Updated: Mar 7, 2022
As Ascnesion Press Article
In Mark 12:28-29, a teacher of the law, a scribe, asks Jesus which is the most important of the commandments. Jesus answers, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribes and Pharisees were probably looking for Jesus to give an intellectual explanation of the commandments, one that would validate their scholarly views. Instead, Jesus offers the simple, “down to earth” response that loving God and others as ourselves is the essence of true faith. When we desire to be in-tune with God, loving him, and learning his ways, we can make decisions out of love for him, ourselves, and others, a sure guide to living every day.
This “down to earth” message of loving God and others above everything else can be seen today. In 2019, Christian artist and songwriter Danny Gokey released the song “Love God and Love People.” Here are the words of its chorus:
Gotta keep it real simple, keep it real simple. Bring everything right back to ground zero. Cause it all comes down to this. Love God and love people. We’re living in a world that keeps breakin. But if we want to find a way to change it. It all comes down to this Love God and love people.
When we look at what has been most important to the followers of Christ over the past two millennia, it is not a long list of rules and regulations nor a logical ordering of premises and statements. No, it is a simple, “down to earth” call to love God and others in accordance with our state in life. But what exactly does “down to earth” mean when sharing the message of Jesus?
Being “down to earth” is being practical and realistic. Being “down to earth” is being interested in everyday occurrences—that is, rooted in reality. The opposite of “down to earth” is being idealistic or dreamy—one who walks around with his or her “head in the clouds.”
But what does this have to do with sharing the faith? I would argue that based on the greatest commandment, the answer is that we need to be “down to earth” to love people and meet their needs on a day to day basis. At the same time, we are called to love God with all that we are.
One who shares the Faith well focuses on everyday life, on his or her commitments and responsibilities, while at the same time considering all the possibilities in this life and in the life to come. We must have a balance. We must share the faith in ways people can apply to their own lives while at the same calling them to keep heaven in mind.
Romantics, Mystics, and Everyday Life
As an undergraduate, I remember studying the works of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century English poets Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Their poetry was part of a movement in opposition to the “down to earth” formal, disciplined scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment. These poets opted instead for a reflection on reverence for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the mystic and supernatural.
After college, my study of the idealistic romantics merged into reading the lives of the saints and great mystics, particularly St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. I was quickly captivated by how similar their mental focus was to that of the romantics but much more religious focused on a desire of the soul toward intimate union with the divine. These great mystics were often far removed from the world they lived in, always thinking about what was beyond this life and getting in touch with the transcendent, with the divine.
I was struck by how vastly different these ways of thinking and living were to that of my own mother. Every day, my mom would rise early and make breakfast for my father, take the dogs for a walk, and work out in the garden. A strong woman of faith, she lives her life in the day-to-day “down to earth” tasks of life. She focuses on the spiritual and bodily needs of her family and in that work of the day, showing the face of Jesus to those she encounters. While there is a place for contemplating heaven, angels, and miracles, as do the mystics, our faith helps us to be more “down to earth,” being present to those around us while emulating the qualities and virtues of Jesus.
What does this mean for our everyday lives?
The average person of faith is not a contemplative religious, but a caring and compassionate spouse, mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, friend, employee, or neighbor desiring to grow closer to God and to live their lives doing what they can to live out their roles and responsibilities to the best of their abilities. Therefore, I believe sharing the faith has to begin with a “what does this mean for our everyday lives?” Stagnant faith concepts devoid of real-world meaning for an everyday individual will most likely go in one ear and out the other. But sharing the faith from personal experience by talking about how God has touched our lives, helped us grow, or ways we worked through stumbling blocks in our faith will resonate more with the average person because our stories are what they themselves may have, are, or will experience.
Our faith is an intertwined balance between head and heart, as we wrestle with what we learn to be true about our faith and the emotions we feel about it depending on what is happening in our lives at any given time. Our faith is also both bodily and spiritual; we have tangible elements of our faith that we can see and touch and hear, and then some parts of our faith can really only be grasped by a trust of the soul.
You and I need to be both “down to earth” and supernatural in our sharing of the Catholic Faith, sharing from our personal experience but also acknowledging that faith is so much bigger than just ourselves and this earthy world. Pope Benedict XVI says it well: “Faith must become a flame of love within us. A flame that burns in our lives and is propagated to our neighbors. This is the essence of evangelization.”
A faithful flame of love! This flame of love Jesus introduced to us in the gospels two thousand years ago that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, there is no commandment greater or better way to share and live out our faith than this.