Saturday, April 8, 2017

Quia caritas Dei

According to St. Matthew, Jesus insisted it was on his two Great Commandments- love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength; love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27)- that "The whole law and the prophets depend..." (Matt 22:40).

It is certainly not incidental that loving God is the first of the Lord's two commandments. I don't mind saying that I believe there are ways we are to show our love for God that are distinct from how we are to love our neighbor. First and foremost, I would say, we love God by worshiping God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit. It is through our worship that we acknowledge God as the one God living and true, who for us men (Greek anthropos- "human beings"- a neuter noun distinct from both masculine and feminine nouns) and for our salvation became incarnate in the Virgin's womb, was born, lived, taught, suffered and died, rose for us, ascended to heaven, sent his Spirit; it his return we joyfully await.

I think we have to be careful, however, not to make too hard and fast a distinction between loving God and loving our neighbor. To do so is very dangerous because it plays to an all too human tendency. But then there are many ways we must be discerning when it comes to revelation. For example, "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16) cannot be inverted to "love is God," at least not without fairly disastrous consequences for what God has revealed (unveiled) about Mystery of the divine. Loving God and loving one's neighbor, while distinct in some ways, are so inextricably bound together that you can't have one without the other: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).

Ideally, orthodoxy (right confession/profession/worship) leads to orthopraxis (right practice/conduct/living). But we all know, likely from our own experience, that this is often not the case. For those many times, Kyrie eleison. It is in St. Matthew's Gospel that Jesus said to the Pharisees, who were complaining (again) about him consorting with those who were considered unclean, citing the prophet Hosea: "Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matt 9:13).

Christianity is never just plug and play, which is to say it is never a matter of fulfilling an obligation, checking a box, or performing a duty. To live that way is, in a very real sense, to be a pagan. This is why to understand the sacraments strictly in terms of ex opere operato deprives them of their power to convert us (see "Dengenerate language; degenerating faith"). By seeking to reduce these powerful means through which God seeks to communicate divine life to us to a kind of "pure objectivity" we remove ourselves, the "subject" of God's communication, from the "blast" zone, thus making the sacraments something that happens "out there," working on their own, having little if anything to do with me- this is the all too human tendency. This mode of understanding, which run deep, not only leads us to make too hard and fast a distinction between loving God and our neighbor, but runs the risk of actually severing what is inextricably woven together, not by God, but in God. What is the change effected in us by the sacraments if not becoming more like Christ? If to be like Christ is anything at all it is to love perfectly.

In light of what revelation tells about the lie of loving God without loving one's neighbor, I think it is fair to say that loving one's neighbor is a necessary but insufficient requirement for loving God with one's entire being. Hence, we must proceed with extreme caution whenever we seek to make a distinction between loving God and loving our neighbors.

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