Jesus summarizes his entire message with the two great commandments. They are very important. So we reflect upon them. We note that Jesus says: “Love your God, and love your neighbor.” Love is at the center of everything. We are taught that God made us “to know Him, to Love Him, and to serve Him in this world so as to be in perfect happiness with Him in Heaven forever.” Jesus stresses the love dimension.
Now, what does it meant to love God? What does God want from us? Love is a great mystery. It is something that we all want, and we feel miserable if we can’t find it. But what is it? And how do we foster it, grow in it?
Love is a feeling, but it is so much more than just a strong feeling. We love those who have demonstrated that they truly care about us, and are willing to go out of their way to provide for our needs. Think of how children naturally love their parents. Parents have done so much for their children, and are willing to do whatever is necessary, anything, for their children. (It is amazing to watch what parents are willing to do for a sick or handicapped child.) Parents prize their children as God’s greatest gift to them. As a result, you and I, and all children, can never repay our parents for all that they have done for us. The best thing we can do for them is to love them. People know when they are loved.
Now, consider what God has done for us – how He cares for us – how He has demonstrated His love for us. He called us into existence when we were conceived at the time of a loving spousal act by our parents. All our talents, all our gifts of mind and body, come from God.
What motivated God to create this huge universe, whose limits we cannot find? What motivated God to create this privileged planet we live on with all its resources and beauty? What motivated Him to create our first parents, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants? It was love. He wanted other persons to love and who could return His love. So, God created billions of angels, and billions of us human beings.
God wants our love. It is baffling to think that so great a God wants something from so insignificant a creature as a human being. But He wants our love. That is why we are here. That is why we live on this planet for 70-80 years, to learn how to grow in our ability to love. Our true home is in Heaven, with God, sharing in His unfathomable communion of love and life.
The greatest proof of God’s love for us is the Incarnation, the Father’s sending his Son into our world as our Redeemer. Consider what Jesus did for us. He temporarily forgot about his divinity, (his being equal to the Father), and took on our frail humanity. He took upon himself the full burden of our sins and our abused freedom. He was willing to be scourged, crowned with thorns, and crucified for us. This was the price for winning a victory over sin and death for us. What motivated Him? Love. Only Love. And He did this when we were not very loveable, when we were steeped in our sins of disobedience and pride.
Love is the proper response we show to a person we greatly care for. We love God for all that He has done for us, and for all the love that motivated Him to do this. We respond to His love for us as naturally as a child responds to the love of his or her parents.
Jesus commands us to love God with our whole mind, soul, heart and being. This means that we bring our total selves into the gift we make to God. We make the gift of our selves, our total being, to God. That is what He wants. Paragraph 24 of Gaudium et Spes states it best, and Pope Saint John Paul referred to this paragraph again and again:
“Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, ‘that all may be one. . . as we are one’ (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons and daughters in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
The way God designed us as human beings, as persons, is that we will only find ourselves, our greatest completion, by making the total sincere gift of self to God, and to our neighbor.
Now, let’s shift briefly to the second great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Notice that these are commandments. This is what God wants from us in unmistakable terms. Jesus taught us: “If you love me, you will keep my Commandments” (Jn 14:15). So, we are to take these matters seriously. They are very important.
This year is the 25th anniversary of Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of the Truth, Pope John Paul’s great encyclical on the foundations of Christian morality. Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote a good article on this in the last issue of FIRST THINGS. John Paul explains that morality is not just a list of regulations, of do’s and don’ts. Some guidelines and some borders for the exercise of our freedom are important. But the heart of all morality is to learn how to love, how to respond in kind to the goodness of other persons. We are to learn how to truly love. Jesus is our great example and teacher.
How do we love our neighbor? Is this kind of love just a good feeling? How do you love your persecutors, enemies (if such a thing exists!)? Love is much more than just a warm feeling. Sometimes we love a person despite our feelings. Jesus is our model for how we are to love. He teaches: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34-5). Jesus sees the goodness that is in every person. He responds to that goodness and to that human dignity. He wants what is truly good for a person, what will help them become better, richer persons. He will never do harm to that person, or set traps for him to fall in. We do unto others what we would want them to do to us.
In real life we meet a wide variety of people and character. There is a proper way to relate to them. We try to respond to their needs, and to share their burdens with them. We try to make their journey through life a little lighter by our friendship and support. St. Benedict advises that we treat our guests as we would Christ himself.
So there we are. Now we know what is central to the Christian life. We know what God wants from us. We know what we are called to grow into and develop.
May the good Lord bless all our efforts to follow his example in the way we relate to our God and to our neighbor.