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Our Love of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
As we have been doing, so here, we will now enter on our second major master theme of the spiritual life in Sacred Scripture. The theme is "Our Lord Our God." Remember our previous theme was "Our Knowledge of God", both our natural and our supernatural knowledge of God by faith. Our love of God as found in both Testaments. We begin by making an obvious observation. The purpose of knowing God is to love Him. And the better we know Him the more we can love Him. Because love depends absolutely on knowledge, we cannot love the unknown. And the approach, this fundamental mandate of Sacred Scripture, of our duty, mind you, no option here, duty, of our duty to Love God, we must immediately point out the world of difference between the two Testaments on the same commandments. The difference lies mainly in the fact of the Incarnation. Once God became man, in the person of Jesus Christ, every aspect of our Love of God acquired a depth of meaning and a capacity for self-sacrifice that was simply unknown and therefore impossible in pre-Christian history.
We first then look at what the Old Testament tells us about our duty to love God. As you know in the Jewish language, the Old Testament in general, or the Law in particular, is called the Torah. More than once the Torah enjoined the Israelites to love Yahweh. But the classic passage has become the "Shama" or prayer and profession of faith that every Jew was expected to recite morning, noon and night. Let me read Deut. 6:4-9. "Listen, Israel, Yahweh, our God is the One Yahweh. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your hearts. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising. You shall fasten them on your hand as a sign, and on your forehead as a circlet. You shall write them on the door post of your house and on your gates." Unquote: Moses commanding the Israelites to love God.
This passage contains the fundamental principle of the whole Mosaic law. And Deuteronomy has no less than 600 commandments, and how this one fundamental commandment: to love Yahweh is to be observed. This commandment to love God is at once comparative and profoundly doctrinal. On its comparative side; the one God of Israel is contrasted with the many Gods of the gentiles. Jewish monotheism is compared with pagan polytheism. And most important, the true God of reality is contrasted with the false deities of people's imaginations. All idolatry is an imaginary religion. There is only one real God. The gods of idolatry are all make-believe. The doctrine here stated declares "Yahweh our God is the one Yahweh." Or the Vulgate official Catholic translation: "the Lord is our God, the Lord alone." What the sacred writer is at pains to express is that the God in whom Israel believes is not just another, even higher God alongside the divinities of paganism--no other God exists. Only the God of Israel has the right to be called God. He alone is Yahweh.
And by now with our frequent use of the Old Testament, for example, in the readings at Mass and in the Divine Office, I think it is well to examine more closely what the Holy Spirit meant and what we should mean by the name Yahweh. Yahweh is the name that God Himself gave Himself when He spoke to Moses, remember, in the burning bush. Moses had been instructed to lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt. Then follows this passage in Exodus: "Moses then said to God, `I am going then to the Sons of Israel and say to them, `the God of your Fathers has sent me to you. But if they ask me what His name is, what am I to tell them?' And God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This," He added, "is what you must say to the Sons of Israel. I am. (pause) I am has sent me to you." And God also said to Moses, "you want to say to the Sons of Israel, Yahweh, the God of your Fathers has sent me to you." Unquote: Exodus. In giving Himself this name, Yahweh (I am) God was identifying His very essence, which is Absolute Being. God is purely and simply Being. His essence is to exist. He alone is that Being who cannot not exist. He alone must be--everyone and everything else need not be. And that, for the best of reasons, because everyone and everything else but God, at one time, was not. He therefore, and he alone is a necessary Being. He is the Being who is infinite in every perfection and eternal, because unlike the created world, he never had a beginning and will never have an end. All other things, and we have coined the adjective, are contingent, which is an unembarrassing way of saying all the rest of the world is unnecessary. Only He must be. We need not be. All creatures depend absolutely on the God who made them out of nothing. And they continue to depend on Him to sustain them in existence, and keep them from lapsing into the nothingness from which they came.
It is this Yahweh whom Israel was commanded to love, nor is it surprising that the faithful were told to love Him with all their hearts, what else would you expect, and all their souls and all their strength? After all, the degree of our love of any being depends on the degree of that being's lovableness; and God is infinitely lovable. We might ask, why in the commandment to love God does the inspired writer speak of heart and soul and strength? Surely, it was to make it as clear as possible that those who believe in God are to surrender their whole being to Yahweh. It was no coincidence that just before giving this injunction of selfless love of God, the author of Deuteronomy had narrated the Ten Commandments. Good to know, in immediate sequence, come first the Ten Commandments, and then this mandate to love God with our whole hearts, our whole souls, and all our strength. Thus, we are in effect tools that Yahweh is truly loved when His commandants are faithfully obeyed. So much, too briefly, on the Old Testament commandment to love God.
Now the New Testament. All three synoptic writers relate the conversation between Christ and the lawyer who asked Him which is the great commandment of the law?
Matthew's version, "Lord, which commandant is first of all?"
Mark's version, "Lord, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke's version, in Matthew and Mark, the Savior Himself quotes the passage we have quoted from Deuteronomy. In Luke, the lawyer who asks the question makes the quotation. And then Christ approved his answer. In other words, the first thing to know about the new commandments in the New Testament to love God is that the old commandments of the Old Testament stands firm. It is not abrogated in the least. But what is remarkable is that the New Testament goes far beyond the Old in two ways. As recorded by St. Mark, Jesus says "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30.
The first change, therefore, development if you wish, of the New Testament teaching about our love of God is the addition of the crucial phrase, `with all your mind' absent from the whole Old Testament. Christ goes on. Having declared that the love of God is the great and first commandment, Jesus continues, "and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself'. And He further concluded, this is the Savior "on these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. And there is no other commandment greater than these."
Let's go back over the two dramatic developments of New Testament revelation over the Old on this fundamental commandment to Love God. Christ first of all, as we noted, added the phrase, `we are to love the Lord our God with all our mind.' What was He saying? Christ is telling us that the only kind of love of God recognized in Scripture is the love shown in the practice of virtue. Very well! But with Christ's coming, one virtue that became indispensable for truly loving God, is the virtue of faith. Where we believe with the mind, as we saw earlier, we believe only if we want to believe. For the faculty with which we believe is our intellect. We must want to assent with our minds to God's revelation. God has spoken that His divine revelation, but we must listen with our minds, and that is faith. More than ever far beyond the highest demand of the old law, In the New Testament, the followers of Christ are told they are to believe. And if they believe, they will be saved. Which means they must submit with the humility of their minds, their intellects to the mind of God. Never, never daring to ask God, why. Only He fully understands the mystery He revealed. It is ours to humbly surrender our minds and believe. In Christianity, therefore, the most fundamental virtue is humility of mind. As in Christianity, the most demonic sin is pride of intellect, which in our days is shaking the Church to her foundations. I know. I know. I live with intellectuals. I know theologians. I wish I could say they were all humble believers. And on this humility of intellect, we as followers of Christ, believe, depends our eternal destiny. No wonder St. Paul could say, without faith it is impossible to please God. What then, is Jesus telling us? He is saying that our love of God must include our loving submission of mind to the infinite mind of God.
I hope what I am saying does not leave you cold. Let me tell you, among educated, sophisticated, learned intellectuals, the hardest virtue to practice is simple, childlike loving faith. But we said, Christ gave us two developments: to the Old Testament mandate of loving God. Christ's second injunction, as we may call it, was to associate what had never been thus associated before: the love of neighbor with the love of God. If this sounds commonplace to you Thank God, you have been well reared. But the juxtapositions of the love of God and love of neighbor is not trifling. It is of the essence of the practice of our Christian faith. Christ calls it the second commandment by which He meant that the love of neighbor depends on the first commandment, which is the love of God. Listen, and don't forget, only those who truly love God can truly love their neighbor. This is worth repeating. Only those who truly love God can truly love their neighbor. This is why any system of ethics that separates religion, which is man's relationship with God, from morality, which is man's relationship with others, is doomed to failure. Hear it. There can be no morality without religion. It is not just hard. It is impossible to really love others unless first that is why it is the first commandment we love God. In other words, there can be no realistic moral order which is not firmly grounded in religion. Two days ago, I don't read it every day, but just to know what the unbelieving world is saying, I occasionally read the Washington Post. There was a story about a principal in California of a large school, who had introduced what the Washington Post writer had called an ethical system for doing good to others. But minus, hear the language, minus the taint of religion. What idiocy! No wonder our nation has the dubious credits of being the most crime-ridden society in the annals of human history. As the people lose their faith in God and corresponding love of God, they become more and more what one of the Supreme Court Justice's of our United States declared some years ago. The day is coming when the only law the average American will obey is the law with a bayonet behind his back. As a person or a society becomes agnostic or atheistic by ignoring or rejecting God, it becomes unjust and inhumanly cruel in its dealings with people. This is the basic reason why Communism, which is atheistic on principle, is so diabolically cruel in practice.
Let's close with a prayer. Lord Jesus, You came as you told us, not to abolish the law, but to perfect it. Thank you dear Savior, for having perfected the commandment of our love of God: telling us we are to love God with all our souls, all our strength, but also with all our minds. Keep us humble, dear Jesus, in mind, believing that your hand is in every act of your Providence. Thank you Jesus, for telling us that the second commandment of loving our neighbor depends on the first commandment: loving God as the effect depends on its cause. Give us the grace, dear Lord, to love You, in loving others whom you have placed into our lives for this one purpose: that by loving others we might show even as you did our love for you. Even unto death. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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