"In everything you do, salvation of souls is the Supreme Law.”
One of our Jesuit priests, Fr Leslie Bingkasan, SJ, has just graduated from Rome with a Licentiate in Canon Law. At a Mass he celebrated for us, he smiled and said, “If you have forgotten everything about your Canon Law, you should at least remember one: In everything you do, salvation of souls is the Supreme Law.”
What was the context of Fr Leslie’s homily? Jesus had been accused by the synagogue official for healing on the Sabbath, a woman who had been possessed by a spirit for 18 years and was bent double, unable to stand upright. The official had objected and said: “There are six days when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath.” (Lk 13:14). Jesus refuted him and didn’t mince his words to call him, “Hypocrite!” Is there one of you who does not untie his ox or his donkey from the manger on the Sabbath and take it out for Watering?” (Lk 13:15).
The question is what would violate the Sabbath law? And the answer is “work”. To heal a woman and to untie an animal would be considered “work”, and hence the failure to observe the Sabbath law and keep it holy.
When we frame this weekend’s gospel reading into this context of keeping the Sabbath holy and observance of the “Shema of Israel”, we will understand it better. Jesus, as a Rabbi and a devoted Jew, would know this teaching at the tip of his fingers. He would have prayed this prayer daily in the morning and evening: “Hear Israel, the Lord Our God is One” (Deut 6:4). The prayer also includes another command “to love God with all one's heart, soul, and strength” (Deut 6:5). Jesus quotes this part of the Shema to us as the first commandment and gives us a second, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mk 12:31).
Truly, this is the essence of Christianity and of our faith as well. “To love the Lord Our God, with our whole heart, whole mind and whole soul and our neighbour as yourself.” When we do this, Jesus will affirm us and say, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mk 12:33).
My dear friends, it may be a good idea to ask ourselves, “How near am I to the Kingdom of God?” The more we can love God and neighbour, the closer we will be to the Kingdom of God.
It is always easy to say, “I love God” , but harder to say that I love my neighbour. St Augustine says, “The love of God comes first in the order of command but the love of neighbour comes first in the order of action.”
St Augustine is telling us here, that if we truly love God, it has to be shown in action — in deeds more than words. Do I show in practical ways that I care for the poor, the marginalised and those who are forgotten by society? The law of love is beyond the love of the law. We are asked to love those who are poor, the outcast and powerless in society. Jesus came to save them too.
Indeed, our love also extends beyond this world as we remember our departed loved ones on this coming Feast of All Souls and All Saints Day. We are reminded that they form the “Triumphant Church” in heaven together with all the saints who have completed their earthly journey and have returned home, and are in company of the Holy Trinity, and with Mother Mary as well. So we remember to pray for them and offer our gratitude to God for their lives and for the completion of their work and mission entrusted to them. May their souls and souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
FR COLIN TAN, SJ