Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘ You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
In reflecting on this passage from Matthew’s gospel the emphasis is often on the dual focus of the commandment – loving God and loving our neighbour. But in the sentence about loving God, there is a very strong statement about how we are to love God, which can be overlooked. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”.
“Heart, soul and mind” represents a total alignment of all aspects of our consciousness. This is not always easy, as many saints have shown us. The heart may long ago have been given to God, and the soul always seeking him – but the mind can do its own thing. We can be filled with doubts, even to the point of questioning the existence of God or his interest in us personally. Our belief in God may be intact, but instead there may be questions and doubts about the Church and its teaching which create enormous inner conflict.
The heart can also at let us down at times, as emotions come into play. The commitment to God remains but may be overwhelmed by anger at him, or by a sense of being unknown or unimportant to him. This can particularly afflict us when prayer is difficult and God somehow seems to be absent or uninterested.
The psalms and other parts of the scriptures are full of pleas from people who had similar experiences. They also contain many words of reassurance about God’s presence and his love for each of us.
When God seems to be absent and when doubts reign, these words of reassurance can help if we know how to use them. They may not generate great surges of prayer or a sense of God’s presence. In fact they may be irritating because they seem to describe a reality which we are not experiencing, that is, the care and love God has for each of us. The usefulness of these words lies in making them an act of faith. For example, in Psalm 22 these well-known words make a great act of faith:
“He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil will I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort.”
Making an act of faith in this way nourishes the seeking soul, stabilizes a heart in danger of being swamped by negative emotions, and occupies a doubting mind. It integrates all these aspects of our human nature. It is a complete response to the first great commandment.