Michæl McFarland Campbell

Always telling the story

Love for God and neighour cannot be separated

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Reflection on the Sunday readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), Sunday 29 October 2023. Exodus 22:20-26; | Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; | First Thessalonians 1:5-10; | St Matthew 22:34-40.

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The ‘law and the prophets’ that Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel (the Old Testament) were considered by the Jews to contain the absolutely unique self-revelation of the one, true God to His only Chosen People. Possessing this revelation made ancient Israel more privileged than all other nations and peoples. Therefore, when the Pharisee (like all Pharisees, he was an expert in the ‘law and the prophets’) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, he is really challenging Jesus to give an interpretation of the entire history and reality of the Israelite nation. We can imagine Jesus fixing His eyes on those of the questioner, wondering how sincere the question really was.

St Matthew does not tell us how the Pharisee reacted. However, we can imagine his surprise, if not downright shock. Although Jesus had been asked to name one commandment, he listed two. Shrewd Pharisees would have noticed this. In listing two commandments, Jesus pointed out that you cannot separate loving God from loving one’s neighbour. Yet, that is exactly what many Pharisees did daily.

God is our Creator and our Saviour. His Love is both universal and personal. He loves every single human so much that He gave Jesus’ life on the Cross to pay the price for each person’s sin, to open the gates of heaven to every single person who is willing to follow Him. Therefore, if we truly love God with all our heart, it would be a contradiction no treat our neighbours — those very people God loves and for whom Jesus suffered to save — with sincere and self-sacrificing respect. The old saying applies above all to God: A friend of yours is a friend of mine.

Rescuing the abandoned in ancient Rome

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In ancient Rome, Christians used to use Catacombs for their burial places. These Catacombs consist of miles of underground tunnels and chambers painstakingly carved out of the unique tufa soil on the city’s outskirts. Tufa is a mixture of normal topsoil and elements from volcanic ash and lava. As long as it is not exposed to the air, it shows no special characteristics except that it is remarkably soft and easy to dig. When you excavate into it, exposing it to the air, it gradually becomes almost as hard as rock. It was the perfect environment to create a vast network of underground cemeteries, chapels, and hiding places.

We can still visit these Catacombs today. When we do, we notice that in addition to the normal graves, there are thousands of little horizontal niches dug into the walls of the passageways. Two or three feet long, less than a foot high, two or three feet deep, these niches are much too small to serve as a burial place for a fully-grown body. Recently, archaeologists discovered what these niches were used for.

In ancient Rome, when Christianity was still a minority, outlawed religion, it was common practice for pagan women to abandon by exposure unwanted or crippled babies. There were special clearings outside the city used for just this purpose. As Christianity spread, Christian women started going out to these clearings to rescue the unwanted babies, convinced they were loved by God and created in His image. Some of the babes would die from exposure before or soon after being rescued. When that happened, the Christians would bury these babies in the little niches in the Catacombs.

In this way, at great cost and inconvenience to themselves, they actively lived out Christ’s commandment to love.

A secret weapon for Christ-like love

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In today’s world, aren’t we all very busy? Sometimes, we even feel much too busy to take the time to reach out to our neighbours in need. It is very possible, however, that at the end of our life, we will see things quite differently. But in the midst of our busy-ness, we can make an effort to love God by loving our neighbour, precisely in the way we interact with the people around us. A true follower of Jesus should always remember that people matter more than things. We should never be too busy for a kind word or a sincere smile.

Those of us who really are super-busy can also use a secret weapon that allows us to do more in less time, to fulfil both of Jesus’s two great commandments in one action. It doesn’t add anything at all to our to-do-list or calendar. It is so simple we might be tempted to shrug it off when I tell you — that would be a big mistake. What is this secret weapon? Praying for others.

When we pray for others we are exercising both loves at the same time: we show our love for God, by talking to Him and expressing confidence in His goodness and power; and we show our love for our neighbour by caring about them.

Each one of us should have a list of people for whom we pray regularly — family members, coworkers, orphans, politicians, Christians suffering persecution… We should keep our list somewhere we will have a chance to use it. Perhaps near the windscreen of our car, or the counter where we fold our laundry, perhaps near the sink where we wash the dishes… it is said that the Pope keeps his on his kneeler, where he does his morning and evening prayers.

Praying regularly and sincerely for others is the secret weapon for loving God and loving our neighbour. Let’s promise to use that weapon well this week.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

October 29th, 2023 at 8:59 am

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