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 The Gospel today relates the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. Its message is to invoke in us the meaning of love for one’s neighbor. The parable comprises the second part of the Greatest Commandment “You must love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  If one were to compare this Greatest Commandment with the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites through Moses, the words might be different, but the intent remains the same. The first three Commandments describe our relationship with our God and the depth of our love for him. The last seven Commandments express our obligations to others in assuring that we understand that our love necessarily extends beyond loving ourselves and God.
      The Greatest Commandment identifies with the stark simplicity of the life we are to lead. We often, however, seem unable to comply. The priest and Levite demonstrate the ability to walk away from another as when we believe our priorities are more important than the one suffering along the road. The excuse most often used in the parable was the need for the priest and Levite to avoid contact with any blood. Jewish religion practices forbade a man to participate in any Temple activity until he went through ritual purification after touching blood or a dead body. Practicing religion is more important than a man’s life?
      What are some of the excuses that we often use to avoid helping another? How about the thoughts of fear, hatred, pride, envy, indifference, a stranger, she’s unworthy, he’s not clean, or she’s not of our faith, the absence of faith, inappropriate use of our faith?  If we pause for a moment to consider, not one of these options provides any good reason for not actively demonstrating care for another. The enemy, the devil, will use any means to separate us from God, even religion.
      One of the most unfortunate excuses is to use religion as a cover for failing to attend to another.  We far too often forget that religion is a human creation to express what we think is pleasing to God. If we become so entangled with a religious ritual pattern and dismiss the intent of the meaning associated with the ritual, then we have let the enemy, not God, into our hearts. God’s focus is on love; where we love him and our neighbor.  If our religious practices ultimately do not point to the act of love, then we are falling into the abyss of the enemy.
      The content of the Sunday Mass is to bring us closer to the understanding of the love of God. If we are more concerned about the order of the Mass, then the enemy has turned our focus away from the love of God towards disunity and disruption.  The intrinsic value of the Mass is lost. The enemy is winning if our worry is about the length of candlesticks and the richness of the vestments and not the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It makes no difference whether the Mass is sung or spoken. Whether it is pronounced in Latin or Spanish, or Cantonese, God does not care. God’s concern whether your heart is speaking the words your mouth is saying.
      Assuredly, one of the methods that humans use to show their love to God is by building immense cathedrals and adorning them with beautiful art and treasure. The act of giving back to God in this way demonstrates an intense love for God who has given us everything.  However, lest we forget, God is just as present in a church built by those with limited resources and where the only adornment is a small crucifix behind the altar. The prayers offered at either location, if offered from the heart, are equally pleasing to God, the Father.  Therefore, as with all things, it is what comes from our hearts that shows the extent of our love.
      Recognize that the enemy, the devil, is using our pride as a means to turn us against God when we think of ourselves as more worthy of God‘s love than someone with less. The enemy’s sole purpose is to disrupt our lives and make us believe that if we don’t push our way to first in line, we have failed ourselves. When we use any excuse to make ourselves more important than those around us, we are breaking the Greatest Commandment. We then have consciously or subconsciously have placed our self-love above God or neighbor.  Being alone out on that narrow ledge of self-importance is a frightful place to be, for it is long, painful fall back to reality.
      Love, Jesus tells us that the most pleasing offering that we can give God is in the act of love towards him and our neighbor. There is not an excuse, not even using religion, where we can rationalize our failure to follow this Commandment that is steeped in love. If we routinely find ourselves justifying walking across the road to avoid the beaten man, then we have walked far away from God as well. If we discover that we are shadowing the acts of the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, then we must accept our excuses are the work of the enemy.  Recognition of our egotistic failings is the first step in walking back into the brilliant light of love.
      Deacon Dan Gilbert