October 31: What’s Best? What’s Good? (31 B)

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

On this last day in October, Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows’ Eve, we celebrate a triduum of All Saints Day on Monday and All Souls on Tuesday. 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 for holiness.

Central to Jesus’s mission is the invisible “kingdom of the heart.” In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus repeat the great “Hear, O Israel!” or the “Shema Israel,” where he draws on Jewish tradition in loving God with “all our strength, and our neighbor as ourself.”

Tomorrow, All Saints Day, we hear Jesus’s teaching on how to live the moral life in his Sermon on the Mount; and on All Souls Day, we hold on to his promise of eternal life.

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

We live in a culture that provides plenty of information and advice on how to improve our lives. Often we’re looking for the best, and not necessarily the good. Often we have plenty of advice and are in a maze of conflicting suggestions and choices.

Take a look at the current issue of the Monterey Weekly, “The Best of Monterey County 2021.” Like a puzzle, the magazine promotes its advertisers and everything from “Best Vaccine Clinic,” “Best Senior Living Community,” “Best Laundromat,” and “Best Burger.” Yes, the In/Out Burger?

Here’s another example, perhaps closer to your concerns. Each year, the Wall Street Journal lists the “best colleges and universities.” Almost immediately after the publication, parents call me for advice and ask whether college or university X is better than Y or Z. Of course, this is an almost impossible set of choices.

Maybe the response is: What’s better for your son or daughter? What’s a good fit in terms of academics, interest, location, educational goals, or the potential for an athletic scholarship. It’s a difficult choice, especially when so much money is involved.

To my mind, “what’s best” may be where you are! Perhaps, t’s that one particular professor who opens the universe in an astronomy course; the Engish teacher carefully reviews your essays with helpful hints on improving your composition. Joining the drama club or the soccer team, but mostly those best friends creating friendships for life. That, to me, is the “best college.”

What is best about our eternal or spiritual well-being?

Jesus’s concern about the invisible kingdom of the heart is the very point of today’s gospel passage. He views the maze of Jewish religious rules and regulations and then focuses on what is central and excellent for the 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 same 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 negative.

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 we have an informed heart that guides our moral compass on our life journey.  How to live the “good life” now, and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves later. Thus, in Jesus’s words, “You 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 communities faithful to this tradition.

Last week as Sunday Mass ended, I gave the closing line to Charlie Brown: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow. Rest this afternoon!” A clear insight, Charlie Brown, you are not far off!

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow — we are not far from the kingdom of God, as we keep to this “golden rule” that directs us to love of God and neighbor.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.


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