Back in 1992 when I was the chaplain at Roncalli High School our archdiocese was visited by a well-known priest evangelist. During the course of his talk to about 5,000 teenagers at the Hoosier Dome he stated that if young people are not receiving a religious education which makes clear to them the commandments of God and the Church then they are being cheated out of their salvation. I believe the priest was dead right. I also believe that young people today want to know what God expects of them and what they can expect from each other.
Some folks used the priest and his message to reinforce their charge that religious educators today have watered down the Faith. They said that teachers and catechists have replaced respect for the commandments with a religion of “easy” grace under the label of love. I supposed there’s some truth in that. One of my students once told me that it was a joke told among kids that if you don’t know the answer to the question on a religion test, just fill in the blank with “love” and you’re sure to get some credit.
But consider this: When the scribe asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment he responds, with the Schema – “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment.” He immediately adds, “The second commandment is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” The answer is love, Jesus says. Love of God and love of others are the two hinges that keep the door of all true religion hanging!
If you have ever traveled in a foreign country you know that it can be very difficult, but not impossible, to communicate with your host. It takes a lot of mutual respect, patience, good will, and trust. That, brothers and sisters, is the essence of love.
If we have failed anywhere in religious education over the past fifty years since the Council it is not because we have taught a religion of love…Jesus himself reduced all the laws of God to two: Love God with everything you are and love others as you love and care for yourself. In the end even these two would be reduced to one Great Commandment: Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. If we have failed it is not because we have preached love. It is because we forgot to define love as a way of life. Specifically the way Jesus lived his life. The love of the two great commandments is more than fleeting affection, more than good intentions, more than admiration. The love of the two Great Commandments is love founded on respect, patience, good will and trust. It is a hard love. It is a love that asks hard things of us. It is a love that can get you crucified.