‘I’ grew up attending catechism classes in the late 60’s. Maybe I was a poor student. I seem to recall that the most important part of my Catholic faith was to memorize the Ten Commandments. The words of Moses were drilled into me, “If you fear the Lord your God all the days of your life and if you keep all his laws and commandments which I lay on you, you will have a long life”. (Today’s first reading)
My Catholic faith life was built on this literal fear of God. It took me a life journey to understand that God-fearing was not this type of fear. My God was almighty, distant and authoritative. God is always waiting to punish if I broke any of the Ten. For a Catholic like me, the idea that I can have a personal relationship with God is an impossible, somewhat sacrilegious, concept.
My belief in God was largely a personal matter. I was never comfortable sharing it. The only outward sign was my attendance at Sunday mass. I was however, a strong believer without any challenging doubts. I worshipped God, and I literally feared him. But was I really in love with him? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart”.
I must have missed class or was not listening when they taught this: “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. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’” (Today’s Gospel). For the longest of time, I was caught in this one dimensional vertical aspect of God, Church and faith. I was also praying fervently without hearing any answers.
God’s mode of communication is mostly through our ‘neighbour’. Whatever God wants to do for us, mostly it is done through the acts of people around us. Often the answer to our prayers is heard or seen through our ‘neighbour’. God communicates a lot with us. Often his strongest messages come through the love our neighbours have for us, be they family, friends or strangers.
We need to fall in love with God. It is through true love that I finally got to know a personal God. The more I encountered love in my neighbours, the more I encountered God in daily life. The more I participated in this call to love God and love my neighbour, the better I know God. In truth, he isn’t distant or authoritative. The more encounters I have with God, the closer I feel towards him. And through all these encounters, a personal relationship with God developed. It is no longer an impossible concept.
We must come out of hiding. Our faith is not a personal matter, “between God and me”. It is not just about memorising the Ten Commandments but about having a personal relationship with him. For that to happen we must allow God to communicate with us.
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time