The Lord says this:
Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.
Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.
To love him with all your heart
Since the middle of last year, I have been experiencing bad anxiety over my various responsibilities. The new challenges that came with PhD research somehow brought about a great deal of worry and an unprecedented sense of desperation. I found myself sinking into despair often, believing that I would not pull through, and was completely unable to place things in God’s hands.
Today’s gospel passage is a well-known one. It sounds straightforward, what Jesus said. But what does it really mean to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength? It means that we abide by all the commandments, even if we are tempted to do otherwise. It means that we prioritise God in the use of our time and when making decisions. It means that we spend a lot of our time in prayer, just to be in regular communion with God. It means that we recognise that everything that we are, that we have, comes from God. Without Him, we are literally nothing.
I think that I have not come to truly see God as the Lord and ruler of my life. There are still many things that I want to hang on to, and my habit is to rely on myself and my own abilities rather than on God. Even though I have pulled through several seemingly insurmountable challenges during the past year, I am still not completely convinced of God’s ability to make the impossible possible. There are moments when I do feel that He is real and has given me so many graces, but there are many more when I cannot see anything except a thick opaque wall of gloom. In such times, I try to fall back on the teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, particularly his advice on what to do during times of desolation. One of his exhortations is to maintain spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation. I see this act as being an example of living out the first commandment, because we would be making great effort to resist the desolation. May the Lord help us find the strength to love Him even when we do not feel like it.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: We pray that we will learn to love our Lord even in the most trying circumstances, and truly appreciate that we are nothing without Him.
Thanksgiving: We thank our loving Father for the abundance of His generosity and mercy.