31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

My Dear People of God,

We are in November, the final part of the liturgical year. November is a month where we pray for our dead. Of course, I will remember my parents and all my dead relatives that I have known and those I have never met. I remember when I was growing up in Rocca Pia, Italy during the Month of November we used to visit the cemetery, and in our home, we prayed the rosary for the dead. May they rest in peace.

The first reading in the book of Deuteronomy tells us that Moses tells the people that they must keep throughout all the days of their lives all his statutes and commandments as long as they live. They will prosper, and they will be given a land “flowing with milk and honey.” This is a sign of prosperity.

The scripture continues with the Shema (“Hear”). This contains the greatest commandment of the law, that is, the love of the covenant-God, and a clear statement of monotheism. This is a very moving text and one of special importance for the faith and life of the chosen people. The high point comes at v.5, which is reminiscent of other pages of the Old Testament. The love which God seeks from Israel is preceded by God’s love for Israel. Here we touch one of the central points of God’s revelations to mankind, both in the Old and in the New Testament: over and above everything else, God is love.

Verse 4 is a clear, solemn profession of monotheism, which is a distinctive feature of Israel that marks it out from the nations round about.

The first Hebrew word in v. 4 is Shema (“Hear”), and it has given its name to the famous prayer which the Israelites recite over the centuries and which is made up largely of 6: 4-9; 11: 18-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. Pious Jews still say it today every morning and evening. In the Catholic Church, v. 4-7 are said at Compline (Night Prayers) after first vespers on Sundays (Saturday Night) and solemnities in the Liturgy of Hours.

The exhortations in v 8-9 were given a literal interpretation by the Jews: this is the origin of the phylacteries and of the mezuzah. Phylacteries were short tassels or tapes which were attached to the forehead and to the left arm, and each tassel held a tiny box containing a biblical text, the two Deuteronomy texts of the Shema plus Exodus 3:1-10, 11-16. In our Lord’s time the Pharisees wore wider tassels to give the impression that they were particularly observant of the law. The mezuzah is a small box attached to the doorposts of houses, which contains a parchment or piece of paper inscribed with the two texts from Deuteronomy referred to; Jews touch the mezuzah with their fingers, which they then kiss, on entering or leaving the house.

God asks Israel for all its love. Yet, is love something that can be made the subject of a commandment? What God asks of Israel, and of all of us, is not a mere feeling which man cannot control; it is something that has to do with the will. It is an affection which can and should be cultivated by taking to heart, ever more profoundly, our filial relationship with our Father; as the new Testament (1 Jn 4:10,19) will later put it: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. We love, because he first loved us.” That is why God can indeed promulgate the precept of love; as he does in this verse of Deuteronomy 96:5 and further on in 10:12-13.

“With all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (V.5): the wording shows that love for God should be total. Our Lord will quote these verses (4-5) which were so familiar to his listeners, when identifying the first and most important of the commandments (as in Mark 12: 29-33.)

The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) must be interpreted considering this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the law.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente



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