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Love of Neighbor: the Second Great Commandment

The most common bit of virtue signaling that is flung at those who are clamoring for access to the sacraments is the accusation that we are being selfish and not loving our neighbor as the Gospel commands. Like every other hollow facsimile of true virtue, this argument has no teeth for those who actually read the Gospel.

First of all, on the side of natural virtue, such an accusation falls flat, because it only goes one way. We only have to love our neighbors who are at risk of contracting the virus. We don’t have to trouble ourselves with those pesky neighbors who have children to feed but have been out of work for over two months. Or those neighbors whose parents died alone in a nursing home without the comfort of the last sacraments or even a proper funeral. Or those neighbors who died in mortal sin because they were denied access to the sacrament of Penance. And obviously we don’t need to give any thought to those who are aching to be with our Lord again, after this painful absence of so many months. Their pain is really just selfishness.

But where this argument rings hollow the most is in the area of supernatural virtue. Insisting on love of neighbor without recalling that this is the second great commandment, after “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength” is a little like putting the cart before the horse.

Yes, practicing the love of neighbor can help us to grow in love of God, but only insofar as that love has a supernatural end. That is, we love our neighbor not because he is nice, or because it is convenient, or because he agrees with us, but because he is created in God’s image, and because God became Man and died for him. There is nothing wrong with loving our neighbor for natural reasons too, but as Christ himself pointed out, even the Pharisees and the publicans can do that. We are called to a higher love, one in which we love even our enemies.

So when we keep our love of God in first place where it belongs, then we care not only for the physical well-being of our neighbor, but for their spiritual well-being too. And since this life is shorter than a sneeze in comparison with eternity, we can’t just ignore the latter in the name of the former.

So…are we keeping love of God and love of neighbor in the correct order when we forbid those who are healthy from worshipping God as He commanded us, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Can we say that we truly love our neighbor when we objectively risk his soul to maybe save his life? And in this difficult time when we most need the comfort that only the Church and her Sacraments can provide, is it not more selfish to deny those who love God more than some vague notion of “safety,” from seeking that comfort?

"For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it." (Mt 16:25)

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