November 4: The Tree of Life (31 B)

“Jesus said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.'” Mark 12:28-34.

Central to Jesus’s mission is the invisible “kingdom of the heart.” In November, and before the start of Advent and the Christmas season, we reflect on saints and souls — those whose lives of holiness have magnified the gospel, and provided role models in our lives.


Today, my prayers are extended to Cecil and David Rosenthal; the two brothers killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. They were there on the Sabbath and at prayer.

A friend of theirs, a Catholic priest, wrote of the two men, whose life challenges bespoke their innocence, “God created your sons in his image.” So this is a sign of our universal brotherhood, personal friendship, and the call to holiness.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about the need for an “informed heart,” a guide or moral compass on our journey of life. How to live the “good life” now, and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves later.

We live in a health and fitness culture that provides plenty of information and advice on how to improve the strength, endurance, and quality of our lives.

As far back as the 19th century, Americans have been especially prone to all forms of self-help, sometimes even quack medicine for the sake of personal improvement. At times such remedies can be bewildering.

Like the older gentleman in the TV commercial who warns his granddaughter about the perils of COPD, aka “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder.” Not something on the mind or the tongue of most six-year-olds.

I’m always reading articles in the New York Times with headlines like:

  • How Exercise May Help the Memory Grow Stronger.
  • Being Fit May Be as Good for you as Not Smoking.
  • Why Sitting may be Bad for your Brain.
  • Exercise Now, Sit in Front of the TV Later.
  • Do Fathers Who Exercise Have Smarter Babies?
  • Seven Hotels Ready to help you get Fit by New Years’.
  • Best Sport for a Longer Life – Try Tennis!

For seniors, additional help comes from the AARP Bulletin (10/2018) and in a recent article, “Brush Away Your Health Risks.” The author Kim Rae Miller writes: “Poor dental habits can have a surprising ripple effect throughout your body. Here’s how a toothbrush, some floss and a little extra sink time could help prevent diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more.” This piece is promising a lot!

All of this is by way of saying that today we have plenty of fitness, medical and nutritional advice in a maze of conflicting suggestions.

Like a latticework of hedges designed as a puzzle, something you would see in Alice in Wonderland, and through which one finds the path to a better life. Time to consult your physician or a professional fitness trainer, or physical therapist.

What about our spiritual lives?

This may be the point of today’s gospel passage in which Jesus sees the maze of religious rules and regulations focuses on what is central and excellent in a tradition for the real benefit of our spiritual well-being.

Recall that Jesus replied to the scribe: “You shall love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Of course, his response was complicated by the 613 commandments found in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the very rules and regulations of the Torah that governed Jewish life. Also, of the 613 commands, 248 were positive, and another 365 were “shall not” or harmful.

With his sharp focus on two commandments, Jesus stresses loyalty, the fidelity of purpose in our spiritual lives, and religious practice.

So it’s upon these principles that we may have an informed heart and, in Jesus’s words, “not far from the kingdom of God.”

Today modern Judaism speaks of five moral precepts: the sanctity of everyday life, repair of the wounded world, benevolence and charity, love neighbor as yourself, and holiness as your God is holy.

This correct path is still very much alive and clearly expressed in Jewish communities like Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, who lost so much last week – with the murder of the eleven congregants, and the anguish caused by such a violent anti- Semitic act.

May their memory be a blessing!

We are not far from the kingdom of God, as we keep to this moral compass that directs us to the love of God and neighbor.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.





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