Ordered love by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Perhaps you've seen a bumper sticker that reads, "Perform Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty." While this trite phrase may seem heartwarming to some, it reveals an idea that is antithetical to this week's Gospel passage in which Jesus reveals to us the proper ordering of love. As the Gospel passage reveals, God does not expect us to love randomly or senselessly. Rather, He expects our love to be well-ordered and ultimately rooted in a love for Him.
Jesus refers to the two great commandments in answering a question posed to Him by a scholar of the law. In sum, we learn that we are to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. This is our first obligation and the most important of any love we possess. In His own words, Our Lord calls the first commandment the greatest of all the commandments. Moreover, it is a proper love of God which should animate all other loves. St. Augustine once said, "Love God and then do as you wish." What the saint meant is that if one loves God as He commands, all of the other loves we have will find their proper context and meaning.
The first commandment, at least conceptually, sounds clear enough. The second commandment, "to love one's neighbor as oneself," contains an interesting twist. The second commandment assumes that in loving one's neighbor, one properly loves oneself. This may come as a surprise to those who believe that one ought to put others ahead of themselves. Notice, however, that the second commandment mandates that one love others as oneself. This means that before loving others, one must have an ordinate love of self.
Ultimately, salvation is a gratuitous individual gift. Each person is
responsible for working out his own salvation in response to the virtues of
faith, hope and charity received in baptism. Therefore, before loving
others, the individual must have a proper love of self so that he can make of
himself a gift for others. The old Latin saying, nemo quod dat no habet
applies - you cannot give that which you yourself do not possess. Thus, it
is in loving oneself properly that one can fulfill the demands of the second
commandment to love one's neighbor. To some, putting oneself before others
seems counterintuitive. And yet, if one loves himself properly, he is
better equipped to love others. Loving others at the expense of taking due
care to love oneself properly ultimately leads to a situation where no one is
served well. For example, a mother who spends herself caring for her
children to the point of exhaustion and illness does not serve her children well
in the long run.
These commandments establish a proper hierarchy of love. Loving well starts with an understanding of how to love properly. Jesus provides us with the roadmap.
Please consider a tax deductible gift to support this web site.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index