Oct. 29 - Love of God comes before we can love our neighbor

July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.

The Word

When I first moved into my apartment in Monmouth Beach, I noticed that most of my neighbors had a small metal relic on their door jambs. Known as a mezuzah, it contains the admonition from Deuteronomy chapter 6 post the prayer – called the Shamah – on their doorposts. Jesus recites this same prayer in this week’s Gospel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone, therefore, you shall love the Lord God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.” This prayer is recited in the morning and in the evening. Observant Jews follow the command of God to Moses to post this prayer as a sign to the world of the covenant, a reminder of the Laws of Moses. The Shamah is called the greatest commandment, because it is given to the people through Moses.

I often wondered if I should hang a small Crucifix next to my doorpost, not as an act of defiance or mockery, but also to make the statement of faith. Jewish people are very comfortable, even in times and places where anti-Semitism still remains rampant, in wearing and exhibiting the signs of their tradition and religious identity. Catholics are often much less inclined towards such outward displays. We might see Crucifixes being worn or a Rosary hanging from a car mirror, but that is often more a displayed as a connection to a rap artist or a piece of jewelry than a sign of religious conviction.

The first of the Ten Commandments reminds us to place God first in everything. It is our love of God – a reflection of God’s love for us – that places the most important demands upon us. This admonition seems less and less demanding as we have relegated our religious conviction and experience of faith to church – one hour per week—if we are lucky.

Jesus balanced the first admonition with a second: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This covers the rest of the Laws in the Old Testament. The sampling of the Law we hear in Exodus provides a glimpse into the ways in which the Law defined the social relationships of the Israelites.

From Jesus we learn that there is a clear essential relationship between our love of God and our love of neighbor.  Jesus takes obligations that were seen as separate and unites them together in necessary ways, so that to be a follower of Jesus means that love lies at the center of all our relationships.

While some will argue that at different times of history, or within different religious traditions, the love of God overbalanced the love of neighbor to the detriment of the latter, we must also be wary of those who would overcompensate now and emphasize solely the social dimension of religious faith.

Recently I was a part of a conversation where the principle point of one of the participants drew attention to the idea that if we wanted to engage a particular group of people in the Church we need to offer more service opportunities. Church is unnecessary and boring, but feeding the poor is where it is at. While is seems redundant to point out that the Church feeds more poor people each day than any other, and all other social organizations, it still misses the point. Anyone can feed the poor, build houses, or care for the elderly and infirmed. It is the primary role of the Church, as an assembly of believers, to love God, “with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If we are to authentically love our neighbor and be of service to our neighbor, we must first love God. And while that means that we must also love our neighbor, it primarily calls us to prayer, adoration, praise and worship. It means that we understand that all we do and all that we are belongs first to God for it comes from God. Our challenge is to have a life of prayer and expresses and enriches our love God so that we might more authentically love our neighbor. When we do that, then not only are we better people, the love that we live and express for our neighbor becomes real and not simply a masquerade of self-love.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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When I first moved into my apartment in Monmouth Beach, I noticed that most of my neighbors had a small metal relic on their door jambs. Known as a mezuzah, it contains the admonition from Deuteronomy chapter 6 post the prayer – called the Shamah – on their doorposts. Jesus recites this same prayer in this week’s Gospel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone, therefore, you shall love the Lord God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.” This prayer is recited in the morning and in the evening. Observant Jews follow the command of God to Moses to post this prayer as a sign to the world of the covenant, a reminder of the Laws of Moses. The Shamah is called the greatest commandment, because it is given to the people through Moses.

I often wondered if I should hang a small Crucifix next to my doorpost, not as an act of defiance or mockery, but also to make the statement of faith. Jewish people are very comfortable, even in times and places where anti-Semitism still remains rampant, in wearing and exhibiting the signs of their tradition and religious identity. Catholics are often much less inclined towards such outward displays. We might see Crucifixes being worn or a Rosary hanging from a car mirror, but that is often more a displayed as a connection to a rap artist or a piece of jewelry than a sign of religious conviction.

The first of the Ten Commandments reminds us to place God first in everything. It is our love of God – a reflection of God’s love for us – that places the most important demands upon us. This admonition seems less and less demanding as we have relegated our religious conviction and experience of faith to church – one hour per week—if we are lucky.

Jesus balanced the first admonition with a second: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This covers the rest of the Laws in the Old Testament. The sampling of the Law we hear in Exodus provides a glimpse into the ways in which the Law defined the social relationships of the Israelites.

From Jesus we learn that there is a clear essential relationship between our love of God and our love of neighbor.  Jesus takes obligations that were seen as separate and unites them together in necessary ways, so that to be a follower of Jesus means that love lies at the center of all our relationships.

While some will argue that at different times of history, or within different religious traditions, the love of God overbalanced the love of neighbor to the detriment of the latter, we must also be wary of those who would overcompensate now and emphasize solely the social dimension of religious faith.

Recently I was a part of a conversation where the principle point of one of the participants drew attention to the idea that if we wanted to engage a particular group of people in the Church we need to offer more service opportunities. Church is unnecessary and boring, but feeding the poor is where it is at. While is seems redundant to point out that the Church feeds more poor people each day than any other, and all other social organizations, it still misses the point. Anyone can feed the poor, build houses, or care for the elderly and infirmed. It is the primary role of the Church, as an assembly of believers, to love God, “with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If we are to authentically love our neighbor and be of service to our neighbor, we must first love God. And while that means that we must also love our neighbor, it primarily calls us to prayer, adoration, praise and worship. It means that we understand that all we do and all that we are belongs first to God for it comes from God. Our challenge is to have a life of prayer and expresses and enriches our love God so that we might more authentically love our neighbor. When we do that, then not only are we better people, the love that we live and express for our neighbor becomes real and not simply a masquerade of self-love.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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