To Love Without Exception
In today’s gospel, we see a young man approach Jesus and ask a really important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a great question. Jesus responds by saying we must keep the commandments. But instead of citing all of the commandments, Jesus only quotes the second tablet—the tablet that has to do with love of neighbor. The young man says he has followed all of these. At which point, Jesus says that the man is “lacking in one thing.” What is that one thing? It is the first tablet.
The first tablet of the commandments is about love of God: Have no other gods besides me; do not take the Lord’s name in vain; keep holy the Sabbath day. This is what the man lacks: the first tablet: love of God from a heart that is oriented entirely to the Lord. This is why Jesus says, “go, sell what you have…” Until the man does this, his heart will be divided. Jesus doesn’t want the bare minimum; Jesus wants us to strive for love without exception. And so, Jesus wants the man to sell everything, selling which then will create a void, a void that can then be filled with God, so that the man can follow God without exception.
What are we attached to in our lives? What keeps us from loving God without exception? Sure, we may keep the commandments, but is it from a heart oriented entirely to the Lord? We may do well in fulfilling the second tablet—love of neighbor—but God wants that love to flow from the first tablet: love of God. Without love of God, our love of neighbor comes to little. If we have exceptions when it comes to our love of God, our love for neighbor will quickly falter.
A Historical Moment: An Occasion for Fidelity
On Thursday, the universal Church celebrated the opening of the Year of Faith, a year in which we are invited to examine the Church’s teachings and to grow deeper in love with the God who comes to meet us. Pope Benedict XVI called this Year of Faith to open on two important anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Council and the Catechism are thus two very important pieces of our faith that we must take time this year to study so that we can become more and more faithful.
There was another historical event that happened on Thursday: we saw for the first time two Catholic politicians in a debate for the Vice-Presidency. Ordinarily, I would not bring up their debate in a homily, but in their debate they discussed the Catholic faith. I will start with Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan said that he believes that the baby in the womb is, in fact, a baby. Thanks be to God. But then he said that he would follow the Romney policy that “in the rare cases of rape and incest” abortion would be acceptable. Now, I cannot speak from personal experience about the horrors of rape and incest. But I am certain, very certain, that rape and incest is horrible. Absolutely horrible. And I completely understand where he is coming from: sure, maybe he wants votes; but I am sure that he is more concerned about being merciful to the woman who has experienced such a horrific crime.
But do these things change the reality that there is a baby in the womb? Does the circumstance in which a life is conceived change the nature of the life conceived? A baby is a baby no matter how. And it is never permissible, never allowed, to kill a baby. A baby is a baby and it must never be killed—especially in the womb. No exception.
Paul Ryan, then, is “lacking one thing.” He needs to go and sell what he has and have a heart undivided to God. Perhaps God will do something for that woman; perhaps God has plans for that child. We cannot ever call murder “mercy.”
I wish he would sell that attachment. I weep for him.
Joe Biden also calls himself a good Catholic. And he too says that an unborn baby is human. Thanks be to God. But his position is worse than Ryan’s. Whereas Ryan was motivated out of a false sense of mercy, Biden simply says that he “will not impose my morality on others.” At first hearing, this may sound attractive, because it seems to uphold free will. But let’s take that for a spin. When we say that it is a crime to defraud money from others, haven’t we imposed a morality on others? When we say that it is a crime to kill another in cold blood, haven’t we imposed a morality on others? Shoot, even when we put up a stop sign, haven’t we imposed a morality: namely, that it is good to stop and bad to plough through an intersection? Every law is an imposition of morality!
This means that when Biden says that he will not impose his morality on others, he already has! He already has imposed his morality. And what is his morality? Relativism; that while others kill a baby in the womb, we can say and do nothing, because that's their reality. Shame! One the one hand Biden imposes the morality of charity to the poor, but then he won't impose the morality of charity to the unborn child? How can he hold this foolishness? Well, it is because his belief, that the baby in the womb is human, is not—in his mind—a universal. If you don’t believe it’s a baby, then it’s not a baby.
But that’s crazy. Not only does this go against God and science and reason, but against fundamental notions of reality itself. We do not define reality and morality. To define our own morality goes contrary to the reality of the commandments: that God defines morality. Thus, Biden simply doesn’t undermine the commandment “thou shall not kill,” but he undermines the commandments' very existence.
Biden, more than Ryan, is called to a greater selling. I pray for him.
Mother Theresa: Love of Neighbor Predicated Upon Love of God – First Tablet Before the Second
This has devastating consequences for social policy. For now, I will simply say this: both vice presidential candidate’s social policy seems, at first glance, to fall within the confines of allowable policy under Catholic social teaching. Catholic social teaching allows a wide umbrella of acceptable governmental and economic structure. Some argue that Biden’s social policy is more faithful to Catholic teaching than Ryan’s.
But let me comment on the fundamental difference in their social policy:
“By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. The father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
This was said by Mother Theresa. You see, while it is true that taking care of the poor is an essential facet of our faith—love of man is the second tablet—our preferential option for the poor is undermined when a social policy holds to or advances abortion. While it is true that oppression of the poor falls under intrinsic evil, doing good—like the commandments—are ordered hierarchically. If we undermine life itself in its most vulnerable state, then it doesn’t matter what we do socially. That is Catholic teaching, and Mother Theresa, the saint of the poor, echoed that sentiment. Do you wish to argue with her?
Called to be Catholic: Wise and Faithful
It pains me that both republicans and democrats—both who claim to be stewards of the poor and vulnerable—have never put an end to abortion. They are “lacking in one thing.”
Objectively, I tell you all of this not so that I can convince you to vote for one candidate or another. I am not a Democrat, I am not a Republican. I am a Catholic. Since the Second Vatican Council, I know there has been delineations of Catholics into “liberal” and “conservative.” And I hate those categories because they are ultimately political. We are called to be faithful—and that is the category by which we will be judged. Judgment requires wisdom, which is mentioned in our first reading. It takes wisdom to cut through the emotions and political affiliations that we are attached to. It takes wisdom to see that if we truly wish to serve the poor, we must first serve life. It takes wisdom to judge that political policies of two candidates differ not only in their political orientation, but in fidelity to God.
When it comes to fidelity on the first social issue that grounds all other social issues, we can judge Catholic candidates’ fidelity. We must judge this, for our own eternal life depends on it.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds: “Go, sell what you have… and come, follow me.”