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Faith-filled love and the greatest commandment

On the Readings for Sunday, November 4, 2018

(CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

• Dt 6:2-6
• Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
• Heb 7:23-28
• Mk 12:28-34

What is the most common subject of popular music? Answer: love.

The Beatles claimed “All You Need Is Love.” Robert Palmer confessed he was “Addicted to Love.” “I Want To Know What Love Is” admitted the rock group Foreigner. Mariah Carey had a “Vision of Love.” Queen pondered that “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” A full listing would require a book.

But how many Top Forty songs have been about love for God? A few. But you don’t need to be a music critic to recognize that the love referred to in most pop and rock songs is either romantic love or something mistaken for love: infatuation, sexual attraction, or simply lust. What so often passes for love in our culture is actually the complete opposite of authentic love. Instead of being sacrificial, it is self-seeking; rather than giving, it takes; instead of long-suffering, it is short-term. As Pope Benedict XVI remarked in his encyclical, “God Is Love” (Deus Caritas Est), “Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity” (par. 5).

The love spoken of by Jesus in today’s Gospel is agape, that is, the Holy Father states, a “love grounded in and shaped by faith” (par. 7). When human love—whether love for a spouse, a child, a friend, or one’s country—is informed, shaped, and filled with God’s love it becomes whole and authentic. Put another way, it is rightly ordered to its proper end, which is God.

The scribe who asked the question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” apparently did so out of sincere curiosity. He posed the question after overhearing the dispute between Jesus and the Sadducees over the general resurrection of the dead, a belief the Sadducees denied (Mk 12:18-27). This scribe, like all scribes, was an expert in the many technical details of applying the Mosaic Law in specific cases. There were 613 commandments in the Law, so the answer to his question was not  simple or obvious. In responding, Jesus referred immediately and directly to the First Commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk 12:29-30; cf. Dt 6:5).

It was this commandment, more than any other, which marked the Hebrews as a unique, chosen people.

“Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God,” writes Pope Benedict, “and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (par. 1). How we treat neighbors and strangers alike reveals something essential about our love, or lack of love, for God. As the book of Deuteronomy states, “Cursed be he who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow”, and, “Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Dt 27:19, 26).

In speaking of Jesus’ response, Benedict emphasized that this love “is not simply a matter of morality.” After all, atheists can give money to the poor and agnostics can build homeless shelters. “Being Christian,” Benedict explained, “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (par. 1).

Our love is really love when it flows from the heart transformed by the One who first loved us, who created us, and who gave His life for us. This love is not abstract or academic but concrete and personal.

Love is so powerful because it God is love and He made us to be loved and to love others. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Sadly, we live in a world that is out of tune when it comes to real love. It is our joyful duty to sing, with the Psalmist, “I love you, Lord, my strength!”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in a slightly different form in the October 26, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1154 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His new book Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021), is published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

1 Comment

  1. Morality understood as “lofty ideas, ethics” is mere social convention. Benedict XVI is correct but neither does an “encounter” with a person say much beyond the intellectual. Nor does the ancient natural law tenet do unto others it seems to me give a sense of divine love. Christ reveals love that surpasses natural law with the New Commandment to love [others] as he has loved us. For example by analogy with my love for my own well being I apprehend justice based on my own need. There is something transcendent in the manner that Christ loved us expressed in submitting to hatred and death, that in terms of justice deserves retribution. Rather than condemn [us since by our sins we sentenced him] he rises from the dead that we might have life. Only if we recognize something of the depth of that love effected in us by grace. We either assent or discount. There seems Carl, if I may an apprehension of the depth of an entirely self giving love, pure, self effacing, solely for the good of the other different from our natural capacity and normal comprehension of good. In consideration of the supreme eminence of its Author it is overwhelming.

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