For some reason, it’s in the church parking lot that conversations often become memorable. As I stood by my open car door last Sunday, a deacon’s wife complained to me, in the familiar tones of classic outraged victimhood, that some parishioner had criticized her husband for putting a pro-Biden sign in his front yard. It was an invitation to side-taking, or to engage in partisan political talk. I don’t go there, so I said that I’m apolitical.
“Well,” she responded, sounding offended, “you do vote, don’t you?”
“No,” I lied.
I read her mind: Aha! I knew you were a Republican!
“No,” I said aloud. “I’m indifferent.” And it was the confession of indifference that allowed her to depart with a comfortable sensation of moral superiority.
I was reminded of this encounter when I saw this in my inbox this morning:
“And it is only by the observance of the first and greatest commandment that we can keep the second. The more we love God, the more we shall love man; the less we love God, the less we shall, in the true sense of the word, love man. Our love will become capricious, fitful, and unreliable—not charity, but passion. If you feel that your love for your fellowman is dying out in the fumes of selfishness, there is but one way to revive it: strive for, pray for, the love of God. As the heart turns toward its source, it will be quickened and expanded. There is no true, no lasting spirit of charity apart from the practice of religion. Therefore, we cannot keep those commandments which teach us our duty to men unless we are keeping those which teach us our duty to God.”
—Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 160, an excerpt from Christian Self-Mastery, quoted in the Morning Offering at CatholicCompany.com, February 17.
To put the second commandment before the first is to ensure that our love will indeed be capricious. We will be unfaithful to it because it does not come from a love for God but from our own need of love, which may or may not be active at the time when our love is most needed by those we have assured of its fidelity. It is not love for man, but love for ourselves. That is how we become false, both to others and to ourselves. No amount of passion or sentiment, no amount of emotional need, can be conjured into love, which always has its origin in God alone, not in ourselves.
Whence comes your love for your fellow man? From your own finite well? Sooner or later, it will run dry, leaving both you and those you’ve taught to depend on you to die of thirst. But if you draw from the well of the Infinite, neither you nor those you love will ever thirst again.
That is why all the secular political and social philosophies and ideologies based on humanism always fail, dwindling, bit by bit, into tedious utilitarianism, and ultimately into sordid proletarian violence. What happens on the larger social level is first expressed on the smaller personal level. But it begins even deeper: The first commandment is the Sh’ma, not only of Israel but also of Christians. It suffers no supersedence, regardless of how much human vanity demands it.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.