31st Sunday: Integrity
Do you ever feel like you don’t know if you are coming or going? Well, sometimes, I get so busy that I have to make a priority list and then ask myself what I’ve done or not done. I guess that is normal for all of us as we go about our daily chores. But it is not normal or acceptable if we don’t know if we are coming are going in our relationship with God.
Today’s Gospel provides us with an aid to feeling whole, one, and in harmony with God. Jesus was asked to recite the greatest commandment. He cited Deuteronomy 6:4, the commandment called the Shema Israel, or “Hear O Israel.” We are to love our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Following this demands integrity.
Many times, perhaps most of the time, we feel like we have lost our integrity, our unity of spirit. There are times that all of us feel as though we are two persons, or even several persons. We feel fragmented, torn apart, disjointed. When we are in Church we feel the presence of the Lord not just in the Church but within ourselves. Then we leave the Church and get into a fight with someone in the parking lot, or in the car, or in our family, or with a neighbor.
Perhaps, a person leaves the Church feeling very high on God, and within 24 hours enters a place where he or she ends up feeling very low about himself. That person’s heart is in several places, not all of them being God’s places.
Or perhaps a person separates his or her mind from his faith. The person is a believer in Church but a skeptic outside of Church. Instead of growing in the knowledge of the faith, the person relegates his or her faith knowledge to that a child and can’t reconcile this to an adult understanding of God. His mind had not been nourished so it can be given to the Lord.
Or perhaps a person reduces his or her prayer life only to that which takes place in Church. He or she easily loses his center because 167 hours will pass before he prays again.
Or, finally, a person may treat his or her body as an entity that is distinct from the rest of his person. So the person may speak words of charity but may use his or her body to control others in a selfish manner. This person also would feel disjointed because there is a disharmony between what he or she says on Sunday and how he or she acts on Monday.
God calls us to be one person, totally committed to Him in every aspect of our lives. He said that we are to love him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.
We are to direct our hearts to that place where the Lord is present and protect our hearts from any love where the Lord cannot be found. So many times people have said to me that they feel torn apart inside. Most of the time this is because they are in a relationship that destroys their integrity, a relationship where God is not found. That relationship might be with a person or even several people who are mean spirited, people who continually tear others apart. Bigots and gossips attack our ability to love. Perhaps a relationship might give the semblance of love but is actually masking the fact that Jesus is not present. How many times have we heard or said the phrase, “What was he or she thinking?” Why did he or she allow himself or herself to get involved like that? Well maybe that person wasn’t thinking at all. He or she certainly wasn’t thinking about the presence of Jesus.
We are to direct our minds to the Lord. Our faith is not a matter of children’s stories. If we don’t allow our minds to grow with an adult understanding of our faith, then we lack the tools to integrate our faith with our lives. For example, if our understanding of the world is simply the creation stories of Genesis, then how are we to integrate the advancements of science with our faith? But if we study our faith, we learn the depth of our belief, we then understand how the greatest minds the world has ever produced have been people of profound faith. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were the Albert Eiensteins of their days. Our present Holy Father, Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the great minds of our time, as also was his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla, Blessed Pope John Paul II. We Catholics are not creationists nor do we believe in intelligent design. We believe that God gave us a brain able to think abstractly. He put us in the world and then told us to use our brains to learn about it. That is why so many great scientists are people of faith. That is why we need to give God our whole mind and learn about our faith not just as children or young Teens but throughout our lives.
We are to give God our whole bodies, all our strength. Like St. Christopher, the strength we have been given is to serve God and his people. We may not be big enough to carry people across a stream, but whatever we do in the world, we must do for His people. I remember an elderly religious sister once saying to me that sometimes we are tired, but we have to keep going. The Lord will give us the strength. I look at some of our young Moms and Dads. They demonstrate that God gives children to the young because the young have the strength to care for them. But I also know that there are plenty of times that they are physically tired. They need to ask God to give them the physical strength to provide for their children’s needs, those of their spouse, their neighbors and all who reach out to them.
God wants all of our souls. It is great that we celebrate Mass together. It is great that we receive the nourishment of the Eucharist. But our spiritual lives cannot end when we leave the Church. We need to keep the fire of God’s love burning through prayers in the morning, evening and throughout the day, even it is simply grace before meals recognizing our dependency on God and thanking Him for His Presence in our lives. Again, when you make your morning ablutions, say that those quick prayers, “God loves me unconditionally. God forgives me. God is with me.” And give Him your day.
Shema Israel. We love the Lord in a way that our mind, heart, soul and body, merge together to form one whole person. That is integrity.
How about that second commandment actually from Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” This depends on the way we feel about ourselves. If we are disjointed, if our mind and heart are at war, then we are going to transfer our dissatisfaction with our lives to others. But if we are integral, whole, sincere, then we will embrace others with the respect we give to ourselves. We will recognize in them the presence of the Lord who motivates our every action.
People join all sorts of cults to find peace. They climb mountains to hear words of wisdom from Guru’s. All we need to know is given to us in today’s Gospel. Peace comes from loving God with every aspect of our humanity, and then serving this presence, His Presence in others.
Jesus Christ has given and continually gives us all we will ever require. He gives us Himself. He then calls us to make him present for others. May the peace of Christ within us animate our lives, and empower us to reach out to Him in others.