OPTION 1: St. Bernard said: “The greatest measure of love is to love without measure.”
One of the members of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asks Jesus a question in order to test Him: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law,” (vv. 35-36). Actually there are 613 commandments because the Jewish leaders were not satisfied with the Ten Commandments. They extended these ten into 613. And so the lawyer is asking which of these 613 commandments is the greatest. Jesus answered him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your minds. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (vv. 37-39). These two commandments are the most basic law of Christianity. These are like the two beams that form the cross. The first one, points upward and the other one, points sideward. But which of these two commandments is the greatest: to love God or to love our fellow human beings?
But I read this story told by Fr. Bel San Luis, SVD in his homily that in one of the parishes where the Parish Pastoral Council and the Parish Economic Council decided to renovate their old church to provide a good and worthy celebration of the liturgy especially the Mass.
When the leaders of a socially conscious group working with the poor learned about this million-worth church renovation, they protested by saying, “It is a scandal to renovate the Church while the poor are suffering from lack of shelter!”
They suggested that the money for church renovation be used instead to finance social action projects like providing housing for the poor that belongs to the parish.
This story illustrates two opposing and even exaggerating views of Christian faith: the vertical dimension or the love of God and the other one is the horizontal dimension or the love of neighbor. Each of the dimensions is overstressed by two groups of people.
There are people who overstress, ‘love of God.’ They say that the concern of the Church is only God and spiritual things like: salvation of the souls, prayer, meditation, sacraments, words of God and other spiritual things. The Church should not talk about social justice, graft and corruption, politics because this is the concern of the State. They always say, “When we come to Church on Sunday, we want to hear about spiritual things.” People may only say: “Praise the Lord! Alleluia!”
Last July 16, 2005, I watched Dial M of NBN television channel hosted by Mr. Manoling Morato and Ms. Maggie dela Riva. Mr. Morato lambasted and criticized to the fullest those bishops, priests and religious who joined a rally on that day. He said that they should not do that. He criticized them, to the extent that these religious leaders were reduced to criminals in death row waiting for death penalty. He even advised the parishioners, the Catholic faithful, not to attend the Mass celebrated by these bishops and priests because their Mass were no longer effective and God does not listen to them anymore. He claimed that he knew that God does not listen to them.
I said to myself, “I think Mr. Morato does not read his Catholic theology at all and the teachings of the Church about the sacraments. If he did read, he needs to review what he learned. The Church teaches us that the effect of the sacraments does not depend on the righteousness and holiness of the minister but on the power of God. Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1128) teaches us, “….the sacraments act ex opera operato (literally translated as: ‘by the very fact of the action’s being performed’), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that ‘the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God,’ (St. Thomas Aquinas)….” In the case of Mr. Morato, this is a concrete example of a person who staunchly defended this vertical dimension.
Another reality is that they want to shut other people out of their lives. They want to live for God alone and spend their day praying. They say that people only disturb and keep them away from God. If we ask them to help us to do something, they say, “I’ll pray for you.”
There are people who overstress the other one, love of neighbor. They are totally involved in helping the people: the sick, the poor, the deprived, the oppressed and the exploited, the rascals, the people with problems and many more. They are so busy that they have no time to pray, meditate and attend Mass. If we asked them to join us in prayer, meditation and reflection, they say, “My work is my prayer.”
Which of these views are correct? Both views are correct in what they affirm but they were wrong in what they deny. Jesus Himself told us clearly in today’s gospel: “Love God and love your neighbor.” One saint said: “We should fold our hands in prayer in Church and then we should open our hands to others outside of the Church.” We cannot love God without loving people. We cannot love people without loving God. Saint John in his First Letter (1John 4:20) clearly puts it: “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 love of God and love of neighbor is symbolized by the two beams of the cross. It is our call to balance the vertical dimension of our relationship with God in prayer and sacrifices with the horizontal dimension of our relationship with others in mutual and loving service. So, if we take away the vertical dimension or detach either beam, you’ll obtain neither love of God nor love of neighbor, there is no sign of the cross and we are not true Christian Catholics.
And so as authentic disciples of Jesus, we should not espouse one view to the exclusion of the other but in the pursuit of both. It is because how can we justify a person who attends Mass regularly and yet he/she is very difficult to live with. Jesus lives these two dimensions that form the cross in a wonderful harmony. And so as Christians, we are called to live at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal. That is where Jesus lived. It is also where he died on the cross.
See Today’s Readings: Cycle A