When you’re around Catholics this week, you may hear them speaking about All Saints Day, an annual November 1 day of remembrance (not worship) of all the faithful who are the “proven friends” of God and have inherited eternal life with Him.
Even the non-believer should be able to at least acknowledge the good of this day and the persons it honors, for the saints are men and women who have followed the great commandments to the best of their knowledge and ability—sought to practice and advance goodness, kindness and righteousness in their lives. After all, we honor sports stars, movie stars, etc., and even their memories after death; should we not honor even more so with remembrance those who exercised charity and kindness and Godliness in our world?
In that vein, in the Gospel reading for the Catholic Mass this weekend we read of a Jewish law scholar querying Jesus: “‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40)
When that scholar asks the question, Jesus does not hesitate: God first and foremost in all things. Yet He knew that not even all would do so, and thus the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), and His foretelling elsewhere: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three … “ (Luke: 12:51-52) Not that Jesus wants division, but He knew it was inevitable; He knew that not all would (or will) choose to follow the way of God of goodness, righteousness, charity and truth—a way available to everyone, even if they have never heard of Jesus.
To this latter point, consider whether if one has never known Jesus or only had bad experiences with those who do, would it be just to condemn him on that lack of knowledge or understanding alone? But those who may not be adequately aware of the Christian faith still have it within their own power and conscience to do good; this is built into our very being; are WE to condemn, not possibly knowing the heart of each person? We might recall Jesus rebuking the apostles when they wanted to destroy those who did not receive Him. (Luke 9:51-56) And, after all, as is often said, today’s sinner may be tomorrow’s saint, and Christians not only strive for eternal life for themselves, but in hope for conversion and life for all.
So, the first commandment is to love God with whole heart—to love goodness and truth with one’s whole being. And then the second, which Jesus says is similar to the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”…a commandment repeated from the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18). These are the whole law and the prophets, He assures—the teaching of all scripture, and thus of all of God’s revealed Word to humanity.
In Mark’s Gospel a scholar (scribe) affirms: “You are right, Teacher…to love [God] with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33) This is why St. John tells us: “…this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1John 5:3), and this is why even a thousand years before Jesus, the prophet Samuel rebuked the disobedient Israelite king Saul: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15:22). And this is why Jesus tells us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” (John 14:15)…because Jesus’ instruction—His very requests—are, by definition, God’s commandments.
And whenever we interact with any other person, we are also interacting with God by proxy, as it were, for Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that however we treat our neighbor—especially the needy and the oppressed—is how we treat Him. Our being made in God’s image implies our obligation to be charitable TO that image in other persons. After all, when we are charitable to a person’s child, does not the parent feel that charity toward himself even more so? And God is Father of all.
Now, certainly wisdom and prudence are allowed out of care of ALL of our neighbors, however…not enabling the criminal, the indolent or the terrorist, for instance, who might prey upon others. Even in the book of Sirach we read: “Do not bring every man into your home, for many are the wiles of the crafty…for he lies in wait, turning good into evil…and a sinner lies in wait to shed blood.” (Sirach 11:29-34)
So we are neither to be harsh nor naïve, but rather use good judgment. How to determine the best path, however, is often difficult. So, when in doubt, know that charity does not err.
In the two great commandments all scripture is inexorably linked in the Christian obligation to charity—to love. Anything we do for the true good of our neighbor is a participation in the love which God IS…for He, AS love, is the source of all love.
So, sincerity in faith first—attending the love of God and truth, in prayer and worship—and close by is following the moral law and charity that He has given us in scripture and, for we Catholics, in the Church. In our day-to-day lives—in each choice for self or for another—to follow the teaching of God is to follow that which is good and right. That is love of God. That is love of neighbor.
“As for the saints in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:3)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.