The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council

"Chapter 13 - Love for all the sons of Mary"


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Love, we have seen, is a desire, a concern for the happiness and well-being of another. God's love for us is His desire for our eternal happiness. This was no mere empty wish on His part. As St. Paul told the Romans,1 "God proved His love for us, because when we were still sinners, Christ died for us." We love God if we give Him the pleasure of being able to lavish His favours on us. We do this by aligning ourselves totally with His will, by obedience and conformity in all things. That makes us open, capable of receiving His gifts: then He can give, and He loves to give.

Obviously, if we want to have Him have this supremely generous pleasure, we will want also other human beings to be similarly open, so He may have the pleasure of giving to them, so they will obtain eternal happiness. But that is what is meant by love of neighbour: wanting his eternal happiness.

We can see now how inextricably intertwined are love of God and love of neighbour. We cannot wish Him the fulness of His generous happiness in giving, without wishing that our neighbour be open to Him by obedience to His will. But when our neighbour is so disposed, he is also by that very fact going to receive eternal happiness. So when we wish for either thing-either that God may have the pleasure of giving, or that others may receive-we inescapably wish for both. No wonder then that the Divine Teacher told us that the second commandment is like to the first. We cannot love God without loving neighbour.

Mary our Mother is the Mother of all men, since she shared in earning all graces for all men, and, as Vatican II put it "as a result" of this sharing in the Redemption "she is our Mother in the order of grace." We have already dwelt on how dearly it cost her to become our spiritual Mother: it meant consenting to the death of her Only-begotten. As we saw in chapter 12, that suffering of hers, being measured by an immeasurable love of her Son, was literally beyond our ability to measure. Her love for us, while not so great, of course, as that for her Son and God, was yet in proportion to it, and so, being in proportion to something immeasurable, must be itself beyond measure.

Now if we really love our neighbour, we will be concerned about everything essential that he needs for his happiness. If someone desires only some of the essentials for another's happiness, but leaves out other necessary things, then we must suspect that whatever is motivating him, it cannot be love. For if it were love, it would take in everything.

It is at this point that so many persons make serious mistakes today. For example, those who propose "Situation Ethics" say that there is only one absolute principle in moral matters: love. Now that happens to be true, for all perfection is summed up in the twofold command of love of God and love of neighbour. Love is the fulfilment of the law. But, sadly, those who follow Situation Ethics do not really understand love, and so are not able to deduce, as it were, from this broad principle, all the things that really follow from it. For example, if we ask a practitioner of Situation Ethics:2 "Is adultery wrong?" he will reply: "I don't know. Give me a case." He thinks that in some cases adultery is right, in some cases not. Thereby he betrays himself as not knowing what love really is. For St. Paul, writing under divine inspiration, warned us:3 "Do not deceive yourselves. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers ... will inherit the kingdom of God." Now if they do not inherit the kingdom of God, they will be eternally unhappy. To tell others that adultery is right at least sometimes, is to lead them into doing something that will result in eternal unhappiness, unless of course, they are excused by ignorance. But those who give such teaching, prove they do not know what love really is.

Again, others will be most zealous for neighbour in promoting civil rights. That of course, if done correctly, is not only permitted but highly praiseworthy, and even, to a certain extent, required. But when they see their neighbour exposed to pornography which entails the risk of forfeiting the only happiness that really matters, that which is divine and everlasting, the same persons sometimes do not care. Or they even defend pornography. They too do not understand love.

Many confuse love with emotion or feeling. It is easy to see that love is not really a feeling. We saw that in chapter 12 when we learned from the example of God Himself that love is really something much deeper, something that lies in the spirit. It is a desire or concern for the happiness and well-being of another.

We can see the same thing in another way. We recall that Christ commanded us to love our neighbour, and that He made clear that everyone is my neighbour. Suppose we become very concrete and specific about it. We think of the people who live on the corner, three blocks from here. Do we at this moment have a warm feeling, or any kind of a feeling toward them? It is rather likely we do not even know the name of those people. Similarly for all the people who live far from us, in other parts of this nation or of the world: it is simply impossible to have feelings towards them at all times. Yet Christ commands love. The implication is easy to see: He does not give impossible commands But He would be ordering the impossible if He told us to have warm feelings towards every person on the globe. So, love must not be a feeling. It must not even have to include a feeling, for that would be just as impossible.

In fact, He commands us to love even our enemies. Suppose we think of some specific enemy, perhaps one of the Communist tyrants. Do we now have a warm feeling towards him? The same conclusion follows in the same way: Love is not a feeling, doesn't even have to include a feeling.

How then do we love all men? Very simply, we merely carry out what we have already said: We desire for them eternal happiness, and happiness here too, especially that happiness that is a means leading to the lasting happiness. We not only desire their happiness, we do something about it too. That means most of all that we pray for their welfare, eternal and temporal. And, according to our means, state of life, and opportunities, we try to lead them to eternal happiness by teaching them the eternal truths, by giving them good example, by helping protect them against moral dangers. Nor should we neglect-again, according to our means, state of life, and opportunities-to be concerned about the material welfare of those in need. We do this both as individuals, and as members of society, or of nations. Again, according to our means and their needs.

Sometimes good persons are worried, and even accuse themselves of hating someone, because they have an irrational feeling of aversion towards a certain person. At times, if questioned, they can point to a specific reason for that temptation to aversion or dislike; at other times, and this is even more common, they cannot give a reason. Such aversions are. as we said, irrational. We need to recognize that they are, at the start, just temptations. They become sin only if we go along with them, indulge in them deliberately and freely. Sometimes in spite of our best, most honest efforts, such irrational temptations continue. It is important to recognize them as temptations. For if we think we have sinned, when we really have not, then out of discouragement we may give up and really sin.

How to deal with such irrational aversions? At very least, we must not deliberately indulge them. And we should make it a special point to pray for the happiness, eternal and temporal, of the persons towards whom we have such feelings. Such prayer is true love. As long as we continue that, we cannot simultaneously hate. Of course, we need to watch out for possible self-deception here. Someone might say: "I am praying for that person". and then, feeling secure, might indulge in feelings of hatred really and deliberately. In many cases it is good to act very directly contrary to the aversion, by going out of our way to be pleasant to such a person. Not infrequently we will find out after a while that he or she is really a very enjoyable person, we just had never tried. Of course, sometimes it will be otherwise. In some cases it is impossible to arrive at such a result. At least, we can then sincerely and honestly pray for the other, and avoid any deliberate indulgence in the feelings of dislike.4

One of the commonest failures in charity is detraction, that is, making known hidden faults of another without a proportionate reason. To reveal such faults is harmful to another's reputation, to which he or she has a right. So the sin is not only uncharity, it is injustice as well. There are times when there is a proportionate reason for revealing faults of another. But we ought to recognize that we are all too naturally prone to overestimate the reasons. We will, if we are realistic, make allowance for that tendency in making our decision before speaking.

There is a kind of venial sin which theologians used to call "affection to venial sin". The term is not too clear. What it really means is this: If I have an affection to a particular venial sin, I have as it were a gap or hole in my intention to do good and to refrain from sin. It is as if I said to myself: "I do not intend to commit every kind of sin. But I am making a reservation or two for myself. I do not intend to make a business of knifing my neighbour in the back with my tongue regularly. But there are times when I do enjoy it, when it is hard to keep a conversation going without telling the latest I know about someone's secret faults. In such situations, I am going to keep on doing it."

Such an attitude is literally devastating to the spiritual development of the one who has it. Really, he cannot make any progress at all. The reason is simple. He by this very policy sets a low limit for himself. Or, he as it were puts a clamp around his heart, saying: "I will not open my heart to God's will in this respect." As long as the clamp is on, one's heart cannot enlarge to the point of greater love of God or neighbour. And if that be the case, there is no progress. It is sad to see some who work well, apparently, on their spiritual growth in other respects, yet cancel it all out by such an affection to the venial sin of detraction.

Of course, there can be an affection to any kind of venial sin. Holding on in the same way to any kind of sin equally blocks all spiritual growth.

St. Paul warned the Corinthians that sometimes5 "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." He means that he acts as though he were one, to further some evil purpose. That is happening today in this matter of love of neighbour. Some today, led by the false angel of light, so exalt love of neighbour as to almost wipe out love of God. One priest I know. said: ''If I were alone on a desert island, I could have no relation to God, for I can have that only through people." The error is in supposing that love of neighbour is identified with love of God. The two are inseparable, as we have seen, but they are not identical. We do love God when we make ourselves personally open to His will, as we have seen, so He may have the generous pleasure of lavishing His gifts on us. That is a direct relation to God, which does not go through love of neighbour, even though both attitudes are inseparable. So many are deceiving themselves, being deceived by the false angel of light, and are neglecting the First and the Great Commandment on pretext that the Second-which is like to the First, but not the same-alone suffices. The plot is truly diabolical, for many fear to speak out against what appears to be love of neighbour, knowing well that such love is essential. Such persons are apt to turn love into mere do-goodism, or even into mere philanthropy. Such things, properly cultivated, can be good. But we must not neglect direct love of God, which can lead even to the intense, almost tangible contact with God that comes in infused contemplation, which we will discuss in a later chapter.

Mary knew how to love all of us, her spiritual children. But she did not for one moment think that love of us was her only relation to God, who was her Son.


1 Rom. 5,8.
2 Cf. Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, (Westminster, Philadelphia,1966 ) 142, 164-65,74.
3 1 Cor. 6,9.
4 It is particularly important to avoid the mistake, not infrequent among otherwise good people, of refusing to speak to another for. long periods.
5 2 Cor. 11,14.