Sunday, Nov. 4, is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-4, 47, 57; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes a very simple request: He asks that we fall in love with God the way we fall in love with each other.
When we do marriage preparation, we like to tell the story of how falling in love changed us.
Tom was not the most tidy, ambitious or responsible person in the world. No college guy is. But that changed when he set his sights on marriage: He got a haircut, took better care of his clothes, worked hard at getting a bigger job, and generally just cleaned up his act.
April’s life changed, too. She was fine in the responsibility department, but she had to broaden her likes and interests to intersect them with Tom’s likes and interests. There were movies she would never have seen, songs she would never have listened to and places she would never have gone on her own, but was willing to experience — for the sake of another.
In other words, we experienced what so many others have experienced: Human love naturally draws us to love each other in a total way.
We love each other with our minds: in our thoughts and our decisions. We love each other with our hearts: in the new things we hold dear and the old things we decide to be detached from. We love each other with our souls: by directing ourselves more resolutely to God’s will. And we love each other with our strength: doing whatever is necessary to unite with our beloved.
This is the love God called his people to in the first reading from the Old Testament. And this is the love Jesus Christ calls us to today in the Gospel.
Notice that the love we have for other human beings is a different kind of love. It isn’t the total love that mirrors what we have for a spouse, but the qualified love we have for ourselves. Tom’s love for himself didn’t accomplish as much in his life as his love for another person did — and April’s love for herself didn’t broaden her in the way her love for Tom did.
When we love ourselves, we are aware that the person we love is weak and often disappointing. We love ourselves knowing that we deserve love, but also knowing that our love needs to have limits.
To love others like we love ourselves, we need to excuse their faults, like we do our own, focus on their strengths, like we do our own, and try to move them constructively forward, like we do with ourselves.
It isn’t always easy. A quick tip to loving others like yourself: When you are observing other people and are tempted to judge them, remember that you, too, have many faults and pray, “Jesus, I love you above all things, and for your sake I love my neighbor as myself.” Emphasize those last two words: You can at least love them that much.
But what about loving God in the mind-soul-strength way we love a spouse? And with God, it’s an even greater love, a total love. How can we do that?
The answer is: the same way we do with a spouse. We fall in love with one another because we spend time together; we learn about each other; we focus on the beautiful, good and true aspects of each other.
We need to do the same with God. Spend time with him every day in prayer. Learn about him through meditation on the Gospels and Scripture and through spiritual reading. Contemplate Christ’s virtues. Appreciate the world he has made for us; the faith he has given us; the people he has put in our lives. Thank him specifically for all the good things he has done this week, last year, in the past, all the way back to childhood.
And ask him for the gift to love him more — or even to fall in love with him.
After all, if we can fall in love with fallible human beings, we ought to be able to do the same with God.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.