Beyond baby steps
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 26
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3,3-4,47,51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
At first glance, Jesus’ answer to the scribe in today’s Gospel is deceptively simple: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” he says, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. None of his opponents can object to his answer, as its source is one of the key passages of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Then he adds, as if it were an afterthought, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy if I could do even one of these things for more than a few minutes at a time. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to spend a whole day loving God with one’s whole heart, so that no created thing could attract you? To have an hour immersed in a union with God so profound that it excludes every other reality from one’s soul? To be able to pray with one’s mind fixed on God, without distraction, for even 20 minutes? And love my neighbor as myself? First thing in the morning, I’m not even sure I love myself all that much, let alone anybody else.
But God is pleased with our efforts, however feeble the results. We might compare ourselves to a baby taking her first steps: the mother holds the child up, the father kneels about a foot away, the baby takes a first tentative step, a wobbly second, and then falls forward, giggling hysterically, into the delighted father’s arms. The video camera comes out! All the relatives are called! The date is circled on the family calendar! All for a few baby steps.
But like any loving parent, God is pleased with our baby steps toward a mature faith, but not satisfied. After the baby steps, parents want to see their child walk, then run, to learn to skip and to dance and to spin in a circle until he falls down breathless with laughter. In the same way, God wants us to “walk in God’s ways” (Psalm 119:3) to “run in the path of the commandments” (cf. Ps 119:32) and to “praise his name with dancing” (Psalm 149:3).
And just like parents hope their child earns a report card that says, “Plays well with others,” God desires that we live and work and play in loving communion with our neighbors, near and far.
Using similar imagery, the prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict concludes with an expression of profound encouragement that applies not only to monastics but to all Christians:
“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outside. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching . . . until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.”
Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy in Peru. He is also subprior at St. Bede Abbey.