We’re all familiar with the Great Commandment of Christ (actually, the two of them). What we’re probably not so familiar with is putting it into practice, perhaps because it may seem to be an impossible (or worse, impractical) ideal, but God does not command the impossible—though He may command the impractical!
The question came up in a simple rabbinical discussion about the commandments of God. A scribe asked Jesus: “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus gave the unabridged version: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark -30). He added loving one’s neighbor as oneself, with the concluding comment: “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
When I read the Scriptures (usually in the wee hours of the morning), I often write down a passage that particularly speaks to me, something that I will try to carry with me through the day. When I come to the above passage in the Gospels, I seem always to write that one down, despite whatever else may be in that particular chapter. Perhaps this is because it is something I always need to be reminded of, something that is so essential to Christian faith and life that it shouldn’t be forgotten for a single day. Perhaps also this is because I seem daily to fall short of the “all” required by Jesus in this greatest of commandments.
One can make a general (or even formal and specific) consecration of one’s life to God and still not be giving all—loving Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. I’m not loving Him with all my mind, for example, if I expose it to words or images or thoughts that are contrary to his truth, justice, mercy, holiness and purity. I’m not loving Him with all my strength if I tend to be lazy, procrastinating, or sluggish, especially when it comes to my obligations for prayer, fasting, worship, or active charity.
While it may be a long process to reach the point of “all,” as the saints did, the Lord requires our constant efforts (in co-operation with his constant outpouring of grace) to attain to this level of love and fidelity to God. This will entail not only a “cleaning up of our act” regarding the obvious or gross violations of his commandments, but also a sincere and penetrating examination of conscience—of heart, mind, and soul. Where is our treasure? There will our heart be also. What do we find attractive or interesting? There will be our mind. To whom is our allegiance, and how many masters do we serve? There will be our soul. What do we find most worthy of the commitment of our time and energy? There we will apply our strength.
I heard recently in a reading from a Bible commentary that we cannot simply devote part of our time to God and part to worldly affairs. All must be for God. That doesn’t mean there are no more worldly affairs to deal with (even monks, alas, have to deal with some), but all affairs, divine or human, must be caught up into our relationship to God, must somehow be a part of our service to Him. If we are involved in something that could in no way be considered a service to Him, that cannot be offered as a sacrifice or cannot be done in good conscience under his watchful eye, then we shouldn’t be involved in it at all. All the duties (and the legitimate leisure) of our state in life can be taken up into our wholehearted love of God.
But we have to make it so, more and more consciously. To have a vague, general intention of living for God is insufficient to fulfill the Great Commandment. We really have to pray and work to make the “all” an experienced reality, something that drives us from within, that energizes, enhances, and graces our thoughts, words, and actions of each day. What a beautiful life it would be, if we could live it while loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We would then realize what it means to be a child of God, with all the riches of grace.
That’s the life He wills for us, makes possible for us, and to which He calls us. It prepares us for the life of Heaven, the fullness of loving God with all… If we don’t do it during this life, we won’t be able to start doing it in the next. Begin now. God created your whole heart and mind and soul. Offer them back to Him with love.