Thursday, November 1, 2018


Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

When the US Supreme Court ruled by a 5 to 4 vote in 2015 that the US Constitution guarantees the right of marriage to all persons, without exception, meaning same-sex marriage is now a constitutional and legal right, supporters celebrated by making the hashtag #lovewins viral on social media. Outside the Supreme Court, the police allowed hundreds of people waving rainbow flags and holding signs, to advance onto the court plaza as those present for the decision streamed down the steps. “Love has won,” the crowd chanted as courtroom witnesses threw up their arms in victory. It is ironic, that those opposed to the decision to redefine the age-old definition of marriage came to be labelled as “haters” – the logic – if you are against same-sex marriage, you are against love, therefore, you are a “hater.”  It is interesting how “love” too has been redefined to include those who agree with one’s ideological positions and excludes those who don’t. It is more ironic that if you are a supporter of a traditional viewpoint of marriage, you are a “hater” too. To put a label on people as a way of closing off the debate or as a way of vilifying those who disagree really runs counter to this whole idea of “love.”

So much hatred pours daily into our newsfeed. Ironically it’s all directed in the name of tolerance, progress and love. I don’t think that the word “love” means what they think it means. Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. “Love,” hasn’t just become synonymous with unfettered sexual expression, it has become tantamount to a kind of sexual gospel that is blinded to all other concerns, especially moral concerns. It’s not merely enough to have the freedom to marry or kiss whomever one chooses, but one has to submit to celebrating this kind of sexual liberation to show any conception of love. This secularised appropriation of love shares much in common with the corrupted form of the Greek “eros”— erotic love that is presumed to lead humans to “supreme happiness.” Yet, as Pope Emeritus Benedict warned in his 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est, “this counterfeit divinisation of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanises it.”

Anything that defies this new secular religion which glorifies “love” as doing what you want with whomever you want, and does not cater to the personal and explicitly sexual desires of the individual, is immediately described as “hate.” But, philosophically speaking, this self-defined dichotomy of love and hate undercuts the dynamic nature of love itself. Not only does it remove the biblical notion of agape (which is the word used in today’s gospel), or a kind of love that, in the words of Pope Benedict, “seeks the good of the beloved…ready, and even willing, for sacrifice,” but it removes God from love. In a way, a love which is separated from God eventually leads to a rejection of God. After all, St John tells us that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). 

Let’s come back to today’s gospel. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the greatest commandment is simply love. You will be shocked to discover that Love (love per se) is not the greatest commandment. Look keenly at the words our Lord uses. There is the first commandment which is very important than any other command. To be ‘first’ in this context is closer to the idea of being the first stone laid—the cornerstone, upon which all of the other stones must rest. Consequently, the greatness of the love commandment lies not in its surpassing value over and against all of the other commandments of Jewish law but, rather, in its ability to hold up all the rest. This is the love of God. All other commands have a basis and root in this command. So, if any person asks you what is the greatest command, do not say love, but love of God. To take God out of the equation would be a gross misrepresentation.

Quoting from the “Shema”, the fundamental creed of the Jewish People, the love of God must be total. Loving God with one’s entire heart means loving Him from the very root of our being; loving God with one’s entire soul means loving Him passionately; loving God with all of one’s strength means loving Him with all of the power we can muster; and loving Him with all of one’s mind means loving Him by studying His ways and learning to do His will. That is why in the Fourth Gospel, our Lord tells His disciples that if they love Him, they should keep His commandments. The true litmus test for love is obedience to the Father’s will and God’s commandments. Love can never mean abusing our freedom and seek to live a life at odds with God’s plan for us, for our relationships, and for marriage and family.

You can see from the above that to love God supremely and to love man in a corresponding way is no light task. It is sheer human impossibility! Everything rational in our mind tells us that we ought to have such love. But every irrational thought tells us that we cannot. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess that none of us has loved God in such a way. We might love God more today than we loved Him yesterday, but we still do not love Him as we ought. That is why we will always fall short of living up to the demands of the commandment and that is also why we must repent daily for our failure to keep it.

Our Lord knew what He was saying by saying that the greatest command is love. The world teaches that you can love your neighbor without even caring or loving God and this is the highest degree of hypocrisy. A man cannot love neighbour without first having the love of God. True love comes first from loving God and without God there is no love even to neighbour.

What, then, should be the Catholic response to both the hijacking of “love” and “hate”? The answer is simple: We must love in a Christian sense. We must show that love is, and can be, more than two men kissing; more than a hashtag and a rainbow flag; more than something that benefits just us. We must show love in all of its healing power of forgiveness, in charity, and in what is no longer rational, yet still reveals the light of faith. We must also never blur the lines between sin and virtue. We cannot and should not obfuscate the nature of evil. Let’s call a spade a spade – sin has nothing to do with love. In fact, sin is the exact opposite of authentic love.  Above all, we must have courage, and we must continue to live our lives with faith, showing the world the true value of loving God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our beings, and being witnesses of this self-giving love to others, especially to those on the fringes of society and even to those who are undeserving of love.

Today, the hashtag - #LoveWins -popular on social media, is easier to understand and accept than the Church’s unchanging teaching on what love and marriage is and what it is not. In the end, we Christians do agree that love will win in the end, the love that Saint Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4–6: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not boastful, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” It’s an important reminder that “love” and “truth” go hand-in-hand: We must speak the truth in love to our fellow men and women, and there can be no love that denies the truth. “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light,” Pope Benedict tells us, “that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.”

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