Monday, March 11, 2013

Loving God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength

Just last week in Friday’s Mass reading we saw Jesus reminding the scribe about the first of all the commandments, which is to love God with all our heart, our soul, mind and strength.  Mark’s gospel differs slightly from Matthew’s in this. But this has not changed, and will not change as a primary commandment for all of us.  Everything else flows from this, and it is when we get this right, that we will see life in a very different light than how a purely secular eye sees life.  The problem with our eyes, I believe, is that we have been influenced very much with a worldly, secular and utilitarian world, which puts the self much more in front of the God who we should be loving first.

How does the world love?  It’s not that difficult to give a general definition.  The world often loves only when it is assured of some tangible and selfish gain or return.  Seldom would it be the first to reach out in an overture of goodness and love, with little thought of getting some assurance that this would not be a wasted venture.  Many couples that ‘love’ one another with this mind enter into marriages with an idea that they are ‘getting’ something from their spouse in marriage rather than being one who is going to give and provide from the heart.  This often shows up much later in the marriage when the ‘honeymoon’ period is over, and real life needs to be lived.

Having said this, is it an easy task to love God and put him first in everything that we do?  If this is indeed the panacea for all of our problems and woes, why is this difficult to achieve and sustain?  Are only a few graced with the ability to be constantly mindful of this?  If so, who are they?  Monks?  Nuns?  Priests?  Bishops?  How could this be?  In a lot of honest writing and reflection, I have come across hoards of religious who have themselves expressed how frustrating and difficult it is to love God so ardently and so wholeheartedly.  What are we to make out of this?  If religious find it hard, how much more would the laity I am sure.

I do not find it easy myself.  I certainly do not find it easy to do so in my current state of being shunted in a hospital room, where I hardly get out to see the sun, and on chemo reaction days, find my insides wanting to see the outside.  I remember saying to myself in the midst of my retching episode last week – “God, can I really praise you and thank you for your goodness even in all this agony?” Sitting on a chair in a hospital room with a barf bag may not seem to be a time for praising God.  But isn’t the first commandment one that we should be loving God with ALL of our heart, mind, soul and strength, even when we don’t ‘feel’ like it, and when we are puking our guts out into a bag?  What does it mean then?  I think it means that God wants and appreciates all our moments of our days when we are aware of his presence in our lives, even when things are not going well, not seen to be pleasant and when life is tough. 

Liturgically, this pans out very correctly.  Each Sunday, the thousands and millions that take the effort to go to Church certainly do not ‘feel’ like praising and loving God at the same time.  Some may be suffering, some may have had a terrible quarrel with the spouse or a family fight the day before, some may even have doubts about why they are going there in the first place.  Some may disagree with the music, have negative thoughts about the preaching delivered, and perhaps only a small minority are able to really attune themselves with the actions and words of the liturgy.  But what is important to God is that there is a unified concerted effort of the Church (which is the Body of Christ) to make an active effort of worship that tries to honour that first commandment. 

But the question remains – why should we love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength?  Because God loved us first and has deemed to show this to us not just in nature, but also in the amazing act of the incarnation which displays his mercy.  All that remains for us is to respond to this with our daily acts of responsive love and awareness.  With lots to distract us, this does become a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. 

In his scholastic theology, St Thomas Aquinas wrote much on the notion of grace, and categorizes grace into prevenient, consequent, operative and cooperative grace, to name a few.  It is cooperative grace that many of us don’t think much of or place much emphasis on in our spiritual lives.  Cooperative grace is the desire of God to elicit our human cooperation to his outward reach of his primary grace to us.  In other words, in cooperative grace, God is waiting for our response and respects our free will before he acts.  It is not a quid-pro-quo notion of grace, but rather a display of respect and utter freedom. 

Don’t we do this with our own children?  Much of the important things in life we may impose on them without consultation, but in other things, when we want to show them our awareness of their maturity of thought and being, we seek their cooperation and responses too.  This then, is the same notion brought to a divine level.

This Sunday was the celebration of Laetare Sunday, which means Rejoice Sunday, taking the name from the opening words of the Mass’ Introit, calling Jerusalem to ‘rejoice’ as the sorrow she has experienced will encounter consolation.  It marks the mid-point of our Lenten journey thus far, and the visible mood in Church is lifted with the donning of Rose Vestments and that flowers are permitted to be adorn the altar this day.  This should help those who really don’t ‘feel’ like rejoicing, to cast aside their feelings and join the universal church in her act of worship as a body.  Let this be our ‘cooperation’ to God’s offer of unmerited and underserved love and begin to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  

Even if we have to approach him with our barf bag in hand.  


  1. Dear Fr Luke,

    God the invisible is difficult to love and I often lose Him in the midst of living in a world where His presence is not obvious especially amongst the pain, sufferings, injustices and tragedies experienced around us. I find and hang on to that love of God through love of people, the neighbours in my life, who like me is created in the image of God and loving them is loving God. Jesus knows how hard it is to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind and He followed up with the next commandment in Mathew 22:39 "And the second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ " In the midst of disease and other tragedies, when God seems distant, I often experience the greatest amount of love from people around me and also it seems easier for me to love them back even complete strangers.

    Know that love is all around you from people seen and unseen and that God is with you always.

    Richard Contardo

  2. Dear Fr. Luke

    Please allow me to say this, "YES! You can praise & worship God with all your heart, mind and soul." Please be strong and brave the battlefront. Do not give up, as God is LOVE! You know God only works in HIS own miraculous WAY and TIME. I've been through a series of trials and hurts, yet even if I have given up, HE still continued to work in HIS way to talk to me and touch me. I was a proud and "rebellious" like the prodigal son, but HE, Our Father, has used his healing grace to move & touch me and return to his flock.

    He sent me a message, my turning point I would say. Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you."

    Remember, Father Luke... "Jesus Loves You!".

    Zita (St Iggy)

  3. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for being so self-deprecatingly humorous despite your painful journey. Whenever I read your journaling, it feels like I am reading C.S. Lewis, who is yet another great mind. Figuratively speaking, I can identify right here right now on "being alone in a room - wondering what's all this for - barf bag in hand". I guess all our journeys are parallels of one another's when we take them out of their literal sense.

    Flowing molasses, Fr Luke.....


  4. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Thank you for sharing your story to us. I can't even imagine the pain that you are going through and how difficult it is for you. It's really very difficult to love God with all that we are and all that we have especially if we are going through very tough times. But remember that He is always with us and will NEVER leave or forsake us. Never give up and never lose faith father. The Lord is with you.


  5. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    As your analogy of parents seeking their children’s cooperation and response, to show them our awareness of their maturity of thought and being…

    I would like to romanticize our faith journey of growing in love with God as a dance, where God allows us to be an equal partner. And as any dance, there is always a time of forward steps and backward steps. My dance with God, I picture as the arduous dance of a repetitive two steps forward and a step back.

    In my back steps moments, when I was inconsolable with desperate petitions and intercessions unanswered…where I cried, pleaded, questioned why and begged, when His answer to me is a deafening silence... It is precisely at these moments, faith is called to the test, or rather love is. How much do I love God, to make the decision to trust him stoically despite the overwhelming emotions engulfing me, when it is so easy to rant instead of surrender? Yet with prayer and painful practice, once the choice is made to surrender and trust and to praise Him in the storm, faith and love is purified and matures, and the backward step gets easier to overcome. Hoping one day, I may be able to waltz with God, following His lead in a complete beautiful dance. - a song that is on repeat mode whenever I am on my back step struggling with tears , to praise Him.

    God is with you always, Fr. Luke.
    United in prayers, your flock loves you,
    as we continue to pray unceasingly for you.


  6. Dear Fr Luke,

    Many years ago, I read a book by this late cardinal who wrote it while he was being treated for cancer. I remember till this day something he said about prayer: "Pray always especially when you are well, because when you are sick and unable to pray the prayers made when you were well will sustain you during your sickness". God knows all you are going through and He will always be your side to help you through all your difficult moments. God sees all you have been doing for Him and He will not forsake you. God loves you, Fr Luke

  7. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I'm sorry you're suffering so much, but I wanted to let you know that you remain in my prayers, and that I'm asking Sts. Raphael and Peregrine to intercede for you and I posted novenas to both of them in the student lounge here at DHS. I have a long-standing devotion to St. Raphael in particular, so I know he's a heavy-hitter spiritually speaking, and will remain with you throughout your trials and suffering.


  8. Dear Fr Luke,

    In answering God's call, the apostles faced hardship, darkness and unknown dangers. But God's promise to be with them ALWAYS gave them unfailing hope.So whatever cross we must carry, we simply must TRUST Him. Take care, Fr Luke.

  9. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for your wonderful sharing. You have a very different and enlightening way of presenting God's word to us, which I always find very refreshing and motivating. Please continue to show us the way to love God. You are always in my prayers.

  10. Dear Fr. Luke,

    You will over come this because the Lord is with you and he will send his Holy Spirit to heal you.

    You are a wonderful priest and a good person, You are always in our prayers!

    Love Always,
    Laurence & Tina

  11. ‘’Even if we have to approach him with our barf bag in hand. ‘’

    This concluding line of your post captures my imagination...................(apart from its humour element ) for it also speaks a truth – that touches the core of one’s being. It reveals that love is such a strong force that it is not turned away by adversity. When a soul is suffering – physically, mentally and emotionally - yet continues to be undaunted in its belief and trust that it is still His beloved – it is the hallmark of a true lover. For it makes light of difficulties, discomforts and setbacks, knows no limits and still tries to do all things for the beloved – yes, even with barf bag in hand! This imagery may seem so incongruous and the offer of love seemingly ‘paltry’ as compared to other more staidly/stately forms of love offering. However, I believe He sees the Effort ( like you said)and not the Form and I am sure - that is more pleasing to Him.

    Moreover, approaching Him ‘’with barf bag in hand’’ also shows a growing and maturing love for the confidence one has that despite everything one is still lovable, still acceptable to Him – no matter how the illness has taken its toll, no matter whether one understands or not the mystery of one’s suffering. I believe it also pleases Him that one still approaches Him even in such a deplorable state for it would mean that one does not consider the gift of the Lover as much as the love of the Giver. In short, whether the ‘’gift’’ is riches or sickness, it is of no consequence for desiring Him is above all gifts!

    Thank you for a beautiful sharing. God bless you, Fr.


  12. Hi Fr Luke,
    Know that our Lord is present in you and all around you.We pray that God will grant you the grace to smile,when the going gets tough.May God shroud you with the warmth of the Holy Spirit.
    Miss your guidance Fr Luke.

  13. Hi Fr Luke,
    Lent and your Faith blog made me aware of the suffering and affliction of all others. The truth that comes out of living in faith allows us to rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer (as voiced in Roman 12:12). Then, it comes to mind how one could share to others the joy of courage, when it could not be so easily explained. The blog seems to have many verses from the Bible wrapped around it, so I went to read and find the theology behind it. Perhaps your blog was also the cure, for my inactive reading of the bible. Coincidentally, when I come to checking Mathew 12 and Chapter 4 of Mark on worldly distractions vs the wisdom for seeing God, I end up stopping with the First Commandment and Second in Mark 12. I knew I found the theological reason behind "Faith and Faithfulness" blog and stopped to reflect. The same topics in this blog comes pouring out like water of life out of a newly dug well; when I reflect and extend on it. It takes humility to graze by the reading of Mark 4 and understand God's humour behind the Word because we, as humanly within, is profoundly predictable when it comes to worldly distractions.

    I think Mark 4 and the First Commandment also delimits where we could go when afflicted. We need not praise God having an arrow in our head and not having an ability to stand when we are sick. But it does tell us to have God in our heart, lament or pray to God when we can. We still should know the world to full knowledge, care for our health and even hope to overcome our worldly state for sake of holy will. It does not mean God is not watching. Surely, God had wireless cameras on the afflicted -pun intended-; like the monk St John in his cell and Elijah in his oasis. If either Saint or God, had not care for their own escape, then the past would have less to tell. It does take a Saintly effort to listen to grace of God while afflicted, having a wisdom to understand and be ever close in prayer, caring for others yet peaceful. This wisdom free us from worldly worries and give us strength to pray for others and grow much more spiritually. When we start to know that even our physical weakness or affliction does not stop the closeness to God. Then, it start to cross the barrier of man. There is joy in grace, joy in courage and holiness in aligning oneself for just glory of God. The responses to the earlier blog, reflects the experience of many that our spiritual faith and spiritual life can grow independently despite the weakening of our own physical state. The First Commandment is a living gift to counter worldly-ness, through faith and prayer.

    Lets put 1 King 17, interpreted in context of human and God: Elijah despite doing the will of God is isolated in the oasis, hungry from the famine which he is not in fairness to receive. Despite his weak state, the food ran out but still he listened with grace, hear the call of God to go seek food from a widow by the city. It did not end there, Elijah was shocked to learn that the son of the widow who feed him is now breathless and dying. Elijah who trust God's mercy prayed 3 times, calling out to God to save him and breath of life came back to the son. We as man, are much like that widow who believe that all of God's love is lost on seeing affliction, despite how much we did in God's will, giving up when we do not understand our world and God. Yet Elijah went through hopelessness and still have enough presence of mind and faith to save the widow's son. I don't think he would have survived had the widow not complained to Elijah or Elijah petitioned to God. Perhaps we are not born Prophets and Saints but God will open heaven and Fr Luke would break his room door if any laity would always think like the widow and not getting out of it.

    Fr Luke, continue and do take best of care. Have God in your heart and courage ready like your bag beside. God is with you.


  14. Shalom Fr Luke!

    GOD is with you! We are praying for you daily!

    I was struck by your sharing and would like to add on to what you just said. I, like most, was raised in a very competitive and secular environment and was convinced that GOD is not real because I could not feel HIS presence no matter how hard I tried, much less Love HIM until I attended the Conversion Experience Retreat in the Catholic Spirituality Centre.

    I now know why. The Holy Spirit within me was "sleeping" as I was cutoff from GOD through SINs. All of us have sinned and fell short of the Glory of GOD and we no longer realize what SIN is because it has become habits and is part of our Life as St Paul clearly spelt out in his letter to the Romans. Thank GOD, I was reconciled to GOD in the retreat as I repented. HIS Grace now fills my days and the secret is to Desire HIM through my daily actions which calls for a change of habits. GOD knows my Desire and because I made a decision to Love HIM, HE grants me all the Graces necessary to change and shape me into doing HIS Will without me even trying. HIS Grace is all I need as I do not need to justify my salvation based on works but by my Faith, but Good works will flow as a result of my Faith. I only pray that more Catholics will be encouraged and take this leap of Faith in reconciling with GOD and Experience the Love of Our Father which the World desperately need and promise to deliver but can never give!
    Please spread the Good News!

    Jesus Loves You!