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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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