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Final Sundays after Pentecost
Ordinary of the Mass
“Owe no man anything, but to love one
another: for he that loveth his neighbor, hath fulfilled the law.”
When I was a college
student, 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 that had 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” 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.
Read forward, what
Saint 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 Saint 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.
Law—Seeking the True Good
This is a universal
phenomenon. There is a “good,” and 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
The fact that there are
general and universal goods (and bads) for mankind gives rise to what we
know as the “Natural Law.” It is a matter of common sense that we should do
what is good and agrees with our nature, while avoiding what is bad and
conflicts with our nature.
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
any of these things. 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. 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
ourselves to reason correctly in the midst of emotional or selfish
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.
The Two Tables of
The “Decalogue,” or
“ten words,” or simply “ten Commandments,” are sometimes said to be divided
into two tablets. In Old Testament artwork 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
“pre‑packaged.” 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. And 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