“In our Gospel reading today we have a pharisee asking Jesus what the single greatest commandment is and interestingly Jesus responds with two commandments and that’s because these two greatest commandments are inseparable. You can not possibly love God with your whole heart and soul and mind without loving your neighbor as yourself and likewise, if we engage in what seemingly are charitable acts towards our neighbor and they’re grounded in love, then we know that our intentions are proper. Jesus tells the pharisee that all the law and prophets, all the Old Testament was bound up in these two greatest commandments and likewise for us, all of our moral code, all of our moral theology, everything we should live by are bound up in these two greatest commandments. If we can follow these two greatest commandments we will be holy. We’ll have nothing to worry about. It’s very simple, but it’s not easy.
The first commandment comes from the 6th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. It’s called the Shema. The Jews, especially the pharisees, had a great devotion to the Shema. They recited it twice each day. You know, loving God with our whole heart and mind and soul can seem daunting, maybe even impossible and in this world we may never achieve that total love for God with our whole being, but it’s something we should always strive for. Just like our relationships with other people, we can’t love God without knowing God and we can’t know God without communicating with God and generally that means communicating with God in prayer in our own words just us and God and listening in the silence for God’s response. If you don’t have a habit of daily prayer, I encourage you to start one. I’ll guarantee you this- if you start a habit of daily prayer, they’re only two outcomes: you will either become holy and have a deep love for God or you’ll quit. There’s no middle ground. If you don’t know how to start mechanically, what a lot of people have benefited from is reading the scripture readings for mass for that day and then try to apply those scripture readings to your own life and then after you do that just dialogue with God in your own words in the silence. If tomorrow morning you take me up on that offer and you sit down and the only thing you can muster up in your dialog with God is, ‘God you’re the creator of everything I can see and I can not see. You’re my creator. I don’t even know how to talk to you.’ Well you just started. You just started a habit of daily prayer with God and who knows? God may be more pleased with that humble, simple, honest prayer than the most eloquently recited prayer by some monk in some monastery somewhere.
The second commandment to love our neighbor comes from the 19th chapter of Leviticus and in our reading Jesus explained to the Pharisees that neighbor includes their worst enemies, the Samaritans and likewise for us, we’re called to love our worst enemies. In today’s culture we don’t have to look very far to find enemies. Our society is so divided politically, socially on religious levels and this is not cause for discouragement. This is an opportunity. If our society was homogeneous and everybody that I encounter was Catholic, had my social views, my political views, what merit would there be in loving that person? Jesus told his followers that even the pagans do that. When we encounter someone who has a different viewpoint than we have, sometimes charity calls us to engage in fraternal correction, sometimes charity calls us to be quiet, but always always charity calls us to desire the other person’s good more than we desire winning an argument. This is simple. It’s not easy, but with God’s grace we can move the needle on these two greatest commandments.”