This window is St. Mary Church, Manhattan
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro
In the gospel Jesus responds to the aggressive questioning of the Pharisees reaffirming the greatest and most basic commandments of our faith that want to entrap Him, restating the most basic command of our faith, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22-37-38) To this text Mark and Luke add with thy whole strength, meaning that we shall love the Lord with all our energies. The 613 commands of the Mosaic Law can be summarized into two prescriptions: love God and your neighbor. According to St. Paul, love is the greatest theological virtue and fulfills God’s moral law. But we have to understand the meaning of love against many contemporary abuses of this concept in the same way that we have to explain clearly the meaning of God’s mercy.
It is interesting to note that Christ said that you should love God, not fear Him. For love is more than fear. To fear belongs to the ones who are in a forced condition, to love belongs to sons. Fear is based on compulsion, love in freedom. Who serves God only out of fear of punishment has an imperfect relation with him, he might be saved but he certainly will have to be purified and moved to the perfect relation that comes out from love. God does not want to be served due to fear as a hard master, but to be loved as a father, for He has given the spirit of adoption to all men that have received baptism.
This basic teaching of Christ should be interpreted as saying: You should love God with your whole will; this means that we should love God with a total undivided fidelity and we should not give a portion of our love to an idol, or an ideology or anything whatsoever that it is contrary to God. All our actions should be consciously directed towards Him and towards His service. We should consciously choose Him as our highest good and prefer Him to all things whatsoever. For he that believes that all possible goodness is in God and that without Him there is no possible goodness, loves God with his whole soul. The most important concern our lives should be to fulfill all His precepts and be obedient to Him in all things out of love. Even if this allegiance to Him would have a high cost for us. We have to remember that St. John tells us: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commandments. And his commands are not burdensome,” (I Jn. 5:3) St. Mathew tells us “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” God’s commandments are not burdensome because He leads us to do what it is accordance with the nature that He has given us. We can clearly see with regards to the teachings of the Church on marriage. The unity, indissolubility and the openness to children are inscribed in our nature or using a Thomistic expression they are connatural to us. He leads us to do what would make us happy on this earth and what would afterwards open for us the doors of Paradise. We love God with our whole mind when we sincerely try to understand the wisdom that is inherent in His commands. If we pray for this wisdom most certainly the Holy Spirit will give it to us. He is burden is light because He provides us the graces to fulfill the precepts that He has given us. The movements towards rebellion that sometimes we experience within ourselves against those commandments they do not come from our nature, but from the wound that we have in our nature and from temptations that come from the World and from the Enemy of mankind. In the collect of today’s Mass we pray that we should be able with His graces to shun all the wiles of our enemy, to follow Him with pure mind our only God. St. Bernard in his Book on the Love of God states, “The measure of loving God is, to love without measure.” To the immense goodness of God we have to respond with a love without measure. We should live in such a way that nothing might diminish our love for God or transfer part of our allegiance to another person or ideologies or material advantages. We always have to keep in mind that we cannot serve two Masters.
The second command that we should love our neighbor as ourselves should have as a basic starting point the understanding that we should have a proper and right love of ourselves. The right love of ourselves should leads to love God because we were created and redeemed by Him and to desire our eternal and undivided union with Him in Heaven. What we desire and try to provide for ourselves we should try to desire and try to provide to the persons that the Lord has placed in our vicinity. In this we would be following the golden rule that our Lord has given to us, “”Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”(Mat. 7:12) St. Augustine in de Vera Religione would explain: “For this is the law of God that the good things which a man wishes to receive, he should wish likewise for his neighbor. And the evils which he wishes they should not to happen to himself, he should wish that his neighbor would avoid.” So our first desire for the persons that Lord has placed close to us is that they should know Him as He is and that out of this knowledge love might result and as a consequence they might achieve salvation. It is a caricature of love to let our neighbors remain in error about the teachings of Christ that lead to salvation or to remain silent about sinful situations. Obviously here we should use some prudence, but this virtue should never be the excuse for carnal prudence or cowardice. Second in the measure that we experience the need of basic spiritual, intellectual and material things we should be concerned that all our companions might obtain those same things. Obviously as I have explained before following the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas we have to love all men but in justice we have to occupy ourselves first of the ones that are closer to us because they are part of the same natural family or the same supernatural family which is the Church. All men have been created by God in some ways we can say that all men have God as their father, but we have stronger bonds with the ones that are our brethren because they have received spiritual adoption through baptism and are fed by Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Our relational and material charity naturally has limits, but our spiritual charity can be without limits in as much as we can pray for the salvation of all men.
Christ underlines that “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:40) We can say that these commands are a summary of the Decalogue. The precepts of faith, hope, charity and religion are included in the commandment to love God and are made explicit in the first table of the law. The precepts of charity towards our neighbors that can be subdivided in particular virtues like justice, truth, fidelity, friendship, mercy and many others are the ones made explicit in the second table of the law.
It is very interesting to see how Jesus using His Divine intelligence leads the Pharisees to confusion. They are totally incapable of responding the question that the Lord had made to them. Those individuals wanted to entrap Jesus and they were not able to respond a simple question that the He had made to them. David was calling the Lord his descendant that was the Messiah, because this descendant that had received human nature from him was also God.
Today September 20th on the yearly anniversary of the storming of Rome in 1870 by the Italian troops we pray for the souls of the soldiers who gave their life defending the papacy and also for the souls of our enemies as Blessed Pious IX instructed us to pray.
On this Sunday through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was the one the only creature that fulfilled these two commandments in a near perfect way let us ask for the grace of having a growing love of God and neighbor.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you.