Breath of the Spirit Reflection: A Love That Knows No Bounds: That’s the Whole Point
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The Scriptures have, at times, a unique capacity for getting right to the point. They can pull us out of our rationalizations and confront us with the vastness of the Love in which we abide. In so doing, these sacred words often reflect back to us how short we fall in truly accepting and sharing such abundance. Jesus is often particularly good at cutting to the chase and challenging us to train our gaze only on the essential. In this Sunday’s passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses the Shema to do just that: inviting each of us to clear away the flotsam and jetsam that too often cloud our vision and to look at how God’s love us and how we love others in return.
October 31, 2021: The Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
A Love That Knows No Bounds: That’s the Whole Point
A reflection by Ann Marie Szpakowska
“God is Love”
by Fr. Clarence Rufus Rivers, 1964
Chorus: God is love and we who abide in love, abide in God and God in us.
1) The love of Christ has gathered us together.
Let us rejoice in Christ and be glad.
2) By this shall all know that we are Christ’s disciples.
If we have love one for another.
3) Owe no one anything except to love one another.
For we who love our neighbor will fulfil the whole law.
4) O carry one another’s burdens
And so you may fulfill the law of Christ.
5) The cup of blessing which we bless
Is it not fellowship in the blood of Christ?
6) The bread which we break
Is it not the body of Christ?
7) We many are one bread, one body,
For we all partake of the one bread.
8) This is the bread that came down from heaven,
We who eat this bread live forever.
9) We who eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood have life everlasting;
and Christ will raise us up on the last day.
10) Christ is the vine; we are the branches.
We who abide in Christ shall bear fruit.
Listen to Fr. Rivers lead choir in this hymn here. (It’s an old, beautiful recording, but if you listen, you’ll have to forgive the dated, patriarchal language.)
Today’s first reading comes from the fifth book of Hebrew Scripture. Deuteronomy is a collection of 3 farewell speeches by Moses to the Hebrew People as they were about to cross the River Jordan to Canaan. It contains two passages which are central to Jewish life and liturgy: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul. And with all your strength.” These words remind me of two movies. The first scene is from “Ben Hur” in which the title character returns home to Israel and reaches the gate to his family home. He reaches up and dislodges a stone revealing a crevice containing the scroll with these very words. It is the same scripture found in the mezuzah at the door of observant Jews today. The second film, "Forbidden", takes place in Germany during WWII. As Russians capture Berlin in 1944, a man exits the ruble and is confronted by a soldier about to shoot him. Thinking he is about to die, he starts to chant the words of the Shema, “Hear O Israel…” only to hear, not the crack of a gunshot, but the soldier joining in the chant.
The gospel passage for today includes these words from Deuteronomy. It tells of a conversation between Jesus and a scribe who asks, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus broadens the conversation by including both the Shema as well as the commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This scripture comes not from Deuteronomy but Leviticus 19:20. Love of neighbor is also seen in 1 John 4:20: "For we cannot love God, who we have not seen, if we do not love others whom we have seen.”
To get a fuller understanding of how Jesus understands the concept of neighbor, we can look at Luke 10:25-37. This passage recounts the Parable of the Good Samaritan as Jesus’ response to a scribe intent on testing his knowledge of the Law. Love of God, neighbor, and self is more than some positive feelings or good deeds. It reflects God's Loving-kindness in our lives. As members of an LGBTQIA spiritual community, we are called to witness to both Church and Society a radical hospitality and a tenacious solidarity with all people. We must examine ourselves and our communities (including Dignity USA and it' chapters) on how we respond to this calling. Are we as welcoming as we claim ourselves to be? Do we stand with God and challenge all dignity-denying behavior toward all of creation at all times and in all places? Or does geographic or ideological proximity define who we claim and accept as "neighbor”? It can be so tantalizing convenient to narrow the scope of our love, so tempting to lessen its demands upon us. But then, perhaps we have fundamentally altered Jesus’ message. To quote Mary Lou Williams, a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and an end of life convert to Catholicism, “The whole point is love.”
Ann Marie Szpakowska has been active and in leadership of Dignity/Buffalo for nearly 40 years. She also participates in the Women's Caucus and has been an active contributor to Liturgical planning for Dignity's Conventions, Conferences and on Feminist Liturgy Committees over many years. She has presented workshops both locally and at Dignity Conventions.
She has also been a member of St. Martin de Porres parish since 4 inner city churches merged and built a new sanctuary in 1993. St. Martin de Porres is a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, New York.