Give All or Keep All (A reflection by Fr. Ogoe, based on Mark 12:29-30)


There is something about love that we need to understand. By the very nature of love, it must be expressed in full or it ceases to be what it is. God created man in his own image and likeness. And in the very act of creation, God made Adam and Eve a married couple (cf. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, n. 3). As a couple they were called to live out their marriage as a reflection of God’s covenant of love with the whole of humanity. That is why marriage and family life occupy an irreplaceable place in salvation history.

Often times, especially through the Old Testament prophets, God himself would describe his relationship with Israel in covenantal-spousal terms (cf. Is 62:4-5; Jer 2:22, 32). When Israel followed other Gods beside Yahweh, her action was described in the strongest terms as adulterous behavior. The love that God has for us is best grasped from a covenantal perspective, and in this sense the analogy of marriage is fundamental. Every person is required to love. Yet, the one and the same love operates on different levels and in different circumstances. Of all the “kinds” of love that we can name, conjugal love is unique. It is so because it operates within the framework of a covenant. Again it is unique because this kind of love demands an unconditional, mutual, total giving of self. Anything short of a complete commitment and surrender of self to the spouse constitutes a fundamental breach of the marriage covenant. Within the marital covenant, therefore, total giving of self is not an option. It is the option. In other words, when you are into marriage, you are into it with all your soul, all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  Anything short of this is not worthy of the covenant relationship we call marriage.

It is in this marital context that we understand the commandment to love God: “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” (Mk 12:29-30). This commandment is the first of all the commandments because it is the basis of everything else we do. Again, we can say that this commandment is addressed to people who are related to God as by a marital bond. The commandment implies a spousal covenant relationship; and rightly so because, by its nature, the marriage covenant requires total, unconditional love. As soon as this commandment is uttered, the People of God are reminded that what is at stake is no “ordinary love”. Some form of relationship analogous to that between a husband and a wife is at stake. Conjugal love, when it is not given in totality (or at least if it does not aim at totality) is meaningless. Likewise, if our love for God is not total (or does not strive after totality) it is meaningless. It would even be ridiculous to offer God love that is incomplete. That would in turn amount to incomplete worship. To give God complete worship means to give God all our love. It is impossible for God to accept incomplete worship or incomplete love. Of course, even with our best efforts we still have to deal with imperfections and shortcomings. God understands all of that, but he still deserves all of our love. Our interior disposition and firm resolve to love God is already a good start. But we have to continually strive to love God with all that we are.

Just as marriage is, as it were, the basis of all human relationships, so is this commandment the basis of our relationship with God. The commandment also reminds us that we either have to give all to God or forget it. It is give all or give nothing. It is give all or keep all. God abhors halfhearted love but he takes delight in wholehearted devotion and love. You cannot offer God only a part of your heart or your soul. For Christ did not die to save only a part of your soul or heart. Rather, he died to save the totality of our being. He offered all of himself to save us. Our love cannot, therefore, be less than total. John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. …” (Jn 3:16). We too ought to be able to say: “For we so love God that we give him our only soul, our only heart”. We are a covenant people and love is our distinctive mark. Love becomes what it is when it involves giving oneself in full to the object of love, else it is not love.

God invites us to see ourselves as “married” to him, and he to us. The terms of the “marriage” involve a total surrender of our being. In the sight of God, partial love is no love; and partial worship is no worship. He invites us to either give all or keep all. If we give all, we shall keep all. If we keep all, we shall lose all. Remember what Christ said: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk. 17:33). To love God is difficult enough. To love him with all our heart and soul is even more challenging. Yet, we are confident that God would not demand anything from us unless he has provided the grace to accomplish it. With St. Augustine, therefore, we want to say to God: Da quod iube et iube quod vis (“Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt”; cf. Confessions, ch. 37, 60). Lord, give us love, and then command us to love you. We can give you only what you give to us. So, give us love so that we can give you all that you ask of us.

Invitation to pray:

Father in heaven, I bless you for sending your Son to die for me. I bless you for sending your Holy Spirit to dwell in me. I offer you all my heart and soul this day. Not my will but yours be done. Let me always live in the sweetness of your love. Amen.

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