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The Greatest Commandments

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By Marc Massery (Oct 27, 2017)
Only when we have a loving relationship with God can we show true compassion toward one another, according to the readings at Mass this weekend.

In the first reading from the book of Exodus, the Lord lays down a list of prohibitions. We must not oppress aliens, wrong widows or orphans, or take advantage of our neighbors. God had not yet given His people the gift of the Holy Spirit. He asks them, therefore, to follow His verbal instructions through the prophets in order for them to fulfill His will. Through these rules, God hopes to instill in His people a sense of compassion toward one another. In this reading He says, "If [your neighbor] cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate" (Ex 22:26).

In the Gospel, Christ gives two laws that encapsulate these rules and all the commandments of the Old Testament. Christ says, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment" (Mt 22:37-38). He continues, "The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:39).

These commandments and the rules given in Exodus have similar goals: compassion toward neighbor. But the rules in Exodus tell us what not to do. The two commandments from the Gospel, on the other hand, tell us what to do. Following Christ is a positive experience. Being a Christian does not merely mean that we say "no" to the world. Rather, we say "yes" to God's love. Furthermore, Christ does not ask us to memorize a list of prohibitions. Instead, He asks us to focus on living in a loving relationship with the Father.

Unlike the rules in the first reading, Christ's two commandments have a particular order of operation. We must follow the first commandment before we can fulfill the second. In order to show true compassion to our neighbors, we must first strive to love God with our whole heart. In her Diary, St. Faustina says, "Jesus alone is the motive for my love of neighbor" (871). Our neighbors can annoy us, and even harm us. It's impossible, then, to truly love our imperfect neighbors in our own flawed state without help from God. We gain all the grace we need to do so when we communicate with God regularly, and place our relationship with Him first in our lives.

Christ finishes the Gospel reading with this: "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments" (Mt 22:40). We can follow all of God's commandments if we focus on loving Him. Commandments alone, though, are not enough. We need supernatural assistance to fulfill them. We also need an example to follow. Thankfully, God did more than tell us what to do. He came to earth, took on human flesh, and died on the Cross to give us His grace. He demonstrated the perfect way to love the Father and to love our neighbors.

G.K. Chesterton said, "Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair." When we grow in love with God, He will show us how to love one another. He will help us see, more and more, His presence in our neighbors, and make it easier for us to show the same compassion to them that He has shown to us.


Readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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