The Spirit of the Law
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Last week we examined the letter of the law. In particular, we went into detail about just one of those laws, the First Precept of the Church and Third Commandment of God, that we keep holy the Sabbath Day. In today’s bulletin, we further delve into the prohibitive part of that law—what we are forbidden to do on Sundays. This law of the Sabbath, we must remember, is but one of the many laws that we are expected to keep if we want to save our souls. Laws are there to keep us on the straight-and-narrow path of salvation. One of the main reasons we keep those laws is so that we don’t fall into sin by disobeying them and thus lose our souls. That’s why God gave so many laws to the Jews of the Old Testament.
Today though, we read in the New Testament, this Sunday’s Gospel, a new law, a law that fulfills every single one of the laws that were given to the Jews by Moses. It is what our Lord himself describes as “the first and great commandment,” to love the Lord thy God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” This one law fulfills the first three of the Ten Commandments, which refer to our relationship with God. A second law, which is “like unto” the first, is to love thy neighbor as thyself.” This law fulfills the other seven commandments of God, which deal with our relationship with our fellow human beings. “On these two commandments,” proclaims our blessed Lord and Savior, Son of God, “hang all the law and the prophets.”
In other words, if we truly obey these two great commandments, we obey all the commandments. By truly loving God and our neighbor, we cannot do other than obey every single legitimate piece of legislation that has ever been written, whether by God or by man. However, not all laws are legitimate. Any law, in order to be legitimate, must be based on these two laws, otherwise they are null and void in the sight of God. Even a simple disciplinary law that forbids us, for example, from driving at reckless speeds on the highway, is based on the respect we should show our neighbor by not endangering him needlessly. Love of neighbor in other words. A law on the other hand, which permits such reckless endangerment of our fellow man, is not a legitimate law. It must be either ignored, or, if necessary, disobeyed. The Nazis, for example, were very big on killing off a specific part of the population, our fellow human beings, the Jews. Catholics during World War II had the moral duty to not participate in such persecution, and in certain specific cases, even to protect their Jewish neighbors from harm. Things haven’t changed, and the descendants of those Nazis, who have now turned their attention to the persecution and murder of unborn babies, give us the same responsibility today to ignore the abortion laws as illegitimate and to protect those defenseless children, at least through our prayers, if not actual political activism. The abortion laws can hardly be described as promoting the love of our neighbor. Killing a baby is far from loving that baby as ourselves.
Laws then, are based on the spirit in which they are written and for which they are intended. If we all followed this spirit, if we were all united in keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as St. Paul says, the world would be a far better place. There would never have been wars, or revolutions, or civil unrest; there would never have existed such things as divorce, quarreling, violence, or persecution. So obviously, something went wrong somewhere along the line. Actually, it didn’t take long. When Adam and Eve bit the apple, the human race took its first step in breaking the first and great commandment to love God when it broke the only law that then existed. Thanks to this original sin, it’s been downhill ever since.
While there’s not much we can do about human nature and the fact that it is now a “fallen” human nature, there is a great deal we need to take care of to make sure we don’t let that fallen human nature get the better of us. Simply obeying the Ten Commandments isn’t enough. A hundred thousand commandments would not be enough if all we do is follow the letter of those laws. If we do not have their spirit, then we will never succeed, either in obeying them all, or ultimately, of saving our souls. We must love God. And because we love God, we must also love our neighbor. After all, God sent his only-begotten Son to die for our neighbor. Who are we to deny that neighbor our love? That’s why this second great Commandment is “like unto” the first. Love of neighbor is worth nothing if we don’t love God first.
This is not just something to point out in passing. It’s an essential part of understanding why the world is in such a topsy-turvy moral chaos today. As usual, we can point to the failings of Vatican II, on the basis that “as goes the Church, so goes the world.” When the Second Vatican Council reduced the role of God in our lives, they tried to fill the resulting vacuum by substituting love of humanity for its own sake. The Mass stopped being the worship of God and became instead the celebration of our own human worth, the Body and Blood of Christ became simply the “work of human hands.” The virtue of charity was reduced to social justice, mere philanthropy; Catholic schools, hospitals and orphanages gradually gave way to state-run establishments whose primary goal is to make a ton of money through exorbitant costs and government grants; Catholicism, once the firm bulwark of the Democratic party, is now replaced with Socialism; stewardship of God’s gifts has become conservation, care of our planet, where the greatest sins according to the current leader of the conciliar Church, are based on the reluctance to recycle and negligence of our carbon footprint. Nuns became feminists, and joined the ranks of those who would give preference to women even over God himself. The result—we are now expected to let women murder their own offspring if that’s their choice. We could go on all day listing examples of the foul consequences of trying to replace God with man. Let’s bear them in mind and by all means come up with our own examples as we go forward. But for now, let’s just stress that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and that love of man is in second place, and then, only because of the first—we must love our fellow-man because we love God first, otherwise we end up with the mess we have today.
There’s not much we can do about the world we live in, other than live in it. How we live in it will determine the only outcome we should really care about. It’s not about keeping the letter of the law, or deciding which ones are good and which are bad. It’s really about keeping the spirit of the two great commandments in the law, just keeping the focus on loving God as we know he should be loved, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, again as we know our neighbor should be loved. By doing this, we stand a chance of saving our own soul, and hopefully the souls of a few of our neighbors along the way.