The Order of Love
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offering and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared ask him any more questions.
Perhaps you’ve seen a bumper sticker which reads, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.” Many persons who have seen this seemingly innocuous message do not realize that it describes the antithesis of how God acts in the world. God neither acts randomly nor in a senseless manner. Rather, God acts with precision and order. This precision and order is reflected in the manner in which he gave us the Ten Commandments.
When Our Lord states that the first and greatest commandment is to love God above all persons and things, He is referring to the First through Third Commandments. Similarly, when Our Lord states that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, He is referring to the Forth through Tenth Commandments. In other words, the two great commandments are a neat summary of the Ten Commandments.
But what does this ordering of love reveal? The first of the two great commandments seems simple enough. We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the highest priority of love. It further implies that all of our other love (for self or others) find their meaning and context in our love for God. In other words, we ought to love ourselves and others out of love for God. Love for God should animate all of the other loves in our lives. An example might prove helpful: After years in a marriage, two spouses may grow tired of each other and find many reasons not to love each other. However, if the spouses are willing to call upon the graces of their sacrament, they may realize that they remain in the marriage out of love for God, the love of whom should animate their marital love. They recall their marriage vows and recommit themselves to loving each other out of love for God.
The second of the two great commandments offers an interesting dynamic. Note that our blessed Lord directs us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This statement presumes that before we can love others well, we must love ourselves in an ordinate or proper manner. There is a saying in Latin, Nemo quod dat non habet – You cannot give what you do not have. It means that proper love of self must precede love of others. This properly ordered love of self cannot be considered selfish if it is done out of love for God and with the intention of serving others. How often do we observe individuals who spend themselves on others without first properly caring for themselves? They make the mistake of thinking that we must love others before we love ourselves. A simple example demonstrates the flaw in this reasoning: Consider a mother who spends herself out of love for her child but does not bother to care for her own health. She soon finds herself unable to provide for the very child she is trying to love and thus renders herself incapable of loving that child as effectively as she could have. A mother who understands the proper order of love will make provisions for own care so as to be able to provide for her child. This would not be an act of selfishness. Rather, it would be a case of a thoughtful mother exercising the virtue of prudence in order to love her child more devotedly.
So, it is not enough for us to love randomly and without sense. God Himself gives us the proper ordering for our love. He commands us to love Him, ourselves and others in precisely that order. Thus, our love should never be random or senseless. Instead, it should be wholly directed to God Himself, who is the source and end of all love in the world.
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