24 March 2006

Love grows through love.*

3rd Week of Lent 2006 (F): Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12.28-34
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

Hear it!
Think back to about three weeks ago when we started this desert trek. Back to when we were told to never forget that we are ash and to ash we will inevitably return. Remember packing for the trip, loading up our need for righteousness, our longing for forgiveness, for mercy, packing all the essentials for desert living, for living alone with God for forty days. Remember your urgent need to be done with worry, your rush and scurry, your hassled spirit and serious heart. Remember the temptations—the voices of skimpy charity, spare hope, and mean faith—those temptations that panic at your resolve to walk a clear path to God alone, and in their panic they sweeten their tune, sharpen their logic of scarce grace and argue persuasively for despairing impatience and the quick-easy immediacy of self-righteousness.

(Isn’t it so much easier to give up on God and find the salvation we long for in our own honorable work, our own well-designed world?)

Remember ash and longing and the dry burn of Lent; remember the lure of effortless annihilation, simply falling quietly into nothing and being done with it all. Remember the original rumor, the one first heard in a lush garden, the hissed promise of self-made divinity: “You can be a god without God.” That’s a different sort of nothing: a darker loneliness.

If you have remembered all of this, let me ask you: do you remember that this time away, this time in seasonal exile is about love? Do you recall why we do this every year, why we set aside the forty days before Easter to fast and pray and be alone with God? We do it because, as Jesus teaches the scribe today, “The Lord our God is Lord alone!” And because He alone is our God, we will love Him singularly, extraordinarily—Him alone. And we will love Him with everything that gives us life. We will love Him as His image and likeness, as His created revelations of truth, goodness, and beauty.

And because we will love Him first and most, we are able to love one another. It follows then that our most obvious failures to love one another betray, first and most, our failure to love Him. Our Holy Father, Benedict, writes in his letter on God, Deus caritas est, “I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own”(n 14). Jesus’ commandment to the scribe to love his neighbor as he loves himself is grown root and branch out of his first commandment to love God alone. And both the first and second commandment to love are deeply planted and richly nourished in the ancient revelation: “He is One and there is no other than He!”

Lent is our seasonal exile. A time away to be alone with God who is Love. It is desert and wasteland and trial and temptation. It is also rich, fertile ground for our growth in holiness if we remember that we are His and His alone. We will not be God without Him and we cannot be nothing with Him.

Three weeks in and we hear Jesus say, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

*Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, n. 18.