If the events of this past week in our country serve to remind us of anything, it is most certainly that in our troubled world, sometimes bad things happen. Some people do bad things to others, as we saw in the attack in Ottawa that claimed a young soldier’s life and threatened our seat of government; illness strikes us as we see in the worldwide concern over the spread of the Ebola virus; hurricanes, earthquakes and natural disasters occur too spreading destruction and loss in their wake.
Perhaps one of the most striking images, for me, in all of the media presentations of the week’s events, was of the people who, of their own accord – rushed to the aid of the dying Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he lay near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to administer first aid and CPR; ignoring their own safety and wellbeing in the moment to do what they were able to do to help and comfort a fellow human being in his hour of need.
I think one of the most touching comments I read was how one of those who rushed to his aid, a woman named Barbara Winters, kept talking to Cpl. Cirillo, telling him that he was loved. In his final moments, someone cared enough to remind another person, that he was cared for and appreciated.
Our Gospel passage today from St. Matthew tells us how a lawyer from among the religious leaders asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. This person is not a lawyer in the sense we think of today, when we speak of lawyers being in civil or criminal courtrooms. This person was an expert, well versed in the Law of Moses, the cornerstone upon which the Pharisees built their entire system of religious observance in trying to remain faithful to God. There were 613 laws, which ranged from moral laws of pre-eminence, to dietary and social restrictions. To ask which of these 613 laws is greatest or most important, perhaps for us, would be a difficult task – yet Jesus cuts right to the heart of the Law.
The first is to love God with every fiber of our being; the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. These two laws sum up the entire Law of Moses – because the laws have to do either with worship or personal conduct in the community; and the heart of God’s Law is mercy and compassion.
These two great commandments go hand in hand; our love for God is not simply expressed in words or inner feelings towards our Creator – our love for the God we cannot see is expressed in our love for our brothers and sisters who we can see, who we interact with and communicate with and work, learn and play with.
As St. John in his first letter says, how can we say we love God who we cannot see, if we do not love our brother who we can see? These two commands Jesus promotes as the greatest have everything to do with relationship – relationship with God and with each other. When we abandon one, we abandon the other, and in a very real sense in doing so we abandon our humanity, shutting ourselves off from others who, like each of us, were created in the image and likeness of the God we profess to love.
It’s easy to sense God in joyful moments, in beautiful scenes of nature, in times where plenty and peace abound. It’s not so easy when evil presents itself in our midst. Yes difficulties, hardships and tragedies happen in our broken world. That is part of our human condition; but it is through the actions of those around us, often in these sad and awful circumstances, that we can see the mercy and compassion of God also in our midst; if we take the time to reflect honestly and thoughtfully, and look with eyes of faith, hope and love.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!