Saturday, December 11, 2010

Morality and the Greatest Commandment

Many would agree that Christianity is very poorly represented in our popular culture. In news and entertainment media we’re constantly bombarded by a distasteful caricature of our ancient and beautiful faith. The idea of traditional Christianity as something outdated and unnecessarily moralistic has permeated our society.  Even among Christians, the idea of sin has become blurred and morality is not taken seriously. Why? Because the foundations of our faith have been obscured and undermined.  The media loves to parade out examples of Christian hypocrisy and talk about moral teachings which are incomprehensible to the secular world, but completely ignores the heart and soul of Christianity. This is the problem. What is the basis of the Christian life? What is the most important tenet of our faith? Let’s turn to Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is asked this question.
“Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
There we have it, the basis of the Christian life. If we love God with everything we are, the desire to live a righteous and moral life will follow and we will understand the importance and reasonableness of obedience and humility. Outside of this context, most other tenets of Christianity cannot be easily understood. Talking about the Church’s moral teachings outside of the context of a profound love for God is like talking about the rules of checkers outside of the context of having fun. We could turn up our noses in distaste that anyone would dare suggest we limit our checkers to diagonal movements across colored squares (this being the 21st century after all!), but completely miss the point that it is all for the fun of the game. Just so, when our culture focuses on the moral commandments of Christianity outside the light of the greatest and first commandment, their entire purpose is lost in translation. Let’s not let pop culture damage our faith as it casts aside the heart and soul of Christianity. We should take this opportunity to return to our foundations and remind the world why we believe in such crazy ideas as sin and righteousness. Many know and recite the traditional Christian prayer of repentance for sin called the Act of Contrition, but its traditional counterpart has largely been forgotten – the Act of Love. We should start our days with a prayer like this, and then it will make more sense to end them with an Act of Contrition.
O my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me, and I ask pardon of all whom I have injured.
-Act of Love, traditional Christian prayer

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