I have just come in from Sunday Mass and noticed a number of children and families out celebrating Halloween (the night before All Saints) and wondered how many of them have any idea of its full meaning. I fail to see the purpose of it and wish the marking of this day with images and costumes of the dark side of life would just discontinue.
And so how wonderful, that at the Mass for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, we listened to the readings about our Christian commandments to love God and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
For those of you who have been reading my messages for at least a few years, you will know that I love the Shema Prayer from which our reading in Mark’s Gospel (12:28-34) has its origin. And so, once again I am drawn to remind you of this great Jewish prayer which is prayed at least three times a day reminding them that:
- There is only one God
- God is good and loves them and they should love Him
- God’s rules apply to every part of a person’s life
- Children should be taught about Torah
Interestingly, the Hebrew word Shema means hear or listen. It consists of three paragraphs from the Torah – Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. This is beginning of the prayer:
Hear, O Israel: God is our Lord, God is one.
Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul…..
This is followed by promises they need to make because of having a covenant relationship with God, and the instruction to place these words upon your heart and your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes, as well as inscribing them on your doorposts and on your gates.
When I read this prayer and its associated instructions, I think of my home which has in it holy pictures, images, crosses and crucifixes. These serve to remind me of the call of my baptism to enter into this covenant relationship with my creator God, in whose image I am made and to take seriously the responsibilities this calls me to. We have gifted our children and grandchildren with such images as well, in the hope that they too will remember the close relationship they are called to have with God, with their neighbours and with themselves.
You may have watched the Netflix drama, Shtisel, which tells the story of a Haredi family living in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem. I have enjoyed watching it because of its setting and the depiction of their Jewish customs. The experiences of their lives are ‘normal’ and this normality is surrounded by Jewish religious customs and practices. Their faith provides their lives with a solid foundation, with purpose and meaning which is also what we want for our families and neighbours.
A reflection provided by Richard Leonard SJ for this Sunday’s Gospel finishes with the following paragraph:
Let’s pray in this Eucharist, then, that we will develop our mind, heart, soul and strength to love the One who has created us in love and love those given into our care with the same love we lavish on ourselves. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands nothing less!
In 2017, Pope Francis gave a TED talk titled, Why the only future worth building includes everyone. (https://www.ted.com/talks/his_holiness_pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone?language=en)
Of course, it is worth listening to, as the Pope calls for equality, solidarity and tenderness. I quote from the talk where he reflects on hope as the future:
To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavour to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution.
As I listened to him and read this, I am reminded of our Communion of Saints, here with us now and those who have gone before us. We are all intimately connected in a web of relationships that go beyond this life. We are not asked to understand this, but to live in in the space of mystery. It is ‘you’ who is the link to the ‘us’ and to the revolution of which Pope Francis speaks. I am sure that is why we remember and pray to our saints, in the same way that the First Nations People remember their elders with respect.
So, I invite you to remember those who have gone before you, during this month of November, the month of the Holy Souls.
Director Pastoral Ministries
2 November 2021