Too many Christians looking for the easy way, the 'cheap grace'
Archbishop Alex J. Brunett
"Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it, 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'"
These words from today's Gospel are the most important words that we can hear and the most important challenge to our religious faith. What does it all mean when Christ makes such a definitive, all-encompassing declaration?
In the Gospel, Jesus called the gift of a God who loves us infinitely a grace, "The Pearl of Great Price." It has often been said that people want this pearl — the consolation of religion without too much effort; and they want it at a cut-rate price. Just tell me how to comply and what hoops I have to jump through.
Too many Christians are looking for "cheap grace." Cheap grace means that the love of God is accepted as an ideal rather than a reality of my daily lived experience. Cheap grace means that the forgiveness of God is accepted without repentance. Cheap grace is grace without obedience. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living Christ. Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church, indeed of religion itself.
We can understand the importance of the question that was posed to Jesus by the Pharisees. They were so intense about the observance of the law that they expanded the 10 commandments into 613 commandments. There were 365 negatives ("Thou shall not") and 248 positives ("Thou shall"). So they asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment — so many rules and regulations. Jesus answer is clear and concise; he quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy.
"Hear O Israel! Remember this! The Lord — and the Lord alone — is your God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. Never forget these commands that I am giving you today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working. Tie them on your foreheads as a reminder. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates."
This quotation became the backbone and lifestyle of anyone who wanted to live the authentic faith of Israel — they called it the "Shema Israel" and even today orthodox Jewish families will have a plaque on their doorpost with these words, which they would touch each time they entered or left their house. It would be similar to us putting our hand in the holy water font and making the Sign of the Cross as a public act of professing our faith — or the wearing of a cross around our neck.
These words — "Love the Lord your God with you whole mind, heart, and soul and your neighbor as yourself" are also a challenge to our religious faith. What this says to us is that our religion cannot be just a facet of our lives but must stand at the core of our being. We often make too many laws and regulations and forget that all we need to do is to live the essence of our faith in all we do. There is no place in our religious faith that allows us to be embarrassed about what we believe and how we live. Our religion must embrace all aspects of our lives — and that is the challenge.
Recently a religious writer wrote about the fact that so often we are ashamed of our faith. He pointed out that by loving God and neighbor we are not playing games with the meaning of faith. Our religious life and practice make it clear that we belong to the "Fellowship of the Unashamed."
To love God and neighbor is to recognize that the die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
To love God with all my mind, heart and soul means my past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is in God's hands. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, the bare minimum, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, frivolous living, selfish giving and dwarfed goals.
To love God and neighbor means I no longer have to be ashamed or need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, applause or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, the best, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith. I lean on Christ's presence. I love with patience, live by prayer and labor with the power of God's grace.
To love God with all my mind, heart and soul means to set my face. My gait is fast, my goal is eternal life.
My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
To love God and neighbor, I won't give up, shut up, let up or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up and spoken up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give until I drop, speak out until all know and work until he stops me.
And when the day comes that I am called to meet the Lord, he will have no difficulty recognizing me. My banner is clear: I am a part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed. I'm not carrying some incoherent banner with an unruly mob marching nowhere. I seek the "Pearl of Great Price." This is not some cheap, cut-rate religion. You will know that God loves you. You will know that God loves you infinitely. You will know that God wants you to have life, and have it abundantly. You will know that God continuously offers you life and freedom to be the person you were created to be.
That's what it means to love God with your whole mind, your whole heart, you whole soul. It is also the "Pearl of Great Value."
And for all that we say always: Thanks be to God!
(This was Archbishop Brunett's homily at the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Nov. 4.)