Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:10—NABRE)
Jesus is asked which of the commandments is first. The question concerns us, never mind if it comes from the scribe who assents or the Pharisee who dissents—assent and dissent too, according to Father Maloney, can contribute to the building-up of the Church. No, the question does not belong to the Jews only who are schooled in the 613 precepts and the prescriptions of commentators. It belongs to us Catholics also who are not lacking in a multiplicity of doctrines and explanations of them in the form of catechisms, constitutions, decrees, declarations and canons.
Multiplicity is not bad in itself. Divine transcendence requires that limited human intelligence come up with multiple explanations, so that the Ineffable may be less incomprehensible. It is not enough for us to propose only one description of God’s plenitude or several even, but very many and endless descriptions, if we want to arrive at just an approximation (cf. Sir. 43:27-31).
With so many things, however, it is possible for us to lose sight of their basic meaning and end up disregarding the more important ones. It would be worse if we mistake our relative symbols with the absolute reality they represent and we forget that, as much as they reveal, symbols still veil. The question is pertinent, for sure. And even more important is the answer.
Jesus’ answer shows that he is our Teacher. He is right on target about the essence of worship and he differs from Rabbi Hillel who reduced the whole Jewish ethic to, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor,” as well as from prophet Micah (6: 8). Love is what characterizes Jesus’ answer.
Jesus declares that love “is above all rules,” to put it the way St. Vincent de Paul did. Underscored once again is the decisive role of what remains in the heart, in the soul, in the mind, in the memory. The emphasis on what is deeply rooted is the same one that is found in the mention of the adultery that is committed in the heart and in the clarification that the things that come out from within are what defile.
The love that is in the heart is invisible like God. But as those who have tasted love know, it is made manifest, for example, in the effects of love enumerated by Lope de Vega. But above all, it is revealed and shown to be real in the person who is possessed by the love that is described in 1 Cor. 13:4-7.
And as it is the case with God’s love, our love is proven in mission and cannot be without compassion (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 3:17; Is. 54:10; Lam. 3:32). According to St. Vincent, the one who lacks compassion does not have charity nor is he a genuine Christian; he is more an animal than a human person.
In the end, as St. John of the Cross says, we will be judged on love. Those consumed by the affective love, from which flows the effective love that is distinguishable by the strength of the arms and the sweat of the brow, to borrow again from St. Vincent, will take their special and reserved places in the heavenly worship in which presides the one whose priesthood does not pass away. Is our Eucharistic celebration, the pledge of the glorious worship to come, a true proclamation of the primacy of Gospel love? Aren’t we content simply with being not far from the kingdom, going away sad and with our faces falling because we have many possessions?