Do you see what he did there?
In this Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus gave an answer to a question that he wasn’t asked.
The scribe just wanted to know the greatest commandment — and Jesus told him:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
But then Jesus added something the scribe didn’t expect:
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Whether he wanted to hear it or not, the scribe got a foundational lesson in love.
And so did we.
Friends, this is where it all begins.
This teaching here is often known as “The Two Great Commandments” — love of God, love of neighbor. It appears in three of the Gospels, standing before us as one of the greatest challenges of our lives as Christians, the challenge to obey the first — but then also the second.
How often do we fail at it?
How often do we give our hearts to God on Sunday, and give nothing to our neighbor on Monday? In fact, how often do we take from our neighbor — robbing him of respect or dignity or charity?
Our human nature makes it easy to love people who are like us.
But what about the ones who aren’t?
This Gospel reminds us: our faith is more than what we do within the walls of this church.
It extends beyond — when we leave here as living tabernacles, carrying the Christ we have received in the Eucharist within us, into the world.
I end every Mass with these words: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
The fact is: One of the ways we show our love for God, and glorify him, in our love for others. They are made, just as we are, in the image and likeness of God.
All of them. The poor. The broken. The angry. The alienated and unbelieving.
People who are like us and people who aren’t.
Consider the story of Sandra Sabbatini.
You may not know who she is.
But you should. We all should.
Sandra Sabbatini was born in Italy in 1961. Her family was very religious; one of her uncles as a priest. When she was still very young, Sandra developed a love for the Lord.
She got in the habit of carrying a small rosary wherever she went. She loved to go to church and would sit in the last pew of the local chapel. Her teachers would go looking for, and there she’d be, in the back row, her head bowed in prayer.
When she was 12, Sandra met a priest, Father Oreste Benzi, and joined a group he had founded, the Pope John XXIII Community, which had a special outreach to help people in need, especially the disabled and the poor. That experience had a profound impact. Sandra started spending her free time with the group and even saved money to give to the poor.
When she was 17, she began dating a boy from her church, Guido Rossi. They had probably the most unusual first date ever: before they went home, they stopped by a cemetery to pray for souls who had been forgotten, the ones who had no one to pray for them.
Sandra and Guido eventually became engaged. Sandra enrolled in medical school and wanted to become a missionary doctor. It was the early ‘80s and drug abuse was on the rise in Italy. Sandra volunteered at a local clinic to help care for drug addicts.
On an April morning in 1984, Sandra, Guido and a friend were headed to a church meeting. Sandra began to cross the street. She never made it. She was struck by a car and killed. Sandra Sabbatini was 22 years old.
At her funeral, Father Benzi said, “Sandra has done what God sent her for. The world is not divided into good and bad, but into who loves and who doesn’t love. Sandra, we know, loved very much.”
She loved very much.
She loved the poor. The disabled. The addicted. The lost. The forgotten.
She loved to pray for those who had no one to pray for them.
Out of such love come saints.
Last week, 37 years after that tragic car accident, hundreds of people gathered at the cathedral in the city where she grew up, and Sandra Sabbatini was beatified. She is now “Blessed Sandra.” Her family was there.
So was Guido Rossi, the man who was her fiancé.
He is now married, with two children — and he is a permanent deacon. He served at the altar for the beatification Mass.
The cardinal who celebrated the Mass said that Sandra’s holiness consisted of “opening herself up to sharing with the least, placing her whole young earthly existence at the service of God, made up of enthusiasm, simplicity, and great faith.” Sandra, he said, “gave those who needed it hospitality without judgment, because she wanted to communicate the love of the Lord.”
The message of today’s Gospel was burned into her heart.
She loved God. She loved her neighbor as herself.
How can we not strive to do as much ourselves?
How can we not aim higher, love deeper, open ourselves to “hospitality without judgment”?
This is a holiness available to all of us.
We live in a time when so many around us are suffering. Poverty. Unemployment. Mental illness. Despair. We walk by them every day on Queens Boulevard.
Who are they? They are our neighbors.
Do we see them as people to avoid? Or neighbors to love? I know, speaking for myself, I have a long way to go.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis spoke to the deacons in Rome and expressed something beautiful and humbling.
“I expect you to be sentinels,” he told them “not only to know how to spot the poor and the distant – this is not so difficult – but to help the Christian community to recognize Jesus in the poor and the distant.” And he recalled the ending of John’s Gospel, when Jesus asked the disciples, “Have you nothing to eat?,” and the beloved disciple recognized him. “It is the Lord!”
And the pope added: “Whatever the need, see the Lord.”
Sandra Sabbatini did that. Her short life is a lesson for us all who strive to follow Christ and who pray to become saints — especially in these hours as we prepare to mark All Saints Day tomorrow.
This is a lesson in how one life can affect countless others.
How a life of devotion to the Lord can become a life devoted to others.
If we want to live out this Gospel message, loving God and loving our neighbor, this is where it begins.
Jesus told the scribe something he may not have expected — an answer he may not have wanted to hear.
But this Sunday, we need to hear it. Pray over it. And live it.
It calls us to see our faith in its fullness — and to see those around us with new eyes and new hearts.
What do we see? Who do we see?
As Pope Francis put it, we are called, all of us, to see differently, and with love.
“Whatever the need, see the Lord.”