When I was 12, my uncle passed away. This was a family member on my father’s side whom I had grown up with. My cousins and I were roughly the same age and I knew more or less what it meant when someone passed away. I knew what we were supposed to do as a family. We attended the funeral, celebrated mass together, we visited them often and provided food. Each of us accompanied them in their grief as best we could.
These are the rituals and offerings that are expected of family and friends when someone has suffered a loss. Social norms and rules lay out satisfactory responses and procedures for how we are supposed to respond in certain situations. We have general understood guidelines of how to respond when someone may be sick, when someone is facing a divorce, or when there is a loss of life.
It was not until 2004 when my own father passed away that I realized the limitations of those prescribed responses
Our faith, as well as general social norms, have taught us how to respond. Yes, these formalized responses do serve a purpose. Yes, I do believe they are good. Yet, I now understand that they only begin to touch the surface of what it means to accompany and love someone.
Today’s readings offer a challenge for us to reflect and discern our own reliance on norms and social rules.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, after having delivered the commandments of God Moses tells the people of Israel to “Love the LORD with all their heart, all their soul and all their strength.” After just having provided a detailed list of commandments, that outline the correct way to live and behave, the fundamental principle Moses ends with is "to Love the Lord."
Not just to love – but to love in these three ways with strength, soul and heart. The first reading finishes with Moses asking the people of Israel to take his words to heart.
I live in the beautiful city of Boston. It is known for its history, its vibrancy and of course its sports teams. I live in a part of the city named Brighton. It’s a quiet neighborhood nestled between three universities. It is made up of young people, professionals, immigrants, and families that have lived here for generations.I moved here during my studies and have made this neighborhood my home. At the same time that I began living in Brighton, I began attending a church across the city of Boston named St. Mary of the Angels in Roxbury.
As I traverse Boston to go from one corner of the city to another I am continuously reminded of the separations between neighborhoods and neighbors. These people are strangers to each other, with vast differences in access tofood, education, jobs, and safety. And yet these neighborhoods are never more than 5 miles apart. My church community is diverse – African American, white, and with a large Latino population of newer immigrants. And although I live in Brighton I often know more of the needs of people in Roxbury or Dorchester from being in relationship with the members of my church.
We are living in a time of great division in this country, where people are quick to rise to hatred, and would rather build walls instead of bridges. People who would rather separate and sow discord than promote love among neighbors.
Over the course of 8 years I have been blessed to developed relationships with members of my church community and consider them family here in Boston. I understand more of their lives and reality and have come to love them and their neighborhood. The love that they have given me requires something more from me than if I had just lived in Brighton and not built relationships in Roxbury. Loving my neighbor across the city asks something more of me, more of my heart, my attention and my strength. On the other hand, society asks very little of us when we consider different neighborhoods. Society and the law requires almost nothing in response to those in our own city that may be facing homeless, facing addictions, are low income, or unemployed. Society asks even less of me for those that are facing poverty, exile, human trafficking, or war outside my own borders. Yet today’s readings are a call to us to reflect and question where we are relying on social norms and structures rather than moving closer to the kingdom by loving our neighbor.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is asked by a scribe “What is the greatest commandment?.” The first commandment he gives is the one we saw given by Moses in the first reading. To "love the lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength." But he does not stop here. He states, the second is to "love your neighbor as yourself.”
When the scribe agrees with Jesus, he adds further, that this love for God and love for neighbor is “worth more” than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. And Jesus responds by telling him that he is not far from the Kingdom of God.
I ask myself, how often do I default to do the “right” thing, basing my actions on what society tells me is the prescribed proper response more out of ritual or routine than from a movement from the heart out of love? How often might I follow a checklist to make myself believe that I am doing everything possible for those suffering? Or how often do I rely on society to tell me who my neighbor is?
I imagine myself sitting among the disciples with the scribe and with Jesus, while this conversation is happening. And recognize that I too would not have dared to ask another question. I would be faced then, as I am now, with the undeniable truth that the loving response requires more of my heart, my strength and soul. Today, let us take these words to heart, not only the words of Moses and Jesus, but also of this scribe who posed the question 'what is the greatest commandment?’. He was able to draw from his own understanding and experience and recognized that love is the cornerstone of all the commandments.
Let us then sit with the challenge from today’s readings, recognizing that the love for God and love for neighbor will move us to action in a new way and is worth more than our normal rituals and routines.
Marina was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and grew up in the border towns of Tijuana Baja California and Chula Vista, California. Marina graduated from Boston College Carroll School of Management in 2008 with a major in Accounting and a minor in Latin American Studies. She attended the School of Theology and Ministry, graduating with a master’s degree in Theological Studies in 2010.
In 2010, Marina founded the Montserrat Coalition, an innovative and holistic approach to supporting the needs of low socio-economic students beyond traditional models of financial aid.
In 2013, Marina began working at Catholic Extension Society, a national fundraising organization that financially supports mission dioceses in the United States. Marina’s particular focus is on the development of Hispanic lay leaders within the Catholic Church. At Catholic Extension, Marina travels nationally to serve catholic communities in the poorest and most marginalized areas of the United States.
For the past six years Marina has also volunteered her time at her parish St. Mary of the Angels in Jamaica plain. She has served in a variety of roles such as Parish Council Co-Chair and finance council member as a representative of the Spanish speaking community.