25 October, 2011

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (A) 2011

(Matthew 22:34-46)
‘“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.’
Most of us would have probably heard this commandment before. In fact, we’ve probably heard it so many times that now it may sound empty. We might find it impossible to attain to it and we might even regard it as wishful thinking, a utopic aim for our lives. What does it even mean? Should we give up any other love or passion?
‘“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 where do we start? From the heart? from the mind?
Moreover, if we do indeed get even remotely close to loving God with all our faculties and with all our being, who is going to care about our other relationships? Who is going to run our businesses and keep our families fed? Loving God with everything we are seems to imply that there’ll be no love or care left for anyone else.
Surely, we think, there are such people as priests, deacons, monks and nuns who can afford to do nothing all day apart from loving God and contemplate on him. There are theologians; there are academics… not us.
‘“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.’

Some of us are probably more comfortable in retreating to the Gospel teaching we heard last week.

‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Matthew 22:21)
Giving something to God implies not giving him the whole. Surely, it means that we can satisfy, appease, God with a Sunday morning service and a couple of vague prayers, mumbled quickly during the week. After that, we can keep the rest of our time and lives to ourselves and get on with our daily engagements. The face value of this teaching might suggest the we are allowed to shut God out of some part of our existences, our jobs and some of our relationships.
But is it really the case? Could St Matthew give us two contradictory advices within the same chapter of his gospel?
‘“love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
I hope some of us will be familiar with the language of virtues. Reduced to their bare minimum, virtues are those skills – so to speak – that we make perfect with practice and make us “better” persons through exercising them. Patience is a virtue, they say; meaning that by exercising patience we become more and more patient in every new circumstance which requires our self-control. We don’t become patient in a day, or an hour; we learn to be patient. Similarly, there is a virtue of Religion, which orders our priorities towards God and the things of God. The virtue of Religion demands that we love God in, through and above all things. It ordains our lives in a prefect towards worshipping and loving God with all that we have.

We don’t become suddenly a religious person; we – as it were – learn to be religious and to strengthen our relationship with God a little more each day. This “skill” of Religion is the one which allows us to order our lives towards loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind as well as giving to God the things that belong to God.
How? The virtue of true Religion demands us to consecrate our lives to God; to set apart everything that we do and everything that we are for the sake His love; and through this act we are better empowered in turn to love ourselves, our neighbours, our families, our jobs as if they were part of our act of worship and love towards God.

By exercising Religion we realise more and more each day that nothing is truly out of the remit of our love for God. Nothing. Nothing at all. Rather, that everything is ordered towards our loving and worshipping Him. George Herbert, put this concept beautifully in one of his poems, which we sung a couple of weeks ago here.
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for thee: […]
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgerie divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for lesse be told.

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