The following is an adaptation of the homily which Bishop Richard Pates delivered at the 2005 Diocesan Information Systems Conference in Durham, North Carolina, at a Mass celebrated at Duke Chapel on June 2, 2005.
Jesus’ articulation of the Great Commandment of loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourself is founded on the identity of a God who is described as LORD. He is the one who is responsible for all of creation. In his hands resides all power, the origin of all that is.
In revealing himself as this LORD, Jesus clearly shows us that what has been done in the act of creation is not for the sake of raw power, but has as its beginning point the urgency of love. God is consumed in love which cannot be contained and which necessarily reaches out in the creation of objects of that love and who thus share in the dynamic that is revealed as Father, Son, and Spirit.
If we interact with Jesus in prayer and contemplation, we cannot but happen upon the profound realization of God’s love for each of us with the attendant understanding that because of that expression of love, I am one of infinite value. Reflection opens the window of experience even further to enable us to see that this identity and the love it is based on is communicated gradually through the evolving relationships of our lives. Our lovableness is confirmed in large measure . . . ·
By our parents, family, and friends ·
In an intimate way with our spouse and in married love. The beautiful story of Tobiah and Sarah illustrates how God wants us to share this love with one another in the profound, giving relationship of marriage.
As we come to an in-depth realization of who we are, the only adequate response is to reciprocate that love. We are naturally inclined to give praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us . . . to give something back of a material nature – a gift as it were, to express our gratitude. But God over time responds that such is inadequate. He wants us to be in touch with our most significant identity – that we are made in his image and likeness and fully capable of LOVE. . . . We are capable of being united with him in his own spirit. Thus he does not want the sacrifice of bulls and goats and heifers. He wants our hearts. He wants us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind.
The circle is closed when we see with those same eyes of faith all of our brothers and sisters in the human family as beloved by God as truly his sons and daughters. It calls forth from us the response of love for them – finding a natural affinity and ease of love for those who are close to us but also expanding our hearts to embrace all in the human family especially those least likely to experience a tangible expression of love, of value, of self worth.
This commandment of love of God and neighbor embodies the central tenet of our relationship with God and one another. At the same time, as compelling as it is, we know that its coming to realization is far from achieved.
Our own times are characterized by what is termed as polarization – whereby we choose to abide by that which separates and divides us rather than what unites us. In the social / political order, we gravitate to ideas that say our rights as individuals are paramount, so we insist on our money, our weapons of violence, our material resources in the face of deprivation and great suffering, our parceling of healthcare so that many children and other vulnerable individuals are deprived of that which is essential for vitality. Our culture is one that enshrines certain individual rights above the most basic right of all: the right to life. We go counter to a God who sees good in all and whose love points us inevitably on the path of common good.
Polarization also infects the Church causing the scandal of separation based on ideologies whether they be conservative or liberal, on practices founded on our own need for security rather than a life-giving relationship with God. This polarization is further revealed in the contentious relationships existing in the Christian household but even more so in people of different faiths. They lead to situations of war and struggle and destruction and untold human woe – creating times abhorrent to a God who is characterized by the reality of love.
Our call is to be ever more in touch with this first of all commandments. Our identification with dioceses and parishes, church communities, to be authentic, means that our commitment on a personal level is based on this law of love. We proclaim what great things the Lord has done for me. At the heart of this proclamation is the realization that he loves me with an everlasting love. It should also be the motivating factor in our professional life. We are engaged in the very important support dimension of church life – to enable the Church to be efficient and strong in its organization and also to be fully effective in its communications as it reaches others with the story of God’s love and provides them with the inspiration to engage themselves in that love in their own lives.
When we begin to see the fruits of that commitment – a society that is based on justice and compassion, on a culture of life, on a realization of basic human rights for all God’s children – we know that we are experiencing the center, the love that God intends to be the foundation for our life with him forever. Moreover, we too will grow as a group of believers surely in the Catholic tradition, but also together with other expressions of faith and tradition in beneficial ways of working together for the common good. Then Jesus will enable us to realize and be mightily consoled by the fact that “we are not far from the Kingdom of God.”