PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First
Impressions" the parishioners at St. Joseph of the Holy Family
Parish, Harlem, New York City.
I have a picture on my wall, a gift from a rabbi. It shows her
blessing an unfurled scroll of the Torah. The scroll was old and
tattered, so the community removed it from the tabernacle and from
its beautiful cloth covering. They had it restored, but before
putting it back into the tabernacle, they blessed and rededicated
it. This is how they did it.
With the congregation assembled in the synagogue they unrolled
the scroll and encircled the community with it – some members of the
community, wearing white gloves, held the scroll, all the rest were
inside the circle made by the unfurled scroll. The rabbi, dressed in
liturgical robes and on the inside of the circle with the community,
is shown in the process of rededicating the scroll before putting it
back in the tabernacle. A member of the congregation said, "We
couldn’t just put it away, after all it’s not an antique, a dead
book. It’s the living Word of God." The community was also
rededicated along with the scroll.
Another symbol, or sign of the Jewish community’s dedication to
God’s Word, is also evident, closer to home – in fact, at the
entrance to Jewish homes. It is the mezuzah, a cylinder that is
placed on the doorpost of a home. It contains a scriptural quote.
For example, the one Jesus quotes in part today, "Hear, O Israel!
The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the
Lord, our God, with all your heart and all your soul and with all
your strength" (Dt. 6:4). Where I grew up I used to see my Jewish
neighbors kiss their fingers and then touch the mezuzah on entering
and leaving their homes.
Such is the devotion to God’s Word by our Jewish sisters and
brothers: to encircle a community of worshipers with the written
word; to kiss it as they come and go each day from their homes. Of
course the mazuzah is not a good luck charm, nor kissing it mere
superstition, but an expression of their desire to live a life
guided by and strengthened by God’s Word, as part of a community, in
their homes and beyond.
When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus quoted the
central commandment of Jewish faith, the one posted on the door
frames. Then he takes another teaching, one among many more in the
Old Testament, and places it alongside the first. Total love of God
is the first commandment and joined to it, love of neighbor as
If a pagan were to ask a Jew, "Where is your image of God?" They
would respond, "In God’s image we were made." I.e. "The image of our
God is to be found in each human being." That’s what Jesus is
implying in today’s gospel. How can we mere humans pay proper homage
to an invisible God in our world, in our daily life? Jesus shows us
how. He takes the command about loving God with all of ourselves and
puts with it the love of neighbor. As Scripture suggests elsewhere:
if you want to love the God you can not see, love the human you can
see. Each of us is a dwelling place of God, "In God’s image we were
For a narrative preaching the preacher might pick a favorite
saint, or one relevant to the local community and show how they were
characterized by an intense love of God and neighbor. For example,
one of our great Dominican Saints was Rose of Lima. She was born in
Lima Peru in 1586 and her name was Isabel. But they called her Rose
because of her extraordinary beauty. She was besieged by suitors.
The parents hoped for a "good marriage;" a good financial
arrangement, because they needed the money. Rose longed for the day
when she could live for God alone. Her model was Catherine of Siena
(another great woman Dominican). Catherine spent three years in her
parent’s home under a staircase in constant prayer. Rose imitated
Catherine, moved into a little hut in the garden and devoted herself
to constant prayer. Remember, "You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind."
But like Catherine, Christ urged Rose out and she practiced works
of mercy for the poor, the indigenous and slaves. In addition, she
wasn’t just concerned about personal sin, but social sin; the
Spanish had conquered and oppressed the natives. Rose had wanted to
love God with all her heart, with all her soul with all her mind and
she did that by devoting her heart, soul and mind to loving her
neighbor. Just like us gathered in worship, Rose was encircled by
the Word of God and it was as if she kissed that Word and was guided
by it in her going to and coming from serving others.
I chose Rose of Lima, with a side reference to Catherine, not
just because they were Dominicans, but to illustrate that the life
of any saint puts flesh and blood on the teachings of Jesus. They
show us what God’s grace can accomplish within us; that we mere
humans are capable, with God, of loving God with all our heart, soul
and mind – and our neighbor as our self.
The first reading from Exodus shows that God has always been
especially concerned about the neediest in society. Today’s
selection comes from a section in Exodus called the "book of the
covenant," which is a teaching of social ethics based, not on laws,
but on compassion. For those in most need, laws that prohibit
certain acts are not enough to protect them.
Because the Israelites experienced God’s compassion when they
were slaves in Egypt and as they traveled through the desert they,
in turn, were to be compassionate to those in similar need. Their
laws were to reflect the compassion they received. For example, they
were to remember that they were once aliens in Egypt, so they were
not to wrong the alien or stranger in their own land.
The media coverage of our own border situation these days has
made us aware of the dire circumstances of those who have had to
leave their homes because of poverty and violence to find refuge in
our country. Strangers and immigrants in a strange land are
vulnerable to abuse and being taken advantage of. They have left the
support of their families, culture and familiar surroundings in an
attempt to flee their homeland and find protection. In many ways
they are like the Israelites in Egypt, strangers in a foreign land
and totally dependent on the hospitality of its native people – us.
For more information and possible action see our "Justice
Bulletin" below. Also, on the webpage of the United States Catholic
Conference there is a sample letter the bishops suggest we send to
our Representatives and Senators about immigration reform. The
letter is also an informative and brief summary of the bishops’
teaching about immigration. Perhaps our response to the Exodus
teaching about compassion and Jesus’ summary of the commandments,
could be to do as the bishops have requested – write to our
representatives about our Church’s stance on immigration reform. Go
here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
. While the legal situation of the children at the border is not
clear, the petition addresses things the government can remedy most
quickly on immigration and reads as follows:
Dear Secretary Johnson:
We, the undersigned, join the bishops from the USCCB
Committee on Migration and the Catholic Legal
Immigration Network, Inc. (September 9, 2014)
in urging you to use your executive authority to protect
undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible.
Specifically, "we urge you to authorize deferred action for the
following groups, consistent with current bars for those who have
committed serious crimes:
1. Immigrants with strong community ties and equities in the U.S.
who have lived in the U.S. for ten years or longer.
2. Parents of U.S. citizens.
3. Parents of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood
4. Individuals residing in the U.S. with already approved family
and employment petitions."
Coordinator of Social
Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.