The readings today are a call of love – a call from love and a call to love.
Hosea emphasizes God’s love: Out of His immense love God calls to Israel to return to Him, to come back to Him and let Him heal her.
The prophet pictures God as a husband, a longing lover, who seeks out his faithless wife, pleading with her to return. Early in chapter 2, Hosea says what he is going to do: "I shall draw her into the desert and speak to her heart." The loving husband, forgiving everything, will convert her, take her back, pour his love upon her, and heal her. We do not know for certain that Hosea is speaking from his own experience; we do not know whether his own wife deserted him. Some scholars think that it is so and that the Lord prompts Hosea to use his own experience as an image of God’s grief at the loss of his faithless Israel – God’s great pain that Israel has turned away from Him to play the trollop among pagans, that she has left him for dead idols that they have made with their own hands.
In our verses today Hosea switches the image to suit both Israel and Ephraim: the faithless wife has become the faithless son. Using nature imagery, Hosea goes on to paint a wonderful picture of how this Divine Lover will treat the faithless beloved if he would only return – he will grow strong and beautiful, tall and fragrant like the cedars of Lebanon; blossom like the vine, beautiful to look upon: he need only return.
Psalm 81 repeats the call of Hosea – return and let Me bless you; return and let Me love you.
Mark then in his Gospel shows Jesus reaffirming this great call of Love. In His response to the honest scribe, Jesus declares to him the greatest commandment – the great Shema, the prayer of every Israelite:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One!
You shall love your God with all your heart,
With all your soul,
With all your mind,
And with all your strength.
How do we know that we do love the Lord Our God? How do we show that we truly love Him?
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Do I love my neighbor as myself – really, every day? If so, I know then that I love my God.
Today, April 1st, is known in many cultures as April Fool’s Day. One of our Flemish brothers told me the following: In Brugge (Bruges), Belgium, there are many cobblestone streets with very narrow pavements. Back before Vatican II a young priest walking on such a street came face to face with a stout white-haired man who was well known as anti-clerical. The man pulled himself up, looked squarely at the priest, and with a scowl declared loudly, "I don’t step into the gutter for fools!" The young priest bowed, smiled gently, and stepping off the pavement replied, "But I do." Surprised, the man gave a begrudging chuckle. To love your neighbor as yourself – with a smile.
Peter Fitzpatrick, CFX, is a Xaverian Brother living at Ryken House, Louisville, across Bear Grass Creek from the Passionist Community Sacred Heart Monastery