On These Two Things …

 

By Fr. Longnecker:

On these two things …

…hang all the law and the prophets. The two things are the two essential commandments that we love God and love our neighbor.

One of the problems in the church is between two groups of people: the God lovers and the people lovers. The God lovers focus on liturgy, spirituality, prayer, adoration, consecrated life, vocation, religion and worship. The people lovers focus on peace and justice, the church as the pilgrim people of God, the fellowship of the brothers and sisters, the ministry of the sacraments to one another.

The God lovers see the Mass as a solemn sacrifice that takes us to the very threshold of heaven. They want fine liturgy an esoteric, magnificent and otherworldly worship. For the God lovers worship is to lift us from this vale of tears to transport us to the worship of the cosmic sphere. For them the Mass is the great sacrifice that applies the eternal act of redemption to souls in need of salvation.

The people lovers see the Mass as the fellowship meal of the people of God. The worship is warm and comforting. It is designed to make everyone feel good about themselves and each other. The content is all about helping one another and making the world a better place. The church is in this world and is of this world and needs to adapt to this world so that more and more people can be helped.

As you read this you are probably already, instinctively choosing which of these two models you like best. You will believe that yours is the best and that, at best, the other one is faulty, and at worst it is heretical and damaging to the church and should be stopped.

In fact we need both don’t we? We’re supposed to love God and love our neighbor. So why all the division if there really is the division I see? It is not because one is right and the other wrong, but because we have not prioritized properly.

The lovers of people may not like to hear this, but the love of God is the first priority. Love of neighbor comes after the love of God and is dependent on the love of God. We cannot love our neighbor if we do not love God first. Why? Because we have not motive, no power and no grace to love our neighbor if we have not loved God first.

Therefore the love of God is the Catholic priority. Loving our neighbor is mandatory and cannot be overlooked, but it comes after the love of God. If this is true, then we must ask ourselves where we properly love God and where we properly love our neighbor. The answer is that we love God primarily within the life of prayer and worship: within and through the liturgy.

If we love God in church, then we love our neighbor outside of church. Most of the problems with modernist liturgy and worship is that they have brought into the church what rightly belongs outside the church. In other words, the fellowship, the peace and justice, the social activism, the missionary enterprise, the education and health care and family concern–all of this is the proper activity of the people of God outside of the liturgy, and we have brought it all into the liturgy.

As a result, the liturgy has become all about loving people and not loving God. Why is this? Because too many Catholics have not simply put the love of God elsewhere, they have replaced the love of God with the love of people. Clever theologians thought that the supernatural, otherworldly aspect of worship seemed too much of a stretch for ordinary, modern, scientific people, and in a move of breath taking condescension, made the liturgy folksy and people centered and dumbed down the whole thing.

The result has been a disaster. Catholics therefore love people, but have lost the language for loving God, and of course, once you no longer love God, it is not very long before you are no longer able to love people either, for what do you find to love in them if you have not loved God first, for the only thing I find lovable in my neighbor is the image of God in him, and the only way I can discern this is by first learning to love God.

The final result of all this is that we not only have forgotten the art of loving our neighbor, but we have been left with the only remaining remnant which is love of ourselves. Thus what was once the glorious worship of Almighty God has become a mish mash of comfort hymns and self help therapy which is all about how good God makes me feel.

The only remedy is to return to Christ’s priorities: to learn once more how to put the love of God first in our lives so that we may eventually learn again how to love our neighbor.

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