|Mezuzah - Shema on Doorposts|
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
This weekend Mother Church recalls that ancient creed of the Jewish people, the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
This prayer was one of the most common prayers for the Jewish people, comparable to our Hail Mary and Our Father as Catholics. Jews were prayed it in the morning and evening, had to keep it posted on their doorposts and touch it when coming or going, bound it on their hands and foreheads during certain prayer times, and were encouraged to make it the last words spoken before death. It was for them a most powerful prayer and one that must be prayed frequently and reverently. As our ancestors in the faith, it still has great importance for us today.
It’s significant to note that the first word is ‘Hear.’ We are meant to listen! To listen is to acknowledge, firstly, that someone is speaking – namely, the Lord. And to hear rather than speak means that we are submitting to the one speaking. As listeners or hearers for the LORD, we recognize that we are called to be attentive to the words spoke and to strive to put them into action, not to take the words and attempt to craft our own rules or plans. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, forgot this reality and when they heard the Lord speak to them they heard with their ears but they didn’t really listen with their heart. Rather than receiving the Word purely they twisted it to become what they desired rather than what the Lord willed. And ever since that first fall into sin, we have the task, by God’s grace, of striving to actually hear the God speak to us purely, without ourselves getting in the way.
We’ve all likely played the telephone game where you start with a phrase and whisper it to the person next to you and quite often when it gets to the last person it resembles nothing of the original phrase. In reference to our faith, we are called to receive it purely and to convey it purely so that the same message we receive from God is the message we live and pass on to the next generation. This is what God desires for us. As the Shema continues, it points out that the LORD is our God, the LORD alone! This means that not only are other things supposed to take a back seat to the LORD, but that in hearing His Word, we are not able to change it. God is God and we are not; He sets the rules and we are to hear and heed them.
Lately with all the talk about moral issues, economics, foreign policy and the like, I’ve seen a number of people – nationally and more locally – who call themselves Catholics and yet at the same time reject the very teaching that the Church has upheld since her founding by Christ. Archbishop Charles Chaput responded to this recently, saying:
“’Catholic’ is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.”
It can be tough to conform our minds to that of the Church and none of us is exempt from the struggle to do so. Sometimes the teachings of the Church are things beyond what we can comprehend, seem useless or overly pious, or even oppressive and out of touch with the world today. No matter what the issue, the reality is that if we differ from the teaching of the Church on a major issue that she has stood firmly on, then it is not she who needs to change but rather we who need to change. It is interesting to note that when Christ says the Shema in the Gospel passage the phrase “with all your mind” is added. He knew well that much of what He spoke was difficult for people to grasp in their mind and consent to. We see it most clearly in John 6 when He teaches on the Bread of Life and people leave because they are hard words to accept. Christ didn’t change His teaching, he clarified and invited those who could accept it to continue with Him. The same applies today. As we hear the Shema today, the Lord invites us to hear His voice and His truth and to rest in it and to live it out. In this we will find peace and eternal joy. May God grant us today the grace today to hear well His words, to set ourselves aside and love Christ with our whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind.