The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on November 5, 2006, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, at Saint Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington.
Years ago, in a commentary on today’s gospel passage from Saint Mark’s Gospel (12: 28b-34), I read the following statement: “Love of God and Love of neighbor: you can accept both or you can reject both, but you cannot separate them or choose only one of them.” Yes, Jesus is very clear in telling us that love of God and love of neighbor go together. In answering the scribe’s question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied with the quote from the Book of Exodus, which forms our first reading today. “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” And then Jesus immediately added: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Yes, that commentator was right on target. We can accept “Love of God and love of neighbor” or we can reject both, but we cannot separate them, choosing one over the other.
So then, in a very fundamental way, the whole of our religious practice is rooted in this two-fold commandment of love. We must love God with our entire being and above all else. We show this love by praying and receiving the sacraments; by obeying God’s Word, which comes to us in the Scriptures, in Tradition and through the Teaching Office of the Church; and by doing God’s Will in our individual vocations.
We also show our love for God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Notice that we must love others the way we love ourselves. Initially, this may sound strange. We must love ourselves correctly, that is, seeing ourselves as created by God and therefore endowed with inestimable dignity; seeing ourselves as called by God to holiness and therefore called to imitate Jesus in all we are and do. Loving ourselves correctly enables us to desire that we be saved in accord with God’s will and to see ourselves from His viewpoint as totally dependent on Him and on His loving care for us.
If we love ourselves correctly, then we can love others — our neighbor — correctly as well. We love them by desiring their total welfare, including their eternal salvation. We love them by reaching out to assist them in their spiritual or material needs. This love for others must be tangible, visible and effective. Without any doubt, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves is central to our living as disciples of Christ and members of His Body, the Church.
Frank Duff understood this so well. He realized that loving God and loving others remain inseparable. He saw tremendous need in the Ireland of his day, so in 1921 Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary, which is now the largest lay Apostolic organization in the Catholic Church, with millions of members across the world. Mr. Duff’s purpose in beginning the Legion of Mary was to proclaim God’s love to people in every place, to provide spiritual assistance and to do this in concrete ways like evangelizing families and inviting people to return to the Church and to join the Church. Mr. Duff died on November 7, 1980, and his cause for sainthood has been introduced. I am offering this Mass today for the intention that his journey toward becoming proclaimed a saint, becoming canonized, will move forward. A goodly number of the Legion of Mary is with us, praying for this intention. Let me add that the Legion of Mary is very active within our diocese, and for that, I give thanks to God and to each of them.
Moreover, each year, members of the Legion of Mary take part in a week-long pilgrimage of door-to-door evangelization in an out-of-state location; this is called a Peregrinatio Pro Christo. This year, a group led by Father Stephen McGraw will go to Bolivia toward the middle of this month. Those missionary Legionaries of Mary are here and will receive a blessing and commissioning following this homily. Love of God and Love of neighbor fuels their desire to take part in this pilgrimage of evangelization.
Love of God and Love of neighbor also energize us to promote the common good. This week, on Tuesday, we can witness to this two-fold commandment of love by taking part in the election process. Voting is part and parcel of our civic responsibility. Late last month, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and I wrote a pastoral letter to all the Catholics in the Commonwealth, entitled “Church Teaching and Civic Responsibility.” We are urging every Catholic to vote on Tuesday, and in advance of that vote, “to reflect on what is most important to us, and to gather all the information needed to make well-informed decisions.” We ended our letter in this way: “We … will continue to teach two basic truths — that, no matter what the issue is, human dignity must be the central consideration; and that, above all else, our laws must honor the right to life without which no other right could even exist.” A complete copy of our letter can be found in the October 26 issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald.
Yes, “Love of God and Love of neighbor: you can accept both or you can reject both, but you cannot separate them or choose only one of them.” Let us live as Christ’s disciples, loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves every day until we see the God of love face to face.