This Sunday the liturgy allows us to make some differentiations which may strike us odd at first but which we would find perfectly logical in the end. What’s more is that these will help us as well as we continue to respond to the call to holiness which is universal. In the First Reading, taken from the book of Exodus, the Lord commands Israel to be compassionate to those who are least in society: the unprotected, the weak, the alien. With respect to the alien the Lord commands Israel not to oppress nor molest them, reminding them the people that they too once wandered in a strange land, benefiting from the goodness of God. They were to be merciful and not turn a deaf ear to the widow and the orphan, for Israel too was powerless and destitute, and they depended upon the Lord who provided for them and protected them with mighty hand and outstretched arm, rescuing them from their enemies. Here Israel is enjoined to be merciful, as they once had received mercy. The people of God is reminded to do good and be compassionate, as is proper of a nation whose God is the Lord. This consideration affects us also, we who in turn have tasted of God’s goodness. We need to do good to others, be compassionate and kind.
But the Gospel, building upon this goodness of heart that should be ours, teaches that for us Christians being good is not enough. In fact, meditating upon the Gospel for today we would be led to realize that to be merely good and do good is not Christian enough. In the Gospel Christ, in answer to the question posed to him by the Pharisees, stressed that the greatest of all of the commandments is this: “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your souls and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself”. The Lord furthermore mentions that the Law and the prophets find in these two formulations of the one law its synthesis. The Christian is called to love, to discover this nucleus of the Christian message. It is love that perfects the law that says “do good and avoid evil”, which we see in the first reading. But what does loving consist in?
This love is evidently two-fold, as our Lord himself mentioned. The love of God and the love of neighbor are two sides of the same commandment of love. Nevertheless, they are not the same. Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of the greatest Catholic minds of the past century, in his book Trojan Horse in the City of God, commenting on the errors of the postconciliar era taking place in aspects of Catholic life and morals, said “the love of neighbor is not the love of God”. In face value this may seem striking, and even shocking, since we have always known that to love my neighbor is to love God. Well, the answer is yes and no. In the Gospel the Lord was careful to point out that the first commandment is that we love God with all our being. Thus the Gospel brings us to appreciate the fact of the primacy of the love of God. Before anything else, we have to love God first, and nourish that love in our hearts and lives. But one may ask: how can I love someone whom I cannot see, nor touch? As the apostle would state, nobody has ever seen God. And yet on the other hand, man CAN love God; the human heart was made to love Him, and as St. Augustin would have it, our hearts are restless until it rests in Him. The human person is capable of loving that which he cannot see with the eyes of his body. Just because we cannot see someone whom we cannot love because he is far away, can we say that we love this person less? No, of course not. But in Jesus Christ we have seen the face of the invisible God. The mystery of the Incarnation, of God being born and taking on human flesh, allows us to caress the face of the Unseen with our own hands. This Gospel ought to push us to intensify our own prayer life, our relationship with the Lord, hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, waiting for us in the silence of our daily life, in the hustle and bustle of our work. The love of God ought to be first in our lives.
This is so because without this love it is impossible to do the second. To love our neighbor in the Christian sense is different from just being good, being civil with the other person. In this sense the Christian is different from the philanthropist. The one who loves people, but without any reference to God is not a Christian, but a mere philanthropist, who may do a lot of good nevertheless. Philanthropy is incapable of saving the world. On the other hand, only the love of God in the heart of a Christian could move him to cooperate in the transformation and the establishment of an earthly city pleasing to God and a world that is truly humane. True, the love of God is different from the love of neighbor, but it never excludes it. The former serves as the basis of the latter, and pushes the person to express this love in making the preference for the other.
What is the consequence of this Gospel for us? The first part—that on the love of God—I have already expressed above. As for the love of neighbor, we ought to express this preference for others, to show this love for others. How? By living this Christian love in the particular conditions that we find ourselves in. these things we ought to discover in our prayer before God. In the public sphere however, we Christians are asked specifically to contribute to the welfare of society. In the International Theological Symposium that was concluded this week in the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarra, in one of the talks it was concluded that charity should be the main contribution made by the Christian to society. In giving testimony to this love, this charity, the Christian ought not be contented to remain in the periphery of public discourse. We have to lend a hand in the construction of a just society with the testimony of our Christian faith, that could contribute so much for a humane society.