2 Timothy 2:8-15
Sailing past the beautiful island of Monte Argentario north of Civitavecchia, a busy port north of Rome, St. Paul of the Cross felt inspired to live in its solitude. Subsequently, he established one of his first residences there for the Passionist community taking shape around him. We were all surprised to see Monte Argentario splashed across the international news programs recently. An Italian Line cruise ship struck a reef and went aground near there. Quite differently from the days of Paul of the Cross, the cruise ship industry has grown extensively in recent years as people seek an economical way to visit foreign countries without the hassle of planes and constant unpacking of luggage. Mariners today have such high tech assistance compared to earlier navigators whose only compass was a primitive form of the sextant to chart their course on an ocean seemingly without borders. But despite modern technology, human error can always fatally complicate a journey which otherwise should have gone well.
In today’s Gospel excerpt from Mark, Jesus responds to the scribes who ask his opinion about the greatest commandment – a standard academic litmus test in rabbinical writings. Jesus cites the Shema, a commandment which God gives Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4 as a compass to help the believer navigate a day and a lifetime. Life in the world can seem like a voyage on an ocean without borders, and without other helpful markers along the way.
But at the same time, Jesus joins a second commandment to the first. It too is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In its original immediate context, this neighbor-love is focused on “your own kinsmen.” Jesus would eventually more explicitly include even enemies under that umbrella of love (Luke 6:27).
Today Jesus offers us these two commandments as a reliable divine compass for our lives. But the Italian cruise liner ominously tipped on its side reminds us that even having the best compass does not exempt us from faithfully fulfilling our responsibilities to God and others.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).