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Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time B: November 4, 2012

Mark 12: 28b-34

By Rev. John Tran

“Hear, O Israel.” These words form the most important message of our first reading from Deuteronomy and our Gospel from Mark. It is important to begin with the word, ‘Hear.” In his Rule, St. Benedict asks the person beginning monastic life to “Listen,” which is so related the verb to hear. If we hear well, we listen, that is, we take in what is said to us and begin to make the message part of ourselves and live it. That is exactly what the gospel is asking us to do today.

The full message is, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is the Lord alone! 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 second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Today Jesus asks us to hear and to listen. To make these two commandments the very focus of our lives. The first word of St. Benedict’s Rule is “Listen;” the last word is “you will reach” the goal of monastic life which is to love God with all our heart and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course, this is the goal of any Christian.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet if you have ever tried to concentrate on loving God for five minutes, you know how difficult this is; and this is to say nothing about loving my neighbor for that amount of time. And yet we know that if we do fall in love with someone, it is easier to concentrate on loving with our all, and not be so distracted by our busy schedules and worldly cares. Love like this is bigger than we are, and that is the point. It places the one loved as more important than ourselves. So living today’s gospel all depends on falling in love with God.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Jesuits Order, recommended falling in love with God. Fr. Pedro said that “nothing is more practical” than falling in love with God. Why? Because when we are in love, we know our priorities; and so, we know each day how to devote our time and talents. When we are in love, we find the time to nourish our relationship. So, Father Pedro recommended, “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

A newspaper story provides an example. It told of Donna, who was given only a few months to live after doctors discovered that she had a degenerative heart muscle. Her fifteen-year-old boyfriend had a premonition about his own death. He told his mother that, when he died, he wanted Donna to have his heart. Three weeks later he died from a burst blood vessel in his brain. His heart was implanted in Donna, just as he had wished.

Jesus tells us that it is difficult to die for anyone, but for a really good person we might be prepared to die. To love your neighbor as yourself also means that if you were to choose to give your heart away when you die, you would do so with no strings attached. For the Christian, this gift cannot be only for someone we love and respect. No, the recipient could be a sinner on skid row or ruthless business owner for all it should matter to you . He or she might survive on your old heart long enough to allow God to redeem him or her.

Only if we fall in love with God, can we really love our neighbor. Our neighbor can be the modern equivalent of the Good Samaritan, that group hated by Jews; or perhaps the homeless person who asks us for food or help. When we love God, it is easier to see Jesus in those around us whom we may not want to see, much less to help. This love comes from ‘hearing and listening’ so that we can began to see with God’s eyes.

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