In today’s gospel we encounter Our Lord in conversation with a lawyer who has asked him a question, not in order to learn from Our Lord, but in a malicious plot to destroy him. In the belief that he can entice Our Lord into preferring one law before all the others he hopes to set the stage for charges to be brought against Jesus as a heretic. Our Lord responds to the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets. (Mt 22:37-40)
Our Lord teaches that the Ten Commandments must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, which is the fullness of the entire Law: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law. What can be clearer than that?
Many of us will agree that the so-called misery index is way up in today’s world. The financial crisis, family breakups, murders, cheating, stealing, deception, lying; all these and more are present reminders that despite the predictions of many, man’s lot is not really improving in the 21st century. What is needed, of course, is love and concern for our neighbour. On that many also agree. But confusion enters the picture when the so-called experts convene to find a solution to the problem. For Christians, and for Catholics in particular, no committee is necessary. We worship and obey the One God, who has spoken the words that will bring us happiness, peace, and life. It is man’s inhumanity to man that must be addressed, but all efforts at that are impotent without the first step, which is love of God.
We must give first place to God in love and obedience. This, after all, is spelled out for us very clearly in the first commandment, and such love is made outwardly manifest through reverence. But what is reverence? Reverence is defined as sacred actions, thoughts and words, particularly in the presence of God.
The sense of the sacred has been lost in so many of our churches and our communities but it is something that must be revived and practiced each day. If we don’t reverence God, then how can we with sincerity say that we love him? This is why we utter his holy name in prayer and praise, and never in vain; and we acknowledge his true and real presence in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as we enter and leave the church with a genuflection. Love expressed in reverent thoughts, words and actions is the essence of what we call fear of the Lord; we stand in awe of the greatness of God.
Cardinal, now Saint John Henry Newman asked: Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not? I say this then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them.
In other words, if we truly believe that God is present in this place, then we would always act accordingly, and especially during times of prayer and Mass.
Sadly, in so many of our parishes today solemnity and any sense of the sacred is pretty much hard to find along with any reverence or sense of occasion. Too many Catholics today simply turn up for Mass and leave it at that. And they seem to come and go as they please. In place of a genuflection, the only reverence Our Lord receives, if he receives any at all, is a quick nod of the head. Many of us would dress up for a party or an important social occasion, but not, it seems for Mass, when we come into the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
For centuries many Catholic practices have been available to aid us in developing our sense of the sacred: genuflection – for those who can manage it physically – or a deep bow in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; or the prescribed gestures of the liturgy, such as bowing during the words of the Incarnation in the recitation of the Creed, and standing and singing the Alleluia before the Gospel out of reverence for Our Lord’s life-giving word. Those of us who can still manage it kneel before His true and substantial presence in the Eucharistic host, and we make an act of reverence before we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.
With these and many other signs of reverential love we can witness to others and at the same time start a revolution of God’s love in the world.
And it all begins here – at Sunday Mass.