Written by: Evan Cowie, UF Student
All things have their end in God. We are created to be in eternal union with Him, and He alone can provide the satisfaction we so desperately seek. He’s the only one that can fill that peculiarly God-shaped hole in our hearts. So, of all the commandments, the greatest is this:
“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
This commandment is presented to us in the first reading for a reason – it is what gives the rest of the commandments, and the whole of our lives meaning. It is the foundation on which our relationship with God is built, and when observed, it animates us and moves us to action.
We see this in the second Greatest Commandment. Let’s take a look: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this? Indeed, it is because our neighbor, too, is made in the image and likeness of God. If we humans were not created in this image of God, this great dignity and destiny for union to the Divine, any love directed toward us would be in vain, as is love towards any temporal thing. Temporal things will all go away, but the human soul is immortal. So, we see that the second Great Commandment is not separate from the first: to love God is to love neighbor.
Christ fulfills both of these commandments perfectly in His ministry as Eternal High Priest. Let’s review exactly what makes a priest a priest: out of love of God and love of neighbor, a priest offers sacrifice to God on behalf of neighbor, intercedes for him before God, and distributes to him the fruits of this sacrifice. It is to exercise this priestly ministry that Christ becomes our neighbor in the Incarnation: taking our humanity, so that He may offer it to the Father as a perfect and total sacrifice, and distribute the graces of that sacrifice to us.
The Levitical priests of the Old Testament exercised a hereditary priesthood – they offered material, temporal sacrifices to God. While these were indeed pleasing to God, they could not hope to amend the infinite debt owed by sinful man to God. The sacerdotal priesthood of the New Covenant, however, is different: it is not merely natural, it is supernatural – one and the same with the Eternal Priesthood of Christ. Not because our priests are in any way equivalent to Christ, but because Christ acts through their ministry, offering through them the same Eternal Sacrifice at every Mass, and distributing its graces in each of the Sacraments.
While this privileged participation in the sacerdotal priesthood of Christ is restricted to those ordained, we all have a royal priesthood by virtue of our baptism. So, we also can live the two Great Commandments according to Christ’s model of priestly service. First, notice that the commandments pertain to the interior disposition of charity. We are commanded to love God and neighbor from the heart – not to act as if we love them, but to actually love them. Yet, it’s also clear that we aren’t to stop here. These commandments are concrete instructions, not nebulous sentiments. To love God, follow His laws. To love neighbor, offer sacrifice and intercede for them. To perform real and meaningful service. But always, we need to keep in mind that without the spirit of charity, all of these works are empty and void. It matters not how much you have sacrificed, or how well you have kept the law: to love God and neighbor “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Faith needs works, and works need faith. The two are inseparable.Do these things, and it will be said: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.“