Many people today are convinced that all that really matters is what one does, a ‘right conduct’, love of our neighbour. On the other hand, concern for a ‘right belief’ according to the true meaning of Scripture, read within the living tradition of the Church, occupies second place … if it’s not downright alienating. No longer does union with God have the primacy. Rather social activism has displaced it, little matter that a supernatural sacramental life has always occupied first place in the life of all the Saints.
Most of us, I’m sure, have heard many a modernist sermon on Christian action being more important than devotional efforts at union with God.
What did Jesus answer when a lawyer asked Him: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.
Beautiful words. The essence of what it is to be a Christian.
The sermons we hear, however, usually go something like this: Yes, we should love the Lord our God. But the Lord our God is a Spirit. How do we go about loving an invisible Spirit? We love our neighbour. That is in fact exactly how we love God: by loving our neighbour. At best, the sermon puts the two commandments on a par, whereas Jesus actually said that love of God is the greatest commandment. Also, the sermon subtly reverses the order of the two commandments – love your neighbour and thereby love God. Efforts at seeking union with God are in effect out of the picture entirely and Christianity is reduced to a vague form of ‘feel-good’ humanism.
We first love God with our whole heart – all of it – and our whole soul and our whole mind. Only then are we able to practice the second commandment, loving our neighbours and our enemies truly as ourselves. It is the love of God that is the enabling love, not the other way around!