A memory of college that still makes me laugh happened when my Humanities class was assigned to read Moby Dick. Spring was just starting and so the days of warmer, gentle weather enveloped us weary students with relief after the relentless winter spent in rural Illinois.
I was plodding through the novel on a balmy Saturday afternoon, trying to get myself through what seemed like endlessly long and impossible nautical passages. Looking for diversion, I went to my friend’s dorm room only to find Moby Dick stretched across her face as she snored beneath its pages. I collapsed in laughter and lay down on her roommate’s bed to catch a few winks myself.
About a week later, having only made it through a couple chapters, she asked me to give her the "gist" of the novel. Hmmm. "Well, let’s see, there is this whale…"
Which brings me to today’s Gospel. If one were inclined to say, "Just give me the gist of the heart of Christianity," Jesus himself distills centuries of complicated biblical history and spiritual evolution to this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
It is a "simple" message and a call that takes a lifetime to embrace. For me, there are endless false starts and do-overs. But with immeasurable compassion, this abundantly patient Lover of humanity calls out to us, asking only that we use fully the precious gifts He gave us to return that love, and to share love generously with our struggling neighbors as well.
As we continue in our Lenten journey, perhaps we can ask ourselves today who we feel distant from, including God, and whether it is possible to open our heart as God has so graciously opened His heart to us? Can we set aside all the noise, distractions and judgments so that we may love, with abandon, our God, our neighbor, our self?
Nancy Nickel is director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago, Illinois.