Sunday, August 5, 2012

Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself... and God

          Loving your neighbor as Christ and not His Church is a fallacy. I am in the process of starting seminary in late August and, as such, I wanted to read my rector's book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. Father Barron has a tremendous way of explaining things so that even a "doubting Thomas" will believe what the Church believes. But as we all know, not many people, even Catholics, believe in what the Church believes. To me, as a young Catholic and a seminarian who has many friends who are "recovering Catholics," I find this painful. God gives Himself to us through Christ and the Sacraments so we do not need to stray too far from from Him. The Sacraments are like a tether that allow us to go into the world and bring the love of God to it. The thing is, though, many people just care about loving their neighbor and claim to love Christ, but do not love the Church. This cannot be done, as I will show you. Many of my recovering Catholic friends, though, do not understand this. My goal in this post is to show people how loving your neighbor as yourself and not loving Christ and His Church is a logical fallacy. 

          It is a corporal work of mercy to bring the love of Christ to a world that is in desperate need of His love. Groups associated with social action, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (hereafter referred to as "LCWR) is a good example. Some of the work these religious women do is admirable, like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. This is a beautiful thing they are doing in the world and I commend them for it. But to love the poor and serve the hungry is simply not enough. Gerard Moore, a professor in Australia who has written widely on ecclesiology, says:

. . . . the church does not have a hierarchy, rather the church is a hierarchy. All members belong equally, no level can be understood apart from the other levels, all members have rights and duties one to the other within any levels and across any levels, and there can be no greater dignity or gift than Baptism [Gerard Moore, "Are We There Yet? Vatican II and the Renewal of the Liturgy: Reflections on the Fortieth Anniversary of the COnstitution of the Sacred Liturgy," Australian Catholic Record 81 (July 2004) 268.] 

The LCWR claims that the Church's hierarchy is attacking them because of their faithful call to reform. Whether or not their reform was faithful or fruitful is not the issue here. The issue is the LCWR is acting against the Church on many issues, namely: abortion, artificial birth control, women's ordination, and same-sex marriage. The members of the LCWR are placing the work with the hungry and poor ahead of their love for Christ, giving themselves totally to do His will. 

          How is this, though? How are the members of the LCWR placing the poor and hungry ahead of their love for Christ if they are serving the poor and hungry as if all of them are Christ? Simple: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart," and "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me," finally, "If anyone says, 'I love God', hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." Father Barron reminds us:

. . . . suffice it to say that the absolute love for God is not in competition with a radical commitment to love our fellow human beings, precisely because God is not one being among many, but the very ground of the existence of the finite world. Thomas Aquinas would state it this way: to love God is to love, necessarily, whatever participates in God, and this is to say the entire world (Robert Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, New York: Image Books, 2011, 55). 

So it is impossible to hate one person and love God at the same time, because God is love and is personified in His creation. My issue with Catholics who claim that living a "moral" life and loving Christ and not loving His Mystical Body, the Church, is a logical fallacy. As Moore reminds us, the Church does not have a hierarchy, it is a hierarchy. If you are a Catholic that says, "I don't need the male-dominated hierarchy to tell me what to do," you are essentially saying, "Even though I'm a part of this hierarchy by virtue of my Baptism, I'll willingly reject it if it does not conform to my feelings." 

          But being a Christian is not about what you feel. I many respects, it is not about how you feel at all. What matters about being a Christian is surrendering yourself, your whole being to Christ. You cannot say, "I surrender myself to Christ... but not the Church." The Church is Christ! Christ is the Church! The Church is Christ's Mystical Body on earth, His Bride. Just as a man and woman cannot break the bonds of marriage because they become one flesh, so is the man and woman's marriage bond a reflection of Christ with His Church. Christ reminds us of this when he told His Apostles that He would never leave them. Christ is always with His Church because He is the Church.

          To love God and not to love the Bride of His Son is a logical fallacy. How can one love someone but hate them at the same time? Hate is not in the Christian's lexicon of acceptable words. To be a Catholic Christian means that you accept the teachings of the Church as she believes them because it is Christ who is teaching these beliefs to us through His Spouse, the Church.

          This may seem like theo-babel, but this is only because the west has lost that sense of ourselves. Nothing to can understood in our culture anymore unless it is in black and white, written in big letters, and tossed in our faces. God does not work in this way; indeed, God has never worked in this way. God always reveals Himself through ordinary means so that we can grasp His presence. This is most clear in 1 Samuel 3:1-18. Samuel hears a whisper, calling him to get up from his sleep. God does this three times and, with the help of Eli, Samuel finally realizes it is God Who is speaking to him. The same is true of Jesus with His parables. Jesus never directly says, "I am the messiah! Come, and if you follow me, I'll lead you to my Father." Sorry, folks, that is not how God works. With the help of men and women, God speaks through them is silent ways to lead us to do His will. This is testified to in the lives of the martyr's, who gave of their whole selves to do the will of God on earth and lead others to profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

          To love Christ and not to love His Church is a logical fallacy. Then again, you cannot just love your neighbor as yourself. You must love your neighbor as yourself as God loves you. To put it another way, because you are God's child, you must love your neighbor as yourself because he, like you, is also God's child. And to love God, Christ, is to love His Church. The Church is Christ and when we clothe or feed a homeless person, we are feeding Christ... and His Church. One cannot love Christ and not love the one who carries His message of love and repentance to the world.