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Bible Reflections View Comments

“The Lord Is Our God, the Lord Alone”
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012
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Many of us in the United States will breathe a huge sigh of relief this coming Wednesday when the campaign ads finally stop polluting the airwaves, the roadside billboards and nearly every page we visit online. In the din, it’s difficult to hear a call to prayer, a call to recognize that God, not any elected official, deserves our undying loyalty. Those working to get our vote have discovered that the best way to do that is to appeal to our most selfish personal interests. “What’s in it for me?” can be the short-sighted but persuasive basis for our judgments in politics, in business, in other day-to-day decisions.

But as we go to vote this week, we also need to keep in mind Jesus’s interpretation of the central Hebrew prayer: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord Alone.” For Jesus, and so for us, love for God can best be expressed in love for our neighbor. And, as we know from other passages in the Gospel, the word neighbor has the broadest possible interpretation, extending even to our enemies.

Our first reading from Deuteronomy is known in Judaism as the Shema, (Hebrew for “Hear”). It is recited every day by faithful Jews. It is part of the Scripture passage that is inserted in the mezuzah (a small decorative box) fastened to the doorway of Jewish homes.

There’s a reason for this prayer being part of one’s daily routine. We need a constant reminder that the Lord is our God, not merely one of many other things, people and ideologies vying for our attention. In the days of Moses, it was a question of other cultures and their many religious idols. In our own day, it’s less religious idolatry than the many demands that the world makes on our time.

It can be far too easy to take our faith for granted. We can get so much more enthusiastic about a sports team, a political campaign, a business venture, a hobby, pouring time and money and energy into pursuits that are at best temporary victories. To some extent, this is because it’s difficult to package and sell religion in the same glitzy way that so much else is marketed. We rightly perceive such attempts as being false to the central message, over-the-top, and desperate. We don’t mind when advertisers rely on fake smiles to sell toothpaste. We mind a great deal when they do the same thing to sell salvation.

Jesus takes our relationship with God, rightly the central point in our lives, and expands our focus so that what we need to do is right in front of us at all times. We can say we love God and then go about our daily business as though it doesn’t make a difference. But if we say we love others, we will have to reckon with the many ways in which we demonstrate that on a daily basis. And Jesus reminds his listeners that religious ritual is no substitution for genuine love for others.

One of the most divisive issues in this year’s political campaigns has been the question of care for the poor and needy. It may have seemed easier in Jesus’ day, although we know from the Gospels that even then, even in the days of the prophets, there was a tendency to ignore those in need. If everyone who professes faith in God is committed to doing everything possible to help those who lack the basics—food, clothing, shelter, health care, work— then, in fact, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.


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Pio of Pietrelcina: In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul's pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter's Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. "This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching," said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio's witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to "a privileged path of sanctity." 
<p>Many people have turned to the Italian Capuchin Franciscan to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease. </p><p>Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income. </p><p>At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. </p><p>On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924. </p><p>Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after a 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned. </p><p>Padre Pio saw Jesus in all the sick and suffering. At his urging, a fine hospital was built on nearby Mount Gargano. The idea arose in 1940; a committee began to collect money. Ground was broken in 1946. Building the hospital was a technical wonder because of the difficulty of getting water there and of hauling up the building supplies. This "House for the Alleviation of Suffering" has 350 beds. </p><p>A number of people have reported cures they believe were received through the intercession of Padre Pio. Those who assisted at his Masses came away edified; several curiosity seekers were deeply moved. Like St. Francis, Padre Pio sometimes had his habit torn or cut by souvenir hunters. </p><p>One of Padre Pio’s sufferings was that unscrupulous people several times circulated prophecies that they claimed originated from him. He never made prophecies about world events and never gave an opinion on matters that he felt belonged to Church authorities to decide. He died on September 23, 1968, and was beatified in 1999.</p> American Catholic Blog In times of intense loss and grief, we take our place with Mary as she embraces all our grief in her own as she is silently holding in her arms the stark presence of our suffering God in the lifeless body of her Son.

 
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