Those words of Our Lord in answer to the Pharisees’ question should be unforgettably etched on our memory:
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 neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
In the first reading taken from the book of Exodus, we learned how Israel was to practice true love of God:
Whoever sacrifices to any god, except to the Lord alone, shall be put under the ban (utterly destroyed).
There we are taught an absolutely essential aspect of loving the Lord our God: we must be totally loyal to Him, and loyalty still defines true love today, as was the case over 3000 years ago when the Law was given to Moses on Sinai. Today, of course, Mother Church does not put anyone under the ban, as seems to have happened in Israel under the Law of Moses, yet, nevertheless, by their infidelity such people are destroying themselves spiritually, and, in the course of time, that self-banning, that spiritual self-destruction, can become manifest and perhaps even eternal.
Such infidelity is wide spread today among those who love their own emotional idea of goodness. They love it because, being emotional, it is in them, part of them, they can feel it, it even excites them at times. As for the ideas they support, they can pick them up anywhere: Hinduism might inspire some of them to an emotionally heightened love of animals, even above humans who do not love animals as much as or in the way they themselves do; they may remember bits of Christianity, and become emotionally committed to all in whatever ‘need’; they can latch onto current popular slogans and become violently emotional against anyone they can call ‘racist’; they can love children, the aged, the mentally disadvantaged .... but whatever they pick up, they choose to love it EMOTIONALLY, because their emotional commitment demonstrates their own goodness to themselves: they do not follow any law from outside, so to speak, their own heart provides them with their supreme law.
Such a disease -- offering sacrifices to one’s own goodness, to oneself -- is contagious today, and it is destructive of loyalty to the Lord; and it can infect pope or peasant, wise man or fool, rich or poor.
Our reading from the Law of Moses also said:
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If you take a man’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to Me I will hear him, for I am compassionate.
And such respect or compassion towards a neighbour in need is what Jesus had in mind when He said in the Gospel reading:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
Now, if love of God and neighbour was already an essential part of the OT, why did Jesus need to die and rise again for our salvation, and send out His Apostles to establish His Church that would endure to the end of time for a new People of God?
The Son of God became Man among men, established His Church, died for it, rose again and finally ascended into heaven, in order to enable us -- members of His Church -- to love the Father and our neighbour fittingly through the gift of His Holy Spirit, and find joy in hearing and obeying the Gospel.
No human being, of himself, can love God fittingly, in a manner appropriate to His divine majesty, for He is infinitely wise, beautiful, good, holy, true ... He is INFINITE GOODNESS. And that is why the Jews, though God’s Chosen People at that time, had to be convinced of their fundamental inability to worship Him appropriately, by the fact that they could not even keep a Law adapted to their human condition perfectly, no, not even the most zealous of them, as St. Paul repeatedly insisted:
Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; they have all turned aside … become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." (Romans 3:9-12)
Not even those who are circumcised keep the law. (Galatians 6:13)
Despite their zeal and piety, evil lay hidden, secretly ever deepening its roots, in the hearts and minds of the leaders of God’s People, Pharisees and Scribes, the Sadducees and priests, as was shown by the fact that when the very Son of God came as Man among men, they hated Him sufficiently to have Him put to death on a cross.
Jesus came as one of us so that in Him, through Him, human flesh might indeed fulfil those just ordinances of God in the Law given to Moses for the Chosen People that human weakness and sinfulness had never yet been able to fulfil (Matthew 5:17-18):
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
This He did because of His consuming love for His Father; and He willed that, henceforward, all who -- answering His Father’s call with obedience -- would believe in Him, should be enabled to live as members of His glorified Body in the power and under the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, and thus overcome their native weakness to the extent that, as Jesus said, they would surpass even John the Baptist, the greatest of those naturally born of woman, in giving glory to His Father.
There, precisely, is the need for Jesus, the need for the Son to become flesh, since no one knows the Father but the Son:
No one knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him; (Matthew 11:27-28)
O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:25-26)
The glory of the Christian vocation is therefore, that the Son Who has become One with us who believe in His Name, shares with us that love for the Father which is His unique prerogative; and, by declaring His Father’s Name to us in an ever greater degree by His Most Holy Spirit abiding in His Church and dwelling in our hearts, He urges and encourages us daily to grow in love for the Father and thus become ever more one with Himself; so that we, who had been God’s special but subsequently fallen creation, might be brought to the glorious status of true, fully adopted, sons and daughters in the Only-begotten and supremely Beloved divine Son of the heavenly Father.
People of God, our calling is -- first and foremost -- to love God as our true Father above all, in all, and through all, and thus become, in Jesus, His true children. Such personal love of God is indeed the only authentic Christian holiness. Those aspects of life we tend to value so highly, such as success, achievements, reputation, charismata, are ultimately of no significance. How, therefore, are we to grow in that personal love which is the only authentic holiness?
First of all, we must examine our motives for wanting to become holy; we must appreciate, and aspire to, love of God for His own beauty and worth; we cannot desire it simply or primarily because of any benefits it may bring us other than the blessing of finding our own fulfilment in Him, by loving Him.
Secondly, no human authority, no human tradition, can teach us authoritatively how to love God, because true love is a personal response to the God Who is offering Himself Personally to us. However, because we are members of the Body of Christ, human authorities, traditions, even individuals, may give us guidance which we should not disregard, because we live as one, in the one Body by the one Spirit; nevertheless, in that Body, the Spirit is given to enable each of us to respond to the Father, as Jesus said, ‘with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength’, and that means as an individual, unique, personal creation.
Only in the Church we can breathe most deeply of that salutary atmosphere needed by the children of God; and, in the Church, we must always have our mind and heart set on Jesus, for He alone is the eternal Son loving and glorifying His Father supremely here on earth as in heaven. It is through His Spirit that He leads us to love and glorify the Father with Him and in Him. In Mother Church, therefore, we must always have our eyes fixed on Jesus, and our ears attentive to the breathing of His Spirit in our lives, that is the meaning of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman (John 4:23-24):
The hour is coming and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for such people the Father wishes to be His worshippers. God is Spirit, ad those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth
And how are we best to do that? By our devotion to, love for, the Scriptures where Jesus is ever present as the Word of Life to guide us, and for the Eucharist where He is wanting both to rejoice us Personally, and to bestow upon us His own most Holy Spirit Who will form us anew, in the likeness of Jesus our Lord and Saviour, for the Father.
People of God, the Scriptures and the Eucharist are the two beautiful breasts of Mother Church, as the Song of Songs tells us, where we can satisfy all our needs and fulfil our deepest aspirations: to seek such food is our supreme Christian duty, while to find it is our deepest Christian joy. If we do work at it through prayer and good works, that is, to put it better, through the practice, however imperfect, of a sort of continual companionship with Jesus, in response to the guidance of the Spirit, then the promised, heavenly, reward will start to become ours in instalments even here on earth: instalments of a joy which encourages us, and most sweetly compels us, to recognize its heavenly provenance. God is never outdone in generosity, and our little efforts to grow in His love can, as I say, find themselves gradually rewarded with ever greater and deeper joys that can transfigure our whole earthly experience.
My dear People, look after yourselves; you have already received great blessings from God, and the promise of much more. Never forget those words of Jesus (Luke 12:48):
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Produce fruit for the Lord in the garden of your soul while you can, and you will gain eternal blessedness, for the Lord is with you for that very purpose. But seek to produce the type of fruit that God wants from you, the fruit which He had in mind when He created you in His own likeness and redeemed you in His Son, to become, by His Spirit, a unique functioning member of His Son’s mystical Body. And what is that supreme fruit? Listen once again:
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 neighbour as yourself.