Love God First

Love God First

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I often use this Gospel whenever I do baptisms. So, for a newly baptized child I’ll use this Gospel in the Baptism Rite and then talk to the parents, the godparents, and the families.

It’s been a very interesting phenomenon for me because right after I present the Gospel, like I did today, I’ll stop and ask them, “So, what’s the greatest commandment? What’s the greatest thing you can do?”

They’ll raise their hands and 9 out of 10 times they will say, “Treat others as you would like to treat yourself, or treat others as you would like to be treated.” I kind of laugh, and I think, no that’s the Golden Rule.

That’s true, but the greatest commandment is: “Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul.”

One of the things we know about the enemy is that he can never create anything on his own. He can only twist what has been created. I think the thing the enemy has greatly twisted in our age, and in our society, are these two commandments.

I like the airplane analogy where the attendant always says, “Should you experience a decrease in cabin pressure, your oxygen mask will come down. Make sure you put your oxygen mask on fist, and then pick the kid you like the most and put his on second….”

But the reality is you have to put your oxygen mask on first.  Some people will say, “What about helping others?” Yeah, you help the person next to you, but you have to put the oxygen mask on first. It’s a serious thing. If you don’t put your oxygen mask on, you have seconds before you run out of air. That means that the child next to you, the husband next to you, the wife next to you, has no chance of you helping them, if you don’t first put on your oxygen mask.

They’re really connected, you know: loving God with all of our heart, our mind, and our soul, and loving our neighbor as our self. Yes, we’ll come to know God’s love as we love our neighbor. But there’s a reason for the order. Jesus says the first and the greatest commandment is loving God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul. First commandment and the greatest commandment. Then he pauses, I think, and says the second is love your neighbor as yourself.

I want to talk about the first commandment because I think in our age there’s so much of a tendency to ignore that. Just to kind of move on to the second commandment, the Golden Rule, which is wonderful, it’s the Golden Rule for a reason, but there’s even something more important than the Golden Rule. It’s the first commandment. Loving God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul.

I think the reality is that we live in an age of service. We are a service-oriented people. I think this is some of what makes us and our country great at being Americans. We are a people of service.

Often times, when I’m preparing a family for a funeral, they’ll say to me, “Father, he was a really good guy.  He would help anyone. He would do anything for anyone.” Then I’ll ask about his faith: “Well, he didn’t really believe in God. He didn’t pray. He didn’t go to Mass, but he was a really good guy.” I think that really is the heresy of our age.  I’ll just call it “the Good Guy Heresy.”

The Good Guy Heresy is putting the second commandment first, and believing that we can love our neighbor as our self and kind of forget about God. We don’t really need God. But the first – and the greatest – commandment is loving God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul. I think it’s good from time to time that we just ask ourselves,

“Am I in love with God? With all my heart? With every decision that I make? Is he what I give my life to?”

Today we celebrate Priesthood Sunday, and that’s one of the qualities they look for in a priest is someone that wants to give themselves first and foremost to God, and second to his people.

Stop first and ask yourself, “Am I totally in love with God?”

I think about movies, when people first fall in love, you see that moment where they love, and that person just consumes their mind.  It’s all they think about. It decides everything that they do, whatever they are doing at work, or home, or play. They are always thinking about that person.

Is God always on our mind? Do we love him with all of our mind? Are we always thinking about him?

Finally, do we love him with all of our soul?

We are a body and soul, a connected body and soul together, so that everything that we do becomes worship of God. I think that two good ways to look at that are first of all Mass on Sunday. So the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life.

How do we approach Mass? Do we love coming here? Are we excited to come here? Do we come early? Do we hang on every word that’s coming out of the reader’s mouth? Do we yearn to receive the Body of Christ? Do we love God first?

I think Sunday Mass is the source and summit but also our daily prayer. Do we take time every day for that intimate union with God alone?

We have to put on our oxygen masks. We have to take the time to pray. We have to take the time to simply be in love with God. I just offer you that question: Do you do that every day? Is that the center of your day?

We have a tendency to put two one. We have a tendency to put service first and, if we have time for prayer, if we have time for God, then we’ll do that. But Jesus says no. The first commandment is love God with all you heart, all your mind, and all your soul. So you never have to worry about being wrong with spending time with prayer.

You never have to think “am I okay doing this, or am I neglecting other people?” No you’re following the first and greatest commandment.  Let other people be disappointed. Let your family experience a little bit of poverty because you’re worshiping God.

We have to keep him first. Do we love other people? Yes, that comes second, but it comes second, and not first.

The only thing the enemy can do is twist that for us. The enemy will constantly try to get us to be service-oriented without being God-oriented. We have to be totally in love with him, or our service just becomes motivated by other things. It becomes motivated by wanting to feel good or motivated by all kinds of other qualities that aren’t necessarily what God wants us to be doing.

Another way to look at it is to put being first ahead of mission. So, we have to be in love with God before we go out and do mission.  We have to be totally heart, mind, and soul in love with him and then go out and serve.

If we do that, and serve, people will experience God and not us.

But if we serve without first knowing, loving God with all of our heart, mind, and soul, guess whom they’re going to experience when you go out and serve them? Me. You. Who are we called to bring them to, ultimately? God.

Don’t let the priority of two overtake the priority of one. Don’t ever feel bad about spending time with God in prayer. Take every opportunity you have to grow in your spiritual life, take every opportunity the parish gives you to grow in this love of God, so that he may truly be the first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning, the last thing we think about when we go to bed at night.

That we may love him with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.