(Cristiana de Magistris, Voice of the Family – May 13, 2021) The utopia of man must give rise to a keen sense of irony amongst the citizens of heaven: a fallen and redeemed creature, destined to return to dust in the darkness of his grave, rises to be his own god and begins to flaunt his rights.
The mantra of so-called human rights agitates modern society, and has also penetrated the teaching and actions of the Church. During this time of the pandemic, however, the principle of human rights has begun to crumble, revealing itself for what it is: a utopia founded on the promethean illusion of man liberated from his Creator. The rights of the sick have clashed with the rights of the healthy; the rights of the state with the rights of the citizens; the rights of teachers with the rights of students, and so on and so forth, up to a point where – and this is the apogee of the utopia – the rights of priests clash with the rights of the faithful.
In reality there can be no such conflict in the Catholic Church, since the hierarchy of moral values, founded on divine, natural and positive law, is well determined. This hierarchy of values seems to be sadly forgotten even by those who should not only know it but also legislate and preach that it be respected. It is therefore worth revisiting it.
The whole of Gospel morality is based on the love of God and neighbour in a well-established order. “The reason for loving God is God Himself,” says Saint Bernard. Consequently, one loves oneself and one’s neighbour for God’s sake. “And why do we love ourselves?” asks Saint Francis de Sales. “Because we are made in the image and likeness of God. And since all men have this dignity, we love them as ourselves, considering them living and holy images of divinity.” Therefore, the charity towards our neighbour which is required of us, does not belong to the natural order but essentially to the supernatural order. Love for our neighbour does not grow out of a happy brotherhood which delights us or is good for us, even if it is universal. We love our neighbour because, as Saint Augustine said, either he is a child of God or he is called to become one. And since this applies to all men, we must love them all. Charity is universal: it embraces the earth, heaven and its inhabitants, and purgatory; it stops only at the gates of hell. “Only the damned,” writes Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “cannot be loved with charity” because they can no longer – nor do they want to – become children of God and, therefore, they can no longer appeal to our compassion. Here then is the hierarchy of values that a true child of God and the Church cannot afford to ignore. Father Garrigou-Lagrange, drawing from Aquinas, enumerates them in order of importance: “First, we must love God above all else, then our soul, then our neighbour, and finally our body.” In evangelical love, the body has the last place. Our Lord Himself explained this well when He said:
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” (Mt 18:8)
Bearing this hierarchy of charity in mind, we see how much it has been overturned by the feelings of modern man (including Catholics). The recent pandemic has given undeniable proof of this. God’s rights (such as Sunday Mass or receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion) have been subordinated to the fear of contracting Covid. The love we owe first to our souls and then to our bodies has been overturned by the comfort of live-streamed Masses and abstaining from the sacraments for months on end in order to avoid the virus. The love we owe to our souls before our neighbour has been superseded by a disordered love for our neighbours, which led to refraining even from the religious practices that were continued in order to avoid infecting others. In all this there is nothing evangelical. While it is necessary to exercise the virtue of prudence, one cannot overturn the order of charity established by God.
According to Aquinas, Christian perfection consists precisely of charity, because charity unites the soul to God, who is his ultimate end; without charity man is nothing in the spiritual order. The Angelic Doctor explains that there are two precepts of charity, one pertaining to the love of God, the other to the love of neighbour. The first is on a higher level than the other, because this is true charity proper to the blessed, while the meaning of the other is that we should love our neighbour out of charity in reference to a mutual attainment of beatitude. Therefore, the end of loving one’s neighbour is his eternal happiness, not the prolongation of earthly exile, which is inescapably going to end with the sunset of this life. Every Christian is called to love God and his neighbour with this supernatural love according to the order established by God and not by men: it is a duty because charity is a precept and not a counsel.