God’s Greatest Commandment

The mercy which God commissions us to spread in loving our neighbors is not intended to end with just any need being met; it is intended to end with their deepest need being met.

Scott Elmer

When pressed by the Pharisees and scholars of the law to clarify the greatest commandment, Jesus of course responds that it is essentially the first of the Ten Commandments: Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength (Mt 22: 34-40). But he doesn’t stop there. Although he was only asked which one commandment was the greatest, Jesus goes on to announce the second, which he says is like the first, which is to love your neighbor as yourself. Furthermore, Jesus proclaims that the entire law and the words of the prophets depend on these two commandments. 

Why does Jesus’ answer go beyond the confines of the question? Why does he feel the need to elaborate? Isn’t loving God enough? Cannot the law and the prophets depend sufficiently on the first and greatest commandment?

It is a curious nuance that we often overlook, and in a way, has become a bit of a trite remark. “Love thy neighbor…” Many people don’t even know their neighbors, much less love them. My neighbors happen to be my in-laws; I’ll let you decide whether that puts me at an advantage or disadvantage in this task. The fact remains, Jesus necessarily included the commandment to love thy neighbor as yourself and stated that it, along with the love of God, are the commandments on which everything else depends. 

How should we live out this commandment? What is required? Two questions must be answered first: What does it mean to love my neighbor? And who is my neighbor? 

To answer the first, we will actually start with the second. Who is my neighbor? Of course, Jesus also has an answer for this in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). At the end of the parable, Jesus asks which of the three who encountered the man beaten on the side of the road were his neighbors? The lawyer who began the conversation with Jesus replied, “The one who showed him mercy,” to which Jesus responds, “You go, and do likewise.” Here, Jesus adds the powerful quality of mercy to the commandment of loving they neighbor. 

Our love of neighbor must be directed to those who need to experience the mercy of God. Many times, we find our hearts wishing for people to experience the judgment of God, depending on the types of signs we find in their lawns. Jesus, conversely, did not come to bring judgement, but mercy. Don’t worry justice warriors, judgement will still come and I’m sure his wrath will burn hot, but our hearts are better matured in desiring his mercy. 

The Samaritan in the parable was a cultural enemy of the man beaten on the side of the road. By society’s standards, he should be the last person to help much less put up a significant financial gift. They are on different teams, from different parties, have different values. But the mercy of God transcends all of this. His mercy drives and initiates love of neighbor. His mercy opens doors and builds bridges. 

The mercy which God commissions us to spread in loving our neighbors is not intended to end with just any need being met, but with their deepest need being met. Their deepest need and most meaningful response to their misery is a relationship and union with the Living God. Every act of mercy has this as the aim. To love our neighbor means to show mercy in a way that leads to an encounter with God. Our merciful acts should make room for the proclamation of the source of mercy, the salvation of Jesus Christ.

One of the popular magicians from the Las Vegas show “Penn and Teller,” who is an atheist, once explained in an interview that he is not offended when Christians attempt to evangelize him. The way he sees it is that if these people really believe that there is a God who is in Heaven, which is paradise, and the only way to get to this Heaven when we die is to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if we don’t we face eternal damnation, then someone must really have to hate another person to not try to share this news with them. 

So, the final question is one we must ask ourselves: Will we love our neighbors or will we deprive them of the opportunity for lasting relationship with Jesus Christ? 

COMING UP: ‘I have seen the Lord’: St. Vincent de Paul’s new adoration chapel honors St. Mary Magdelene’s witness

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“I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18). 

One couple from St. Vincent de Paul parish took these words to heart with urgency last year during the pandemic and decided to build a Eucharistic Adoration chapel for their fellow faithful to be in the Lord’s presence themselves. 

Mike and Shari Sullivan donated design and construction of the new Eucharistic Adoration Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene adjacent to their parish church to make a space for prayer and adoration that they felt needed to be reinstated, especially during the difficult days of COVID-19. 

The chapel was completed this spring and dedicated during Divine Mercy weekend with a special blessing from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. 

“It was invigorating to have the archbishop bless the chapel,” Mike said. “The church has been buzzing.” 

Mike has been a Catholic and a member of St. Vincent de Paul since his baptism, which he jokes was around the time the cornerstone was placed in 1951. The Sullivans’ five children all attended the attached school and had their sacraments completed at St. Vincent de Paul too. 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila dedicated the St. Mary Magdalene adoration chapel with a prayer and blessing at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on April 9, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

The 26-by 40-foot chapel is a gift to fellow parishioners of a church that has meant so much to their family for decades, and to all who want to participate in prayer and adoration. 

The architect and contractor are both Catholic, which helped in the design of Catholic structure and the construction crew broke ground in mid-December. The Sullivans wanted to reclaim any Catholic artifacts or structural pieces they could for the new chapel. Some of the most striking features of the chapel are the six stained glass windows Mike was able to secure from a demolished church in New York. 

The windows were created by Franz Xaver Zettler who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century.  The Munich style is accomplished by painting detailed pictures on large pieces of glass unlike other stained-glass methods, which use smaller pieces of colored glass to make an image. 

The two primary stained-glass windows depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, the chapel’s namesake, and they frame either side of the altar which holds the tabernacle and monstrance — both reused from St.  Vincent De Paul church.  

The Sullivans wanted to design a cloistered feel for the space and included the traditional grill and archway that opens into the pews and kneelers with woodwork from St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. 

The chapel was generously donated by Mike and Shari Sullivan. The stained glass windows, which depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, were created by Franz Xaver Zettler, who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Shari is a convert to Catholicism and didn’t grow up with the practice of Eucharistic adoration, but St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father John Hilton told her to watch how adoration will transform the parish. She said she knows it will, because of what regular Eucharistic adoration has done for her personally. 

The Sullivans are excited that the teachers at St. Vincent de Paul school plan to bring their classes to the warm and inviting chapel to learn about the practice of adoration and reflect on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The words of St. Mary Magdalene “I have seen the Lord,” have become the motto of the chapel, Mike said, and they are emblazoned on a brass plaque to remind those who enter the holy space of Christ’s presence and the personal transformation offered to those inside.

The St. Vincent de Paul  Church and The Eucharistic Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene is located at 2375 E. Arizona Ave. Denver 80210 on the corner of Arizona and Josephine Street. The chapel is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Visit https://saintvincents.org/adorationchapel1 for more information about the chapel and to look for updates on expanded hours as they occur.