THE LORD IS OUR GOD, THE LORD ALONE.
YOU WILL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART.
FEAST OF ST. CLAIRE- HOMILY
THE LORD IS OUR GOD, THE LORD ALONE. YOU WILL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART. In ancient Israel these words were considered to be among the most important of the whole of the Sacred Writings. The text itself in the passage we have just heard from the Book of Deuteronomy does much to inculcate that conviction. Special concern is shown to assure that these words are memorized, often remembered and passed on to the next generation. This and other verses from this passage form the centerpiece of the daily Jewish liturgy. The Keri'at Shema (Reading of the Shema) takes place daily in the morning and evening worship in obedience to this, the opening commandment (Mitzvah) of the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
One notable feature of this text is the fact that God's first order consists in the command to his people to love him. This is not the only place where the Lord commands feelings. In Leviticus we read: "You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart." But love and hate are not only feelings: they are ways of acting and of treating others as well as dispositions of soul and sentiments of the heart. Practical love as well as sentiment would seem to be included in this first mitzvah. Jesus himself would seem to have understood it in this way, for he not only preached that we should love God and neighbor but specified that we should imitate God who does good to the deserving and the evil alike.
This commandment is not confined to ordering us to love God only with all our heart; it insists that we must love him with all our soul and strength as well. The idea here is clearly to assure that we give God the highest and best of our self and allow no one and nothing to compete with him. He alone is our God. Today as we honor the virgin, St. Claire of Assisi, it is interesting to note that the special reading assigned to her mass contains the message complementary to this first of the commandments of the law. The prophet Hosea speaks of God's whole-hearted and tender love for his chosen ones. "I will espouse you to myself forever. I will espouse you to myself in justice and with judgment, in loving-kindness and tender love. (2: 21)" These words are intended to give heart to a people who had previously heard the same prophet announce that God was so offended by their infidelities that, as he put it, "I will put an end to all her rejoicing... I will lay waste her vines and fig trees... I will punish her for ... (she) forgot me, says the Lord."
The prophetic message here is that, however undeserving we might know ourselves to be, we are so loved by God that, far from rejecting us, he wills to join us to himself by the most intimate and ardent bonds of love. St. Claire had never proved unfaithful; she realized that it was God's special love that had protected her. However, it was not her innocence that gave her the confidence needed to sustain her in the years of testing in poverty, but her strong faith in the tender love of God. As we honor her memory at this Eucharist today, let us imitate her faith. For in this sacrament and in the inspired words of the prophet we receive the same pledge that she had been given and trusted in: the assurance that our creator and redeemer offers himself to those who trust him, not only as a loving parent but as an ardent lover. "I will espouse you to myself forever. I will espouse you to myself in justice and with judgment, in loving kindness and tender love", says the Lord.
Rev. Father John Eudes BambergerAugust 11, 2001
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