NOVEMBER IS THE MONTH of remembrance and thanksgiving. It begins with the Feasts of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2), when Christians honor holy women and men. What does it mean to be holy? Too often, we think of holiness as an impossible task—we equate it with a scrupulous perfectionism none of us can attain. That is an easy, and spiritually immature, excuse not to ponder what holiness might mean for us. To be holy is to be one with God. As people of faith, we are all called to holiness. It is something that we grow into as we grow in our relationship with God, others, and ourselves.
The women and men whose names we sing in the Litany of the Saints (as well as the names of our loved ones who we might add to that litany) were not angels. They were humans, like you and me. However, we remember them because their lives witnessed to God’s loving presence in our midst. We, too, are called to witness to this grace. The readings for this month remind us that becoming holy will demand much of us. It requires that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and that we “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (Mark 12:31). They also promise us that God “will show [us] the path of life” (Psalm 16:11) and “fullness of joy” as we tend to God’s “kin-dom.”
[ November 4 ]
Beware Shiny Gods
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
OUR READINGS begin with the words of the Jewish Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Immediately, the scripture reminds us that God is to be the center of our lives. But how do we make God the center of our lives? In a world where distractions abound—where there is always some new and shiny god being launched for the low, low price of $29.99 per month—how do we love God with all our hearts, souls, and might? While the shiny false gods might be easy to identify and avoid, how do we genuinely attend to the variety of “competing goods” (as my colleague the ethicist calls them) in our lives? How do we balance time for prayer with time for family, friends, ministry, work, and self-care?
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus adds on to the Shema, stating that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Perhaps this is a clue as to how we can make God the center of our lives while also attending to our competing goods: Namely, we can see that God is always already at the center of those goods. After all, God is what makes them good! This does not mean that we do not commit to the discipline of prayer, but it does mean that the overall goal of prayer is to make us aware of the ever-present God in our midst. Imagine: What would that Monday morning board meeting look like if we really believed that God was present there? How about those 3 a.m. newborn feedings and endless diaper changes? Or that friend going through a divorce who just needs someone to listen? What if we really saw each of those moments, each of those people, as encounters with the living God? Perhaps then we might be able to say, “I am loving the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might. And I am loving my neighbor as myself.”