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Bible Reflections View Comments

“The Lord Is Our God, the Lord Alone”
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012
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Many of us in the United States will breathe a huge sigh of relief this coming Wednesday when the campaign ads finally stop polluting the airwaves, the roadside billboards and nearly every page we visit online. In the din, it’s difficult to hear a call to prayer, a call to recognize that God, not any elected official, deserves our undying loyalty. Those working to get our vote have discovered that the best way to do that is to appeal to our most selfish personal interests. “What’s in it for me?” can be the short-sighted but persuasive basis for our judgments in politics, in business, in other day-to-day decisions.

But as we go to vote this week, we also need to keep in mind Jesus’s interpretation of the central Hebrew prayer: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord Alone.” For Jesus, and so for us, love for God can best be expressed in love for our neighbor. And, as we know from other passages in the Gospel, the word neighbor has the broadest possible interpretation, extending even to our enemies.

Our first reading from Deuteronomy is known in Judaism as the Shema, (Hebrew for “Hear”). It is recited every day by faithful Jews. It is part of the Scripture passage that is inserted in the mezuzah (a small decorative box) fastened to the doorway of Jewish homes.

There’s a reason for this prayer being part of one’s daily routine. We need a constant reminder that the Lord is our God, not merely one of many other things, people and ideologies vying for our attention. In the days of Moses, it was a question of other cultures and their many religious idols. In our own day, it’s less religious idolatry than the many demands that the world makes on our time.

It can be far too easy to take our faith for granted. We can get so much more enthusiastic about a sports team, a political campaign, a business venture, a hobby, pouring time and money and energy into pursuits that are at best temporary victories. To some extent, this is because it’s difficult to package and sell religion in the same glitzy way that so much else is marketed. We rightly perceive such attempts as being false to the central message, over-the-top, and desperate. We don’t mind when advertisers rely on fake smiles to sell toothpaste. We mind a great deal when they do the same thing to sell salvation.

Jesus takes our relationship with God, rightly the central point in our lives, and expands our focus so that what we need to do is right in front of us at all times. We can say we love God and then go about our daily business as though it doesn’t make a difference. But if we say we love others, we will have to reckon with the many ways in which we demonstrate that on a daily basis. And Jesus reminds his listeners that religious ritual is no substitution for genuine love for others.

One of the most divisive issues in this year’s political campaigns has been the question of care for the poor and needy. It may have seemed easier in Jesus’ day, although we know from the Gospels that even then, even in the days of the prophets, there was a tendency to ignore those in need. If everyone who professes faith in God is committed to doing everything possible to help those who lack the basics—food, clothing, shelter, health care, work— then, in fact, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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