Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope
Jesus responds to the the Pharisees’ question concerning which is the greatest commandment in the law by pointing to Deuteronomy 6:5
(perfect love of God) and Leviticus 19:18
(love of neighbor). Since Jesus says that the whole law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, one might suppose that a faithful Israelite who meditates on the law day and night would eventually realize this. Indeed, this is the case, for in Luke’s parallel account of this encounter, Jesus poses the same question back to a scholar of the law, who correctly identifies these two commandments as the way to eternal life through the law (Lk 10:25-28
We often see the law as something extrinsic and constraining, something which can be changed according to the customs and mores of a society and which we obey in order to get along with others, but which does not necessarily affect the core of our being. This may sometimes be the case, and we see this most especially when we are faced with unjust civil laws, which we are not obligated to obey (or may, in fact, be obligated to disobey) as Christians. For example, a Christian might break the law by hiding Jews from the Nazis in order to save their lives. Someone else might actually be obeying the law by reporting the Christian “law-breaker” for hiding Jews. Yet, in this situation, we would rightly judge the “law-breaker” to be virtuous and the snitching “good citizen” to be morally reprehensible.
God’s law is not extrinsic to us, however. It may seem so at first because we consider our own (foolish) ways of thinking to be wise and so may dismiss God’s wisdom as foolishness. At the heart of God’s law, however, is love. It is curious that God commands love, because love can only be genuine where one is free, not constrained. Yet, as Pascal recognized in his famous (and much misunderstood) wager, if one genuinely
wants to believe but does not, one can begin to act as if one believes, and by “going through the motions,” one can, in fact, begin to believe. This is because the spirit and the flesh are intimately united. Where the spirit is at least somewhat willing to believe (as is the case with the man with whom Pascal is dialoguing), then beginning to act on this holy desire “in the flesh” (i.e. in concrete existence) can be a way to develop genuine belief. Isabel Coixet’s short film “Bastille” from Paris, Je t’aime
) illustrates how the same thing that Pascal indicates about faith can be true about love as well. If you would like to love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself, but find this very hard, perhaps you could try acting as if you did have such a love, and then ask God for the grace to have the love that guides your actions guide your heart as well.
August 21st, 2015