Three years ago, during Lent, part of my prayers were the words “give me a heart like Jesus.” I was in a very isolated place in my life, saddened and feeling betrayed. The only thing that gave me peace that year was reading the Bible. So, I dedicated myself to opening up the Word of God more often and I prayed that my heart could be like the heart of Jesus. I wanted the heart of that man who died loving the people who betrayed him. I wanted the heart of that man who forgave his enemies while they hammered nails into his hands and feet. I desperately needed a heart like Jesus so that I could be happy.
Each day during lent that year, I prayed for goodness and blessings for everyone which I had an estranged relationship with. It was the most intimate moment near the Cross. I prayed to the Lord, “God I don’t know what to do. I am angry and saddened. I feel hurt. I want to love these people. I want to forgive them. But I don’t know how. Take my heart and give me the heart of Jesus. Give me his heart so that I may love them. Give me his heart so that I may forgive them. Give me his heart so that I may truly want all the goodness and blessings for them that you want for them. Give me a heart like Jesus.”
The Cross is love. The Cross is happiness. The Cross is obedience.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments? In first-century Palestine it was much of a debate to know which of the 613 mosaic laws was the most important to follow. Jesus immediately quotes Scripture saying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Loving God above all else, with all of our souls, with all of our hearts, with all our minds, with all of our strength— that is the first of the greatest commandment. Quickly Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself.
It almost seems as if Jesus gave the scribes two different answers when their question was in search for one answer, the most important commandment of all. But the scribe understood what Jesus meant in giving them the two greatest commandment together. There is only one God in all the universe who created everything, and to love the God of Israel with everything that you are automatically means that you love your neighbors, God’s children. These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot fully follow one while ignoring the other.
How can you say you love God, but in your everyday actions you dismiss and ignore the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you say you love God when you ignore those that are hungry, without shelter, are sick, or imprisoned? Can you say you love God when you walk past someone in the midst of their struggles, marginalized and not see the face of Jesus? God would never ignore us, never abandon us in our need. To follow the greatest commandment is to love like God, to have a heart like Jesus and be charitable towards everyone because you recognize their dignity— that they were made in the image and likeness of God.
Following the greatest commandment isn’t easy. I have failed and fallen many times. I have purposely told God, no I’m not loving this person today because they made me upset or I’m not loving that person today because their struggles don’t affect my way of life and I am going to sit with my anger and my comfort for a while and not care for them. I allowed sin to consume me. But Jesus died out of love for his enemies! He died out of love for you and for me. The virtue of charity calls for us to be all self-giving. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati says that to follow the greatest commandment is to conform our entire lives to loving God and loving our neighbor because this is the essence of the Catholic faith.
Pray friends, that this Lenten season brings you closer to the Lord, that you may grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. That you may have a heart like Jesus and through him be obedient to the greatest commandment.
“Each of you knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. Without it, our religion would crumble. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our entire lives to the two commandments that are the essence of the Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves… With charity, we sow the seeds of that true peace which only our faith in Jesus Christ can give us by making us all brothers and sisters. I know that this way is steep, and difficult, and strewn with thorns, while at first glance the other path seems easier, more pleasant, and more satisfying. But the fact is, if we could look into the hearts of those who follow the perverse paths of this world, we would see that they lack the serenity that comes to those who have faced a thousand difficulties and who have renounced material pleasure to follow God’s law.” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati