“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.”
That certainly seems simple enough. But we miss the mark on it all the time, don’t we? The idea is to put God first, which of course, is the first of the ten commandments: “I am the LORD your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.” But we have all sorts of strange gods that vie for our attention every day, and way too often, we give in to them, and put something less than god ahead of the God who made us.
Back in my pre-seminary days, I used to work for a print company. I had to manage multiple print projects for a few different customers, and so it was my job to schedule the print time in the plant, get proofs to customers, proofread projects, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It could get very mind-boggling, so I took to writing very detailed to-do lists for myself so that I’d be sure to get everything done in the course of a day.
You probably do something like that too. Whether you are managing a consulting firm or simply trying to get the kids to soccer and choir and reading club at the right times, you probably keep lists to make it easier. I still do it today, and it’s the only way I can keep things going without forgetting something major. These days, I use a computer version, but the idea is the same.
But one of the things I used to do when I worked at the print company was to include a one-word task every single day: “pray.” I found, after I had been working there for a while, that I needed to do that to keep my faith life integrated with my work life. The Scriptures teach us to pray always, and I found that unless I put that on my to-do list every day, there was precious little chance of my stopping to remember God, the One who created me and sustained me and loved me always. Taking five minutes to pray was the least I could do. I kept a Bible and a devotional in one of my desk drawers all the time, and I would take a five-minute break to use them. That kept me a lot more focused during the day, and kept me from getting so full of myself that I made life intolerable for my coworkers. Praying had a lot of benefits in the workplace. And when I got to that one task – “pray” – I would remember to take time to do just that.
One day, I was very sick and couldn’t come in to work. So my friend Joyce, who was my backup partner, filled in for me. The next day, when I came in, I found she had left notes on my to-do list about what she was able to get done, and what happened on some of my projects. Joyce is a woman of faith, so when she got to that “pray” task, I’m sure she smiled, and probably did just that. But she left me a note next to that task that said something like: “Done. But I probably should have made it a novena!” Apparently it had been a hard day!
The point of all this is that we have to make a way to put God first in our lives. Otherwise, if it’s not the busy-ness of the day, then it’s something else that comes first, and it’s almost never God. It could be our status or ego that comes first, it could be money, it could be the latest gadgets or all the luxury comforts that we crave. It could be sports, or it could be family activities, or even laziness that becomes a god for us. And that’s all really sinful. It’s a violation of the first commandment. And it’s the first commandment for a very good reason: because it’s the most basic thing. If we can’t hope to get this one right, we’ll never be very good at all the rest.
These days in our society, I have been wondering what is really first for us. I’m thinking we may have made gods of government bailouts. You’d think that in this time of uncertainty, and on the brink of a pivotal election, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, putting God first even if they haven’t been doing that very well in the recent past. But you’d be wrong. Right now, we’re taking the annual “October Count” – a yearly mass-by-mass attendance count. The attendance counts as compared to registered parishioners this year are running 2-3% lower than last year, and 6-7% lower than this time in 2004. We are hearing that is true from other churches in our area too.
Even for those of us who manage to make the time to come to Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that we are putting God first all the time. We have to find ways to put God first, adding time with him to our to-do lists, making prayer and reflection a part of our daily routine. Because it’s only by doing this that we can nurture a friendship with our God, a friendship that sustains us in bad times and in good, a friendship that ultimately leads us to heaven, that place we were created for by the One who created us.
Jesus makes it plain enough for us in today’s Gospel. Love God and love your neighbor; these are the hallmarks of a Christian’s life, the hallmarks of life for all of us who were created by God and are called to return to God one day. And so it is imperative that we get love of God and love of neighbor right. To neglect these two commandments, which Jesus says today are the basis of the whole law and the prophets, is seriously sinful.
But the good news is that we have the chance, having heard the Word of God, to return and to re-prioritize our to-do lists, putting God first, loving God and neighbor, and coming at last into the presence of our God who loves us first and always. The Psalmist, as always, helps us to make our prayer today: “I love you, LORD, my strength, LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!” He is the LORD and there is no other!