When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important, he replied that we should love God and love our neighbor. He added that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets. He might have added that on these two things hang everything that matters to everyone everywhere.
Most importantly, it is the love of God and the love of our neighbor that matters if we take our Christian faith seriously. All the rules and regulations and rubrics, all the debates and doctrines and dogmas are meaningless if we do not have the love of God and the love of our neighbor.
It is a quirk of human nature, however, that most of us fall into one of two categories. We are either “God lovers” or “people lovers.” If you like, all of us have a natural preference or a built-in instinct to focus on one or the other.
Those who are God lovers are more interested in the vertical than the horizontal. They focus on the other world rather than this world. They concentrate on liturgy, spirituality, prayer, adoration, consecrated life, vocation, religion and worship. They see the Church as the fellowship of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. God lovers tend to be more cerebral, traditional, conservative and concerned with right worship, right behavior and right belief.
Those who are people lovers are more interested in the horizontal. They focus on this world more than the next world. They concentrate on peace and justice and ministering to others. They see the Church as the people of God here on earth, making their pilgrimage to heaven. The people lovers tend to be more relational, intuitive, progressive and innovative. The sit lightly regarding rules and dogmas and are more concerned with expressing God’s love through compassionate relationships with their brothers and sisters.
The God lovers see the Mass as a solemn sacrifice that lifts mankind to the very threshold of heaven. They want fine liturgy and esoteric, magnificent and otherworldly worship. For the God lovers, worship transports us from this vale of tears to the worship of the cosmic spheres. 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 experience the love of God here and now. The Church is a place of welcome for all. Worship is a healing, inspiring action designed to make everyone feel forgiven and feel good about themselves and each other. 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.
But we need both, don’t we? We’re called to love God and love our neighbor. There is certainly a divide within Catholicism, and if it can be analyzed in this way, why does such a divide exist?
The divide between the God lovers and the people lovers exists not because one is right and the other is wrong. The divide exists 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 no 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 are that progressive Catholics have brought into the Church what rightly belongs outside of 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 into the liturgy.
As a result, the liturgy has become all about loving people instead of loving God. Why is this? Because too many Catholics have actually 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 they made the liturgy folksy and people-centered in order to adapt the faith for modern man.
The result has been a disaster. Catholics, therefore, love people, but many have lost the language for loving God; and the greatest sadness is that 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 people if you have not loved God first? For the only thing I truly love 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 have been left with the only remaining remnant: the love of ourselves. Thus, in too much of Catholic worship what was once the glorious worship of Almighty God has become a jumble of comfort hymns and self-help therapy.
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.
Father Dwight Longenecker is chaplain to
St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina.
Visit his website and blog at DwightLongenecker.com