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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Take it to heart.

I don’t know if this is universally true, but I have noticed an interesting tender rivalry between the parents of newborns when it comes to the child’s first word. At first there is a constant repetition of sounds, but as the child grows a little we begin to expect words. So, parents voice the words they want the child to speak. This is where the competition begins as mothers insistently repeat the words “mom” or “momma” and the father repeats “dad,” “dadda,” or some variation.

A Rabbi once told me that for devout Jewish parents they hope for something different. When a child is born into an orthodox Jewish family they repeat the SHEMA (Shema Yisrael or Sh'ma Yisrael שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל). This prayer is one of the most ancient and important of Jewish prayers. Often Jewish people will cover their eyes when saying this prayer so that their focus is completely on God and not distracted by the things God has made. These devout parents hope that the first words of their child will be the first word of this prayer: “O Israel, Hear.” It is their hope that the first words of their child will be addressed to God. Devout Jews also hope that this prayer will be the last words they ever say. The prayer is traditionally said in the morning and evening every day. The prayer reminds us that there is only one God and that God is the center and meaning of all and that all our life and actions should be directed to Him. All blessings flow from God and so all gratitude should flow to God.

"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today."

Today we hear part of this prayer in the response of Jesus to a question from a teacher of The Law, and Jesus adds “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The SHEMA reminds me of the first two questions and answers in the Baltimore Catechism: Who made you? Why did God make you? The answers are that “God made me” and “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The answer to the second is a little incomplete as God made us also to experience His love. In other words, God made us to be loved by Him and to love Him now and forever. And this is the important point: We are created by God to be loved by Him and to love Him. If you want to know the meaning and purpose of life this is it. Human happiness and completeness are intrinsically tied to our relationship with God. St. Augustine expresses it in this way: “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

From the depths of our being, the human heart, our human desire, knows that this is true and so we constantly reach out for God. Along the way we can get trapped and sometimes try to fill the longing of our heart with things that can never satisfy us: people, power, wealth, anything that can make us feel complete, or at least satisfy us. The problem is that we are made for an eternal and divine good and created things can never fulfill an eternal desire or longing. We often make the mistake of seeking to be satisfied with the created things rather than the Creator – the one who made all “the” things. The truth is that only God can bring us to completeness. We are made for life through, with, and in God and nothing else can bring us to completeness.

We try to replace the Creator with the created things, but the created things cannot replace the One who created them. If you want to be complete and fulfilled, then listen to the wisdom of the Sacred Scripture: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Only God can fulfill the human heart, for the human heart is made for God, so put God first and be complete.


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