The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 27, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Double commandment of love

The totality of love calls for a giving of self, heart, soul, mind and strength

November 5, Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. Why is love in a total way so difficult?

2. Is your concept of love realistic or romantic?

3. How close is the reign of God in our lives?

On September 26, R.S. Thomas, a poet and priest of the Anglican Church died in Wales at the age of 87. Upon reading of the news, I dug out my copy of Poems of R. S. Thomas (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1985) and reread some of my favorite poems and passages.

At the top of the list is the poem "The Kingdom." The poet claims in the verse that the kingdom of God, though appearing a long way off, is actually quite near if we have faith, even a "faith, green as a leaf." And for Thomas in that kingdom special care is given to those who are poor and blind, to those whose bones have been bent and minds fractured by life. The kingdom, in other words, is a great festival for those who know and embrace the love of God.

Jesus says today that the scribe who understood the centrality of love is "not far from the reign of God." But the demand here is great: the totality of love. It calls for a complete giving of self, heart, soul, mind, strength. The kingdom, that is, where God reigns and governs, is in the hearts of individuals and communities where active concern and respect is given to the poorest of the poor. And Jesus insists that love cannot be divided. Our love for God and neighbor, though distinct, are inseparable.

The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas is not unlike Moses in his admonition to fear the Lord. Although God is love, it is not of the romantic type. Rather, it is a love that takes one to the death of self-giving and to the resurrection of new life. Our challenge is to take these words to heart, that is, to internalize them so that they shape our days. Such a total and complete love demands much courage.

Two questions that Thomas raises are: "What's living but courage?" (39) A second: "What are our lives but harbours . . . ?" (100) Living does demand courage and so too does loving. To become vulnerable to others is a fearful enterprise. Yet this is the way of Jesus. Our Lord offered love by way of hospitality, welcoming into his heart all whom he met. His soul was a harbor for all of us adrift in life. What a total, great love this is.

The divine, biblical love is sacrificial. As recorded in the book of Hebrews, Jesus offered himself as high priest to the will of the Father. This consecration of all to God was the core of the Gospel mission. This reality and theme is captured by a verse from R. S. Thomas: "They have no / God, but follows the contradictions / of a ritual that says / life must die that life / may go on." (148) We call this the paschal mystery, the new covenant, in which Jesus dies to self that salvation might be had for all.

The command of love that flows from God's word is heard in all centuries. R. S. Thomas heard the call. He sought words to capture in verse the meaning that commandment had for him - and for us. The language is secondary to the reality. Living is more important than writing and reading.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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