Sunday the 31st Week in Ordinary Time
Along about 2009 I broke my arm in the bakery, as you might remember, and had to spend a few nights in the hospital. Sharing the room with me was a young guy, and I’ve forgotten now what his ailment was. He had a girlfriend and it really impressed me with how close they were. She would spend all the visiting hours there during the day, and then at night they would be calling each other on the phone every hour or so. They didn’t have anything all that important to say but they needed to be connected all the time. If it was me I would have said, “What the heck did you wake me up in the middle of the night for?! I need my sleep!” But neither one of them seemed the least bit perturbed when the other one called again so soon after hanging up. And it wasn’t because he was in grave condition or anything like that. I had the impression this is how things normally occurred even before he came to the hospital. They were so absorbed with each other that that’s all they could think about. They just wanted to be present to each other all the time.
I’m guessing that’s how things are when two people are really, really in love. They’re obsessed with each other. Well, keeping that in mind, let us imagine a young couple who are deeply in love. They are constantly in each other’s thoughts. They have a strong urge to be together all the time, and when they are not, they are texting each other or talking over the phone. Eventually, they get married and start having kids. Everything stays the same with their feelings for each other. The husband goes to work only to generate money to provide for his family. He can’t wait to get off work each day and be with them. All of his free time is spent with them. There is no place he’d rather be. He is totally devoted to his wife and kids. He loves them with an undivided heart.
But little by little the wife starts sensing a cooling in his love for her and the kids. He no longer seems to be loving them with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength. His projects at work and his career are becoming more important to him than his family. He’s staying after work more often. He needs more time to be with his buddies. When he is at home, instead of doing things with them he prefers watching TV, surfing the internet, or reading the paper. Playing catch with his sons or delivering his daughters to their friends’ houses used to be a joy to him. Now it’s a burden and inconvenience. It used to be that his love for his kids was an extension of his love for his wife, but not anymore. His love for himself has eclipsed all of that.
Well, that should give us a bit of an insight into our readings today. Our gospel reading echoes our first reading from Deuteronomy when it says, “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.” And Jesus goes on to add, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Like the wife in our imaginary story, God is pained by our divided heart. He sees other things taking up more of our thoughts and attention. He is slipping in our list of priorities. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Lk 12:34). He is no longer our treasure. He has been supplanted by other lesser treasures, by idols. Like the wife who is hurt by the way the man treats the kids and its effect on them, so God is hurt by the way we treat his other kids. He knows that our love for them and our love for him rise and fall together.
But also like the wife, God is not going to nag us. He might gently nudge us, but he values our love too much to force it. He’ll bide his time and patiently wait for us while we stray and learn for ourselves that those other things can never really satisfy. They are like snowflakes that disintegrate when we hold them.
None of us can claim that our love for God is white hot all the time. There is always something slipping in and trying to compete with it. We need the Church, with readings like this, to remind us every so often to take stock, to stand back and take a hard look at ourselves and notice where we’ve drifted, what idols have crept in and taken root.
Luckily, God is not vindictive; he doesn’t hold a grudge. He’s always eager to take us back, no questions asked. I hear from some men that their wife remembers EVERYTHING! But God is happy to forget.
There’s always room for improvement, right? “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:15).