by Fr Charles FSDM
The readings for the Thirty-First Sunday of the year (Ordinary Form) for year B of the triennial cycle have a common theme: the love of God and commitment to God.
In the First Reading, we hear Moses tell the people of Israel to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus confirm that this is the first commandment of His Father, the second being that you must love your neighbour as yourself.
Can both of these be separated? Can one honestly say that one loves God without loving one’s neighbour as oneself? I don’t think that that is possible.
In order to truly love God, one must love one’s neighbour – indeed when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment and He said “There is no commandment greater than these”. He confirmed that the two elements go hand-in-hand. Note that He didn’t say “greater than this“, but “these“.
What does loving God mean? And what does loving your neighbour as yourself mean? An old saying is “do as you would be done by”. In other words, treat others as you would expect to be treated yourself. Jesus very succinctly sums up all of the Ten Commandments into two phrases: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.
Would we expect a neighbour, or friend, or anybody else for that matter, to bear false witness against us? Steal from us? Kill us? Run off with our partner? I suspect that the answer to that is a firm “No!” So if we wouldn’t expect somebody else to do that to us, why should we do any of that to them? Do as you would be done by.
But loving one’s neighbour goes much further than the passive act of not doing anything against them: one can demonstrate one’s love for one’s neighbour in a tangible way.
In Catholic tradition, there are the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy:
The Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned
- Bury the dead
The Corporal Works are those basic works of charity that anyone with a basic sense of loving one’s neighbour as oneself would do as a matter of course. These are so wonderfully and selflessly carried out by the members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul not only in England and Wales but all over the world. Love of God and loving your neighbour as yourself go hand-in-hand, as is demonstrated not only by the SVP but by many other charities worldwide. Loving your neighbour as yourself – again, doing as you would be done by.
After Jesus had answered the scribe’s question about the greatest commandment, the scribe agreed with Jesus that “this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.” Maybe the scribe had seen for himself the actions of the others, outwardly pious and giving the air of holiness but shunning the poor, the lame, the hungry.
This concept of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is referred to by scholars as the “Golden Rule”. It over-arches all forms of faith and all forms of worship and even is a tenet of humanism.
Sadly, all too often it seems to be ignored. Not by those who don’t know any better, but by those who SHOULD know better. What is the answer? Not to engage in slanging matches and accusing people of being bigoted – this is forgetting Our Lord’s instruction to take the log from one’s own eye before attempting to take the splinter from another’s – but to pray for those who have forgotten the second part of the most important commandment.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.