus implicitly gives the answer when he says the “second is like it” (Mt 22:34-40). Jesus means that to love one’s neighbor as one’s self is like the first commandment…the two are intimately connected and cannot be separated. To know what Jesus means by ‘love of neighbor’ we can turn to other teachings of Jesus: we are called to love our enemies; and if struck on one cheek we are to offer the other cheek; we are not to retaliate, either by word or by hand (Mt 5:43-44, Mt 5:40). To give another example, we have the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Lk 10:29-37). Jesus tells this story in response to the question he is asked: ‘Who is my neighbor’? ‘My neighbor’ in Jesus’ mind and heart is expansive, it includes everyone: my enemy, the one who thinks different or whose views are different, who acts different, the one with whom I am in most conflict with right now, and even the one who would strike me down.
Turning to the Rule of St. Benedict, which offers a way of living the gospel, in ‘The Tools of Good Works’ we are given very specific ways of how we are to love God and one another. Verse 1 begins with the commandment to love God, neighbor and self, which is the framework for this whole chapter 4. It seems to me that over and over throughout this chapter we are given a variety of ways we are called to live and incarnate this love, if we are to be followers of Jesus. Let me do a selective list of these concrete attitudes and practices of love.
“‘You must honor everyone and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself’” (8).
“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else” (20).
“You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge (22-23). Rid your heart of all deceit (vs:24). Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love (vs:26-27). Speak the truth with heart and tongue” (28).
“‘Do not repay one bad turn with another’. Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. ‘Love your enemies’. If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. ‘Endure persecution for the sake of justice’” (29-33).
“Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do…” (48).
“Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech” (51).
“Harbor neither hatred nor jealousy of anyone, and do nothing out of envy” (65-67).
“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him or her before the sun goes down” (72-73).
Aelred of Rievalux, following the other Cistercians of the twelfth century, especially St. Bernard, speaks of three loves: love of God, love of self, and love of neighbor. He says that if we ‘lose’ one of these loves we lose them all. In other words, if I do not love my neighbor my love for God and self dissipates, it is gone in the moment…Essentially, it cuts my relationship with God. Aelred will also say that the force behind our loving is God’s love. We love with the love that is God. When we are in a conflict situation, we need first to step back and go inward. There we need to re-find our truer self, one that knows it is loved and one that is ready to love again motivated and impelled by God’s love and our desire to become more like Christ, loving like he loved.
The Jesuit scripture scholar, Fr. John Donahue, tells the story of the great rabbi Hillel who lived from 110 BCE to 10 CE. Hillel was challenged to recite the whole Torah standing on one foot. Obviously, this would be impossible for anyone. Hillel, not to be daunted by his challengers, stood on one foot and replied, ‘What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law. The rest is commentary’” (Hearing the Word of God, p.126). There is no true love of God without love of neighbor, plain and simple.
Two statements from Pope Francis, which we should take in and have them stamped upon our hearts. Pope Francis says: “What is not expressed in love of neighbor is not true love of God; and, likewise, what is not drawn from one’s relationship with God is not true love of neighbor” (October 25, 2020). Pope Francis adds: “the verification of our journey of conversion and holiness is always in love of our neighbor. As long as there is a brother or sister to whom we close our hearts, we will still be far from being disciples as Jesus asks of us” (October 25, 2020).
To conclude: a prayer: ‘Bend my heart to your will,’ O God (Psalm 118:36). Bend my heart to love as you love. Amen.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess
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