Today we continue the twelfth chapter of Saint Mark’s gospel and find yet more questions being asked to Jesus. Tuesday we heard the question about paying taxes to Caesar, yesterday the story of the seven brothers, the woman, and marriage in heaven. Today Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment.
Jesus’ response – namely, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves – is something we’ve heard many times. These two commandments are really a short form of the Ten Commandments given in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. To love God is to worship Him alone, to keep holy His name, and to keep holy the Sabbath day. To love your neighbor is to honor your parents, to avoid adultery, killing, stealing, etc. etc. If we try to apply these to our daily life we can see the commands to respect others and their property, as well as to be generous in giving of ourselves and our time. With all of the ministries here at Our Lady of Mercy and simply by looking around us throughout the day, there are many opportunities for us to love our neighbors in a tangible way.
Above all of these works though, there is one work of charity that is greater than all others. That one work is to be holy ourselves; to love God first. If we fail to love God and keep the first three commandments, we can certainly do a lot of good in the world and help with things in this life. But if we do love God and keep Him first, then not only can we do a ton of good things for people in this life, we can also help them with gifts that will last in the next life. If we entrust ourselves to God and have a solid relationship with Him, He will work through us in incredible ways to transform others and even the world.
Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions embody these commandments. Charles worked tirelessly to protect young children from the tyrannical king of Uganda and no doubt did many charitable works for the people around him. What was most valuable to the people of Uganda though was his love for God, which resulted in his martyrdom. The missionaries who had first evangelized them, upon returning several years later after expelled from the country, found a group of 500 Christians and over a thousand catechumens waiting for entry into the faith. This gift of faith, which leads to eternal life, then shows the value that our own relationship with God has in being a grace to others. May the death of Saint Charles and his companions inspire us all to love God and others more and being willing to lay down our lives even in the small things, knowing that what is important is not really how we live for God but how we die for Him daily.