Sunday, November 4, 2012
Readings: Deut. 6:2-6 Heb. 7:23-28 Gospel: Mark 12:28b-34
In works of art, copies of masterpieces can sometimes be made so expertly that it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the original and the copy. Even lithograph copies have something of this brilliance in the precision of their design and color. This practice of copying masterpieces and the skill of the copier has existed for a long time. Murillo, for example, had a number of paintings that he helped in producing and which were reputed to be copies of the original. But because the copies are so exact, it takes a skilled expert to make a distinction. Even here, there is some doubt about which ones were really painted by Murillo.
In any copy, then, it is the original that is the main element of interest and the norm of comparison. Any painting that is a copy borrows all that it is from the original. While great skill is demanded in copying, there was a greater skill on the part of the original painter. So when St. Thomas Aquinas looks at the familiar text of today’s Gospel, he has this idea of masterpieces of art in mind. He considers the point that the whole spiritual life of human beings is summed up in the love of God, others and ourselves, and he relates one of the central ideas to an original painting and its copies. Concerning the statement that we are “to love our neighbor as ourselves,” he says that as the copy of a painting is totally dependent on the original, so in this text, the way we love our neighbor is a copy of the way we love ourselves and so totally reflects it.
We can overlook this simple yet subtle point. It means that we must truly love ourselves in a genuine, respectful and honorable way; from this way of regarding ourselves comes the form and the model of the way we relate to others. Modern psychology, for example, under the name of “self-concept,” agrees with this idea. Much, then, of what we do with regard to others is subtly related to positive or negative attitudes towards ourselves. If, as St. Thomas says, we love to hate ourselves, we will then tend to project this kind of hostile self-attitude onto others. But on the contrary, if we have a positive regard for ourselves, we will have a positive regard and respect for others. Quoting Aristotle, Aquinas proposes that our real relationship with ourselves determines how we are genuinely friends to others.
In considering the need to love our neighbor as ourselves, we need also to look at the way we respect, regard and love ourselves. In loving to love ourselves, we truly appreciate God’s love for us in making us the way we are, and we truly respect that love. For God’s love for us is the original from which our love for others must flow and be the copy. If the copy will be determined by the original, then we need to begin, in our love of our neighbor and God, with a right and genuine love of ourselves. This is something we can do, something we can put our hand to, here we can begin. We can be sure of the help of God’s steady hand, like a great artist steadying the hand of an apprentice painter as he works away.
To love one another, then, is to love the one who is first of all, myself. This is not selfishness but rather a fullness of self out of which comes a true gift of myself in love to God and to my neighbor.
Fr. Joseph Manship