ThirtyFirst Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 3-4, 2018
From Fr. Anthony Ligato
“To Love as God Commands”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln gave his most important speech at Gettysburg on a gray November day in 1863. The battle was a turning point in the war not only because the union succeeds in the battle but even more so because of the words Abraham Lincoln spoke which became a doctrine for our nation to be able to heal and unify in the future. Maybe it is time for us to reflect on those words once again, because we have not been more divided than we are now since the Civil War. In this short speech, Abraham Lincoln summarizes the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States; “Four score and seven years ago our nation brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln reconfirmed the basic tenant of our Constitution, that equality was for all people and it is that premise that this nation was founded on. He then completes his speech by stating if we are faithful to this premise of equality, that this nation will come together in unity and have a rebirth, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was saying, by our recognizing that we are all loved by God and made in the image and likeness of our creator, will enable the nation to reestablish itself as a beacon of liberty and freedom for all the world.
Our unity as a people and nation is founded in our unity with God. We can’t have one without the other. In the same way when a scribe in today’s Gospel of Mark 12:2834, came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The scribe wanted to know what is essential for faith and just as Lincoln articulated in his speech that equality was essential for a more perfect union. Jesus explains, love of God and neighbor are essential to truly be in union with God. Jesus begins with the Shema which is a key phase in the calling of the people of Israel together in prayer. It is used to this day by our Jewish brothers and sisters to unify them in prayer with one another. It is that prayer that strengthens and unifies us with our Jewish brothers and sisters after the horrific shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg last week. Jesus begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is God alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:26) Moses tells the people of Israel that they are to inscribe these words on their doorposts and on the gates of one’s property. We often can see the Schema Prayer in what is called a Mezuzah, which is a small case on the door of homes. These words are so sacred to our Jewish brothers and sisters that they kiss their hand and touch the Mezuzah when they pass through the door. The Schema prayer is the prayer of oneness with God and equality with one another.
Like the equality statement Lincoln made in the Gettysburg Address, this statement reconfirms the Ten Commandments, it especially draws on the first commandment. From belief in the one true God flows a behavior which then allows us to have union with God, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”(Mark 12:2930) From profession of faith comes actions and behaviors that reveal our unity with God and with neighbor, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) There is no room for hatred, bigotry or prejudice. And there is no excuse for violence or the tolerance of words or behavior that my lead others to violence.
Lincoln said, “a new birth of freedom,” comes from respect of our neighbor, this love of neighbor comes from loving God. We can’t say we love God with all our heart, soul and mind and not love our neighbor, otherwise; we truly don’t love God. Love is the sign of unity, with God and with neighbor. Lincoln was making us authentically true to God and ourselves because Jesus Christ first called us to union with God through his own sacrifice on the cross. For by the blood of the cross we have been dedicated and consecrated and the ground we walk on is holy ground, for it has been made so by the blood of Christ. “He did that once and for all when he offered himself.” (Hebrews 7:2328) We can’t be a nation that is a more perfect union, unless we first consecrate ourselves to the Lord and through that consecration, seek union with God. Abraham Lincoln reminds us that we have been consecrated through the sacrifice of others as a nation. That sacrifice began with the blood of Christ!
Yours in Christ,