03 November 2012

Heart, mind, strength

31st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady, Star of the Sea

Audio File

With All Saints and All Souls, the Church has heard much about love of late. If you think we've heard too much about love, remember: God is Love; so, when we speak of love, we speak of God. Can the Church hear too much about God? Can we be reminded too often that we live, move, and have our being in Love? Preaching to the assembled people of God, just before they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses enjoins the people: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Not only are we reminded that we live, move, and have our being in God; we are enjoined—commanded—to return His love with every act, every thought, every word, with every breath we take. Knowing that we are loved is not enough. Believing that we are loved is not enough. What is enough? That each one of us becomes God's love in flesh and bone; that each one of us rises and sleeps, eats and works, prays and plays soaked through with the spirit of God. Take these words to heart: “The Lord our God is Lord alone!” And the Lord our God is love. 

Moses commands, and Jesus agrees: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. . .” Resting at the center of our being, the heart holds all our passions. Every emotion we feel—sorrow, joy, fear, anger—starts in the heart and moves us to action. Sorrow moves us to mourn. Joy moves us to give thanks and praise. Fear moves us to run. Anger moves us to fight. By themselves, our passions are neither good nor evil; they are what they are and no more. Sorrow can move us to mourn or move us to violence. Fear can move us to run or move us to laugh. By themselves, our passions can tell us nothing about what is right or wrong, about what we ought to do or not to do. When Moses commands, and Jesus agrees, that we must love our God with all our heart, they are commanding us put love at the center of our being. Love must rule sorrow. Love must rule fear, anger, and joy. Without exception, love must rule the heart, control the passions, and advise the will. When we fail to love God will our whole heart, we allow passion to eat away at our reason; we invite evil into our lives; and all the mortal sins that damn us—murder, adultery, fornication—all those acts of disobedience that leave us separated from God, they all become too easy. And then, living apart from God seems normal. There is nothing normal about living in rebellion against the Lord God! 

So, Moses commands, and Jesus agrees: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind. . .” If your passions play about in your heart, then your intellect works away in your mind. Every thought, every moment of thinking is done by the mind using reason. Like the passions, the intellect is a gift from God—a gift we are to use in deliberating on the moral choices before us, the intellectual choices presented to us. And just like the passions of our heart, the intellect working in our mind can become disordered, unfocused, confused. When Moses and Jesus command us to love God with our whole mind, they are commanding us to focus all of our intellectual power, all of our mental faculties on the task of making sure that no one and nothing controls how we think, how we deliberate, how we reason before we first give our minds in love to God. If love must rule sorrow, anger, fear, and joy, then love must also rule reason as it works in the mind. Otherwise, we will choose to believe a lie; we'll be taken in by the Liar himself; and find ourselves thinking along with the princes of this world instead of the Prince of Peace. With love ruling both the heart and the mind, we are souls closer to God and closer to His perfection. 

But what about strength? Both Moses and Jesus tell us to love God with our whole strength. Heart, mind, strength. Strength is a physical, mental, or psychological power that we wield to accomplish a task. Think: a strong mind, a strong heart, a strong back. Strength is also the power we use to resist physical, mental, or psychological pressure. Think: strength of character, strength of purpose, moral strength. When we put our strength—all of our strength—into loving God, His love becomes our strength, and nothing that nature, man, or the Devil himself can throw at us that will break us. This spiritual strength is our firm, steadfast conviction that God abides by His promises; that He has never failed His people and He never will; that the God Who freed Moses and His people from Egypt and pulled them through the desert to the Promised Land will even now—5,000 yrs later—stand by His covenant and see us blessed, protected, and flourishing under His care. With all your strength—mind, heart, soul—love God. The Lord Who will stand you up and nothing will knock you down. 

Let me—for a moment—play spiritual director, confessor. When I search my own heart and mind, and when God's people come to me as their pastor, I see a lot of failure; a whole lot of weakness; and even more outright disobedience. I recognize in these souls all my own failures and weaknesses. All brought and paid for by my disobedience. Whether the sin is lack of charity or impatience or infidelity, whatever the sin is, the gnarled root of the sin is always the same: failure to love God. I hear Jesus say to scribe in this evening's gospel, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And I think to myself, “You know all that stuff too, Philip. How far are you from the kingdom of God?” What does this scribe know that I don't? What is he doing that I'm not doing? Mark tells us that Jesus saw that the scribe “answered with understanding.” But surely understanding the commandment to love is not enough to get closer to God! When we understand, we “stand under,” meaning we place ourselves underneath, in submission to. This is an act of both the heart and the mind, an act of strength that defies pride and arrogance. When we fail to love God, we fail to understand—to place ourselves in submission to—His will for us. There is nothing for us to do but fail without the power of God's love moving us to love Him.

Think for a moment about your trials and your temptations. I bet you that you—like me—can trace every single trial you've suffered, every single temptation you've fought to a moment when you allowed passion to rule, or your reason to get confused, or your strength to waver. And every one of those times can be traced even further back to a moment when God was not front and center in your life; when your love was given to something or someone less than God Himself. Our worst failures to hear God and listen to Him come when we decide that we no longer need His love, or when we decide that something or someone else is more deserving of our love—the bottle, the dollar, the job, the neighbor's spouse, my reputation. What are the chances that a dollar will get me into heaven? Or a well-padded resume? Or a long list of sexual partners? These aren't love. None of these will love me into the kingdom. Christ and him alone is the key to the kingdom. He is love given flesh and bone; love nailed to a cross and risen again from the grave; and now he sits at the right hand of the Father and calls to our hearts and our minds and our souls to join him at the heavenly banquet. When you hear that call, your heart will leap, your mind will clear, and your soul will rejoice b/c love calls to love, deep to deep, and, if you will to be strong in His presence, you will answer back: I love you, Lord, my heart, my strength. 

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