I recently had a revelation regarding the nature of faith. For many, it is a mere assent, an atomic event of belief. If we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we will gain eternal life. After all, did not Jesus Himself tell us as much? To such individuals, who love the Lord with their souls, works of charity are laudable but not required for salvation. For others, faith is reduced to an intellectual exercise. Surely, if one is well versed and observant of the creeds, councils, and other artifacts of Sacred Tradition, he will be saved. For these, who love the Lord with their minds, there is at least a sense in which faith is a life long pursuit, but even they fall short what God asks in their dry academic studies. Still yet there are those who understand that faith requires love. An attempt is made to love their neighbors. It is an affective love, though, and is often represented by permissiveness and fear of discipline.
They are all wrong. However, like every good lie, they contain aspects of the truth. What is that truth? The Pharisees asked a similar question of Jesus.
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.'” – Matthew 22:35-40 (RSV)
Faith is an active condition (rather than a single choice), by which we receive grace. Grace is what gives us the capacity to love. Thus, to have faith is to love. This is what St. James meant when he said faith without works is dead. If we are not loving, we are not living.
All of the Law, Prophets, and the Gospel can be summarized as Love. Indeed, God is Love. The English language unfortunately ill prepares us to understand this love. We have but one word to express a wide range of concepts. For the purpose of this exposition, however, I will limit myself to the four expressed in the two great commandments: loving God with heart, mind, and soul, and loving neighbor as self. For a more thorough treatment, I heartily recommend The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.
“all your heart”
God so desired to love that He created Man in His image to be loved. Then, becoming a man Himself, He took the Church as His bride. What He has joined, let no man put asunder. Just as we would love a spouse, we should love the Lord, being faithful, caring, and attentive.
We have in this union the opportunity to become one flesh with the Lord. How are we to understand what is meant by becoming one flesh with the Lord? The answer is found in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, wherein we find Our Lord – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Church, consummating the Heavenly Marriage, takes Him into Herself by receiving the Eucharist. We are joined to Him and are impregnated with grace, This grace is not to end with us, however; it must bear fruit. Just as our forbearers were commanded to go forth and multiply, the Lord exhorts us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity, that is, marking them with holy water and chrism as betrothed to Christ. The baptized are the spiritual progeny of Christ and the Church.
“all your mind”
Having given us rational minds and made His creation comprehensible, the Lord desires for us to know Him and His plan for us to know Him and His plan for us. The universe, though scarred by the effects of the Fall, bears the mark of its Creator. Its beauty and complexity, contrary to modern popular opinion, point toward God and reveal aspects of His nature, rather than cast doubt upon His existence. Just as we marvel at the works of great artists, craftsmen, and engineers, we should marvel at Creation. Let us then vigorously pursue knowledge of God’s words and works, His laws, both physical and spiritual.
Most people at most times love themselves, at least in the sense that they seek to fulfill their own needs. We all need shelter, clothing, food, and water. There are our corporal needs. We have emotional and spiritual needs as well: affection, compassion, sympathy, forgiveness, hope, joy, etc. The list is quite long, but it reduces to one word, love. God commanded his people, even in the Old Covenant, to love our neighbors as we would like to be loved. This is a great burden and we might be tempted to define “neighbor” very narrowly, perhaps as family, friends or countrymen. Jesus Christ taught how we should have understood “neighbor” all along. That is, al human beings are our neighbors, even our enemies, and the more they are in need, physical, emotional, or spiritual, the more they are deserving of our love. Feed the hungry. Sate the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned. Be merciful. Be just. Be meek. Be peaceful. Be like Christ.
“all your soul”
Obedient love must guide the others loves in our lives. There must be no romantic love that is licentious or perverse. Love of knowledge must neither lead us to have any idol before our Lord, nor allow us to establish ourselves as sole determiners of our destiny. Brotherly love must be tempered by discipline, lest we forget who our brothers and sisters are and cease to be their keepers. Man cannot live on bread alone, but on the Word of the Lord.
All love should always be in accordance with God’s will as set out in Sacred Scripture or transmitted by Sacred Tradition and interpreted and taught by the Magisterium of the Church. This is often a difficult task, but it is far from impossible. In fact, the more we try, the easier it becomes; practice makes perfect. St. John Climacus sums it up well in his Ladder of Divine Ascent:
“At the beginning of our religious life, we cultivate the virtues, and we do so with toil and difficulty. Progressing a little, we then lose our sense of grief or retain very little of it. But when our mortal intellect turns to zeal and is mastered by it, then we work with full joy, determination, desire, and a holy flame.”
Let us go now to love and serve the Lord.