Not too many years ago, there was a popular preoccupation with love—love, very often spelled l-u-v. There was the notion that what was wrong with the world was simply that there wasn't enough of this "luv" in it. Some of this, to be sure, was just an excuse for immoral behavior, confusing lust with love. Some of it was just plain silly, with pop psychiatrists telling us that we needed to open up our inner feelings to every casual acquaintance—what some still refer to as the “touchie-feely” school of psychology.
Some of this mania for “touchie-feely” luv, had a religious overtone. The Modernist church is filled with group activities; with interruptions of the Mass to make introductions and shake hands; there was even a church in a recent newspaper which has an “official hugger” to greet people when they enter. Back in the 1960s, it was considered the “in thing” to quote Saint John, and say that “God is love,” or to quote today's Epistle in an attempt to “prove” that it was alright to do anything that pleased you, just as long as you did it with "luv."
Indeed, it became quite popular to theorize about how it was just impossible to seriously sin, so long as all of our relationships with others were “meaningful” or “authentic.” Only the capitalists of the “military-industrial complex” and those who ate non-union lettuce were capable of mortal sin -- if indeed such a thing as sin existed at all.
Now, as with all serious errors, this error about love and morality is serious because it contains, at least, a degree of truth. Quite clearly, from this reading, there is a connection between love and the fulfillment of the moral law. The problem, of course, is that the Modernists are reading St. Paul backwards. They assume immoral behavior as a given—that it is part of man's natural state to lie, and steal, and kill, and so on—and that love can somehow be applied over all of this to, so to speak, to cover it up and make it look beautiful.
But if we read forwards instead of backwards, what St. Paul is saying is that if you love your neighbor (and yourself), you won't do these things which are contrary to your nature. If you love your neighbor, you will want to do what is truly good for him and for yourself. In fact, we know this without St. Paul telling us, for whenever we have experienced disinterested love—the love, say, of a parent for a child—it has always been this way. The lover wants what is best for the beloved.
This desiring the best for one’s loved ones and for one’s self, is a universal phenomenon. There is a “good”; an abstract “best.” And it is consistent from person to person. At least in basic things, what is good for you is good for all those around you. And again, in general terms, this good can be known by those who take the time and effort to think clearly about it.
The fact that there are general and universal goods (and bads) for mankind gives rise to what we know as the "Natural Law." If is a matter of common sense that we should do what is good and agrees with our nature, while avoiding what is bad and in conflict with our nature.
Idolatry, theft, adultery, murder, lying, and so on, are all in conflict with our nature. Human society cannot function properly in this world if its members practice these things to any great degree. They are opposed to the common and universal good—opposed, as it were, to the Natural Law.
Now, sometimes it is possible for people not to recognize the true good of the natural law. They sometimes confuse love with lust, or the right to possessions with the “right” to steal, or the right to self protection with a supposed “right” to murder. Generally this happens when they think emotionally instead of rationally, or when they allow selfishness to crowd out the love and respect which is due to others.
It is because the Natural Law is sometimes hard to discern in real life situations that God has given us what we call the "Divine Positive Law," or simply, the 10 Commandments (which are a summary of God’s more detailed directives). On occasion it may seem like a good idea to steal, or to commit adultery, or simply to bite someone's head off. It is precisely for those occasions that we have the Commandments—so that we don't have to trust our selves to reason correctly in the midst of emotional or selfish situations.
The Jews, to whom the Commandments were given at Sinai in the Arabian desert, understood them to be a great treasure. No longer were they required to guess what it was that would please God. And too, no longer did they live in fear that God would some day make some awful demand of them, as the false gods made of their neighboring tribes. Over and over as we read the Psalms, we are reminded how great a gift are the Commandments of God: “He has proclaimed His word to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israël. He has not done this for any other nation; His ordinances He has not made known to them.”
The "Decalogue," or "ten words," or simply "ten Commandments," are sometimes said to be divided into two tablets. In Old Testament art the first three Commandments are usually on one tablet, with the remaining seven on the other. This signifies a division between those Commandments which relate to God, and those which relate to man.
In today's Epistle, St. Paul mentions only those of the second tablet—those which concern our relationship with one another. Some commentators speculate that this was because the ancient people had little trouble in recognizing their duties toward God—in some sense, even the pagans recognized the need to worship God; although they were mis-directed in their efforts. But often, there was little concern for the love of fellow man. Perhaps it is easy to honor and love God, because He always remains a little far away and abstract. It is more difficult to turn to the person next to you—more difficult to respect; let alone love him.
Yet, that is precisely what we are called upon to do. As Catholics, it is relatively easy to demonstrate our love for God. To use a modern phrase, it comes to us almost “prepackaged.” God waits for us, almost as a prisoner, for the love we will give Him in the Mass and Sacraments. We do not have to go to great or unusual lengths to express our love for Him.
Love of neighbor takes a little more specific effort and patience. After all, we are not as loveable as God. Yet, just as He loves us, and expects our love in return, He expects us to love each other. To deal peacefully, and honestly, and chastely with one another—to put up with one another's quirks and idiosyncrasies—to work together for His glory, even though we may sometimes grate upon one another.
We certainly should make a conscious effort to know and love God more and better. To pray and to attend Mass more often. Without a doubt, we should make a daily examination of our consciences, to determine what we have done wrong, and how we can improve our obedience to God's laws.
But, perhaps, the greatest room for effort, the greatest possibility for improvement comes with this injunction to love our neighbor. If we can honestly say that we have treated him with love and respect, we know that we cannot have sinned against him, or against God through offense of neighbor:
"The love of neighbor worketh no evil."
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
"Love, therefore, is the fulfilling of the law."
May God love you, as you love one another; and may He bless you in the name of the Father, † and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.