In the late 1960s, The Beatles sang, "All you need is love." On the surface, at least, what they said wasn't much different than what St. Augustine wrote more than 1,500 years earlier, "Love God then do what you will."
Jesus, of course, had made his agreement with this type of thinking well known when he stated that the greatest commandment is that "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. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'" (Mark 12:30-31).
And then there was St. Paul. He famously wrote that if one has great faith and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and incredible knowledge but lacks love, then he is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
All of this is bang-on. There has been a recent tendency to distort this by opposing love to law. Some have said that while the Old Testament gives us law, the New Testament abolishes law and gives us love. We are urged to forget about rules and "just do the loving thing" -- whatever that might mean. It usually doesn't mean very much. The implication is that you can do whatever you want as long as you do it in a loving way.
Father Jordan Aumann might help us to reflect more fruitfully on the virtue of charity with his statement that "Purely human love as such is of no value in the supernatural order" (Spiritual Theology, p. 266). He goes on to add that "When we love our neighbours for any other motive distinct from God, we do not love them with the love of charity" (p. 270).
Just loving our neighbours is of no value in God's kingdom unless it is rooted in our prior love of God. And, as Jesus said, we should strive to love God "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."
Moreover, this love of God is not something we can create if we don't already have it. Paul tells us that "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).
The love of God is a gift. We can undermine that gift through indifference, ingratitude or lukewarmness in the exercise of our faith. Or, we can strengthen it by a greater zeal for the things of God, a detachment from created things and by following the commandments. But ultimately the love of God is a gift.
Loving God, nevertheless, leads to loving the things he has created. We do not do good things in order to curry God's favour as though we could buy our way into the kingdom. Rather, we love God and know that that love will pour over into love of his creation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it aptly: "Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God" (no. 1822).
Such a definition is a key to the correct understanding of the Scriptures, such as Jesus' description of the Last Judgment where the "sheep" were admitted to the kingdom because the good they did to the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters was also done to him (Matthew 25:31-46). The charity given to us by God enables us to live a good life, loving God as he is present in his creatures.
Charity, however, does not describe any human act; it is rather a disposition to draw ever closer to God. To actually draw closer, we need a map for getting there. Such a map, or guidelines, can be found in the commandments which set a minimum standard for what it means to love God and love one's neighbour. They are not mere social conventions which have little to do with goodness and which keep us from finding fulfilment.
St. John links law and love in this way: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" ( 1 John 4:2-3).
All you need is love. But love does include keeping the commandments.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.