“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
I Came to You Late
I came to You late, O Beauty so ancient and new. I came to love You late. You were within me and I was outside where I rushed about wildly searching for You like some monster loose in Your beautiful world. You were with me but I was not with You. You called me, You shouted to me, You wrapped me in Your Splendor, You broke past my deafness, You bathed me in Your Light, You sent my blindness reeling. You gave out such a delightful fragrance and I drew it in and came breathing hard after You. I tasted, and it made me hunger and thirst; You touched me, and I burned to know Your Peace.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Almighty ever-living God,
increase our Faith, hope and charity,
and make us love what you command,
so that we may merit what you promise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for eve and ever.
Ex 22: 20-26
Thus says the Lord: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”
The law of fraternal charity, the obligation to love their neighbor, was imposed by God on the Israelites from their very beginning as a people. For the most part, down through their history, they practiced it among themselves only. That was due to the fact that they lived apart from their pagan neighbors lest they should be tempted to follow the pagans’ false gods. But as the first precept of charity mentioned today shows, they were to be just and charitable also to any pagan who came to live peaceably among them.
Whether the Israelites kept these precepts of charity or, more often than not, ignored them is not our concern today. What must strike us in today’s reading is the merciful condescension of God. He legislates for those of his human creatures who need help and protection (the stranger, widows, orphans, the poor). From the very beginning of his self-revelation to man, he showed that he was the kind Father of all men. He created man for an eternal life, but man’s bodily needs during his mortal existence on earth were also his concern. That he could provide for all men’s needs is beyond doubt; he could so arrange things that there would be no displaced persons, no widows. orphans, poor; but he chose this other way, so that men could cooperate with him and thus work their way to the eternal life.
Just think for a moment. If everyone on earth had perfect health, had all he needed of this world’s goods, had absolute security and peace, would God be loved and praised by everybody, or rather would he be completely forgotten and ignored in such an earthly paradise? God does not need any love or thanks from us. It is through showing him love and thanks that we can earn our place in heaven, and it is by loving and helping our neighbor that we can prove our love for God and our gratitude to him for all he has given, and has promised to give us.
He has therefore allowed the trials and troubles of life, which naturally follow from our mortal and temporal existence on earth, to take their course. The needy and the poor, who are very often in the majority, have a golden opportunity of learning patience and trust in God. For many these very trials bind them to God. Without them they would not reach heaven. On the other hand, the succor and help which the more fortunate can give to their fellow-men in need, are some of their greatest opportunities for thanking God and keeping close to him.
Meditate today on the commandment of fraternal charity. Are you just and kind to the stranger, of whatever race, religion or color, who is in your neighborhood? Do you help the needy as much as you could? Do you thank God for giving you this opportunity for showing your real love for him? If you are one of the many who are so much in need of so many earthly things, do you try to realize that God has reason for asking us to bear these earthly sufferings? You were in his divine plan from all eternity; you are very much in his divine plan just now. If you cooperate willingly with him, you will see his eternal plan brought to realization in you before very long. Not only will you be saved but you will have been the instrument which enabled others to reach their salvation.
PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.
I love you, Lord, my strength.
1 Th 1: 5-10.
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 442 Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”1 Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. ..”2 “And in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”3 From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation.4
1 Mt 16:16-17.
2 Gal 1:15-16.
3 Acts 9:20.
4 Cf. I Th 1:10; Jn 20:31; Mt 16:18.
What the good example of a truly Christian life did in the early Church it also has done down through the ages and can still do today. But how few Christians today really give this good example! In spite of the neo-paganism of our age there is still a longing for God in the hearts of the vast majority of those who pretend, or try to persuade themselves, that they can do without him. What they need is a Christian neighbor who is truly Christian, the man who will live by and stand up for his Christian principles no matter what the cost. There are, thank God, some such Christians, but they are too few and far between. We need millions of such sincere, active Christians to stem the flood of materialism and worldliness which has been let loose on us in recent times.
The anti-God world of today, and it is not all behind iron or bamboo curtains, is a reaction to the failure of Christians in the past to live their Christianity. Communism would never have arisen if the justice and charity of the Christian faith had been practiced in the countries where it arose. Religion was called the “opium of the people” because Christian rulers and the divided Christian Church used religion as a cover for their injustices toward, and exploitation of, the working class, the vast majority of the people. In Marxist theory God “became” only the projection of human ideals of love, peace, justice and power–and Marx pushed people to cease worshipping the ideal and grab the power to make these qualities come true in their own lives God had been rejected before then–philosophically by Feuerbach (accepted quite uncritically by Marx) and by working people because of illiteracy combined with an identification of God and a Church aligned with capitalist oppressors.
When the founders of communism wrongly thought that God wanted the majority of men to be serfs and slaves on this earth in order to get to heaven, they naturally abandoned such a God and such a heaven. But they and their followers have not found a substitute for heaven nor a replacement for God, yet they are still seeking happiness. Many, even most of them, know that true and lasting happiness cannot be found on this earth. It is, therefore, our duty to show them the way to this true happiness and the only way this can be done is by the good example of our own Christian life.
An old proverb and a wise one says: “If each man would sweep in front of his own house we would have clean streets.” We as individuals cannot convert the world but each one of us can do his part in his own neighborhood. There are those around us who are looking for the light and the truth. We have that light and truth to give them–the truth of our Christian faith. If put sincerely into daily practice this faith will be a shinning light to those who are in darkness of disbelief. Would we refuse that help to our fellowmen, and through that refusal risk losing our own as well as our brother’s eternal salvation?
Mt 22: 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the law and the prophets.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 575 Many of Jesus’ deeds and words constituted a “sign of contradiction”,1 but more so for the religious authorities in Jerusalem, whom the Gospel according to John often calls simply “the Jews”,2 than for the ordinary People of God.3 To be sure, Christ’s relations with the Pharisees were not exclusively polemical. Some Pharisees warn him of the danger he was courting;4 Jesus praises some of them, like the scribe of Mark 12:34, and dines several times at their homes.5 Jesus endorses some of the teachings imparted by this religious elite of God’s people: the resurrection of the dead,6 certain forms of piety (almsgiving, fasting and prayer),7 the custom of addressing God as Father, and the centrality of the commandment to love God and neighbor.8
CCC 581 The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi.9 He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law.10 Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes”.11 In Jesus, the same Word of God that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes.12 Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old. .. But I say to you. ..”13 With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were “making void the word of God”.14
CCC 1824 Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”15
CCC 2055 When someone asks him, “Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?”16 Jesus replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.”17 The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:
The commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.18
CCC 2083 Jesus summed up man’s duties toward God in this saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”19 This immediately echoes the solemn call: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.”20
God has loved us first. The love of the One God is recalled in the first of the “ten words.” The commandments then make explicit the response of love that man is called to give to his God.
CCC 2196 In response to the question about the first of the commandments, Jesus says: “The first is, ‘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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”21
The apostle St. Paul reminds us of this: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,‘ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”22
1 Lk 2:34.
2 Cf. Jn 1:19; 2:18; 5:10; 7:13; 9:22; 18:12; 19:38; 20:19.
3 Jn 7:48-49.
4 Cf Lk 13:31.
5 Cf. Lk 7:36; 14:1.
6 Cf. Mt 22:23-34; Lk 20:39.
7 Cf. Mt 6:18.
8 Cf. Mk 12:28-34.
9 Cf Jn 11:28; 3:2; Mt 22:23-24, 34-36.
10 Cf. Mt 12:5; 9:12; Mk 2:23-27; Lk 6:6-g; Jn 7:22-23.
11 Mt 7:28-29.
12 Cf. Mt 5:1.
13 Mt 5:33-34.
14 Mk 7:13; cf. 3:8.
15 Jn 15:9-10; cf. Mt 22:40; Rom 13:8-10.
16 Mt 22:36.
17 Mt 22:37-40; cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18.
18 Rom 13:9-10.
19 Mt 22:37; cf. Lk 10:27:“… and with all your strength.”
20 Deut 6:4.
21 Mk 12:29-31; cf. Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28.
22 Rom 13:8-10.
The Pharisees may not have had evil intentions when asking Christ the question as to the greatest commandment. But they have done us a good service by getting this crystal clear answer from him. In this answer he tells us that the man who loves God and neighbor fulfills all his obligations, and carries out all the duties that God’s self-revelation in “the law and the prophets” imposes on him. God revealed himself to us in the Old Testament as our Creator and divine benefactor. He had no need of us, since he is infinitely perfect in himself, but out of his infinite goodness he wished to share his eternal kingdom of happiness with mankind and so he created us. That we should love such a benefactor and be grateful to him is not asking much of us; such love should surely be the spontaneous reaction of a rational being, and yet there were and there are many who fail to acknowledge any such obligation.
No Christian, worthy of the name, can ever be among such thoughtless and thankless people. We have greater proofs of God’s love for us than “the law and the prophets” gave to the Israelites. We have the added proofs of God’s infinite interest in us brought to us by the Incarnation. We have been raised to the sublime status of adopted sons of God.
Where Christians can, and too often do fail, is in their true love of neighbor. Yet Christ says that this commandment is like the first. Love of neighbor is an essential part of our obligations toward God. If we fail in this we fail in our love for God, for we refuse to carry out this sacred duty. If we do not recognize our neighbor as our brother, we do not recognize God as our Father and we do not love him. As St. John puts it: “anyone who says : ‘I love God’ and hates (does not love) his neighbor is a liar” (1 Jn. 3:20).
Let each one of us ask himself today how seriously he takes this law of fraternal charity and how faithfully he carries it out. Not all of us may be able to give material help to a neighbor in need but the poorest of us can spare a kindly word, an encouraging word, for a neighbor weighed down with cares and troubles. All of us can pray for a neighbor who needs spiritual and temporal help. Most of us can deny ourselves some unnecessary luxuries in order to give a needed loaf of bread to a hungry fellowman, while those who have an abundance of this world’s goods need not look far afield to find cases and causes worthy of their Christian charity.
Remember that whatever spiritual or material help is given out of true charity to a neighbor in need, is given to God, and whatever is given to God is soundly invested in heaven, and heaven pays handsome dividends.
In the Apostolic Letter of May 1971, the Pope has spelled out the way in which we can and should act to give the example of Christian living to the modem world. It involves a study of social problems, prayer to the Holy Spirit about them, reflection on how the gospel applies to them, and then real political commitment to change.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.
The Creating Reason is Love
It is important to be attentive to the Lord’s gestures on our journey. He speaks to us through events, through people, through encounters; it is necessary to be attentive to all of this. It is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us… The more we can delve into the world with our intelligence, the more clearly the plan of creation appears. In the end to reach the definitive question I would say: God exists or he does not exist. There are only two options. Either one recognizes the priority of reason, of creative Reason that is at the beginning of all things and is the principle of all things – the priority of reason is also the priority of freedom – or one holds the priority of the irrational, inasmuch as everything that functions on our earth and in our lives would be only accidental, marginal, or irrational result – reason would be a product of irrationality. One cannot ultimately “prove” either project, but the great opinion of Christianity is the option for rationality and for the priority of reason. This seems to me to be an excellent option, which shows us that behind everything is a great Intelligence to which we can entrust ourselves… Therefore, we can confidently work out a vision of the world based on this priority of reason, on this trust that the creating Reason is love and that this love is God.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Prayer to Love God Above All Things
God, my Father, may I love You in all things and above all things. May I reach the joy which You have prepared for me in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in my heart a desire to please You and fill my mind with thoughts of Your Love, so that I may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace, through Christ our Lord. Amen.