THEME: LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR
There is an immortal poem written by Englishman Leigh Hunt about a man called Abou Ben Adhem. Abou Ben Adhem woke from his sleep one night and saw in his room an angel writing in a book of gold the names of those who love God. “And is mine one?” inquired Abou. “Nay, not so,” replied the angel. “I pray thee, then,” said Abou, “write me as one who loves his fellow men.” The following night the angel came again and displayed the names of those who love God and Abou Ben Adhem’s name topped the list.
This poem makes the point that true love of God and true love of our fellow human beings are like two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist apart from the other. That is what we find in today’s gospel. Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment in the law. The book answer, of course is love of God. But Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer. He gives the other side of the coin as well, which is love of neighbour. True love of God and true love of neighbour are practically one and the same thing.
As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
We cannot love God without also loving our fellow men. The same precept which commands us to love God commands us also to love our neighbour. In the first epistle of St. John the evangelist we read in fact these words: “And this commandment we have from, that he who loves God should love his brother also”. In the same verse the apostle warns us that if one says, “He loves God, and hates his brother he is a liar” (l Jn 4:20).
The four-letter word forms the cream of our faith, because our God is a loving God, a providential God and a faithful God. God’s love for us is so immense that He lays down His life by shedding his blood on the cross, and dies for our salvation.
Love of God
Love of God is the greatest of the virtues, both in practice and accomplishment. Embracing all other virtues, it is called the “essence of perfection.” St. Thomas Aquinas declares these theological virtues of charity thus: “Essentially, the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, first and foremost in the love of neighbour”. In the Church, this love is by command, by the direct teaching of Christ, and by tradition and teaching. We find this commandment in Dt.6:5, which is both the directive to adore God and give Him an absorbing love: “Thou shall love Yahweh thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.”
As a religious precept, it is the centre of the Old Testament teaching and the centre of the New Law that Christ established. He calls this the greatest commandment (Mk 12:29-31) and demonstrates the manner of its practice: “Anyone who loves Me will be true to my word” (Jn. 14:23) assuring all that the Spirit of love will further teach them (Jim. 15:26), and finally Christ declares the degree and extent of this love, using Himself as an example: “as I have loved you” (Jn.15:12). The basic source of love of God is found in our dependence on God, for as St. Thomas Aquinas states, the love that God has for us infuses and creates the goodness which is present in all things. God loves because He creates; we love because we are created. There is no brief statement that would serve to demonstrate how to practice this love of God, but it may be put as giving one’s self to God, avoiding sin, praying and meditating practicing self denial and conforming to the will of God. Since each is progressive and capable of extension it is thus a continuous work of perfection of self.”
Love of Neighbour
The commandments of God are observed out of love of Him. In this there is the imitation of the divine morality, specifically in the practice of fraternal charity, that is, the love of one’s neighbour. Neighbour does not necessarily mean one who lives nearby, but it is a collective term of the entire body of human persons. In order to fulfil this law, one must imitate Christ (Jn.14:12-13; 15:7- 8; lJn.4:20-21). In the fulfilment of the entire law, we find that charity is the ‘bond’ of perfection (Col.3:14).
This fraternal charity builds up the body of Christ and directs the charisms (1C.or. 12-14). It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in each of us who is the source of Charity: “And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been given to us” (Rom.5:5); Gal.5:22). This charity also has its rising its orison, in the Holy Eucharist which constitutes the body of Christ.
The human person, faced with the hatred of the world about him, finds in fraternal love a sign of contradiction: “Remember, this is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another.” We should not follow the example of Cain who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his own deeds were wicked while his brothers were just. No need, then, brothers, to be surprised if the world hates you. That we have passed from death to life we know because we love the brothers. The man who does not love is among the living dead. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that eternal life abides in no murderer’s heart (lJn.3:12). The way we came to understand love was that he laid down his life for us; we too must lay down our lives for our brothers.
It is then in Christ Himself that we must recognize our neighbour and in this recognition love Christ himself (Mt.25:31-46). It is thus that the social doctrine of the gospel (Lk.12; 14:12-14; 16:19-31) and the social teaching of the Church result in a true expression, a unity of expression, in charity (Acts.2:42-44; 4:32-37; Gal. 3:28-29).
Finally, there is an eschatological aspect of charity, namely, the ongoing activity of all who await in faith and anticipate in hope the new coming of Christ (In. 13:33-34: Gal.6:10; Rom.12:12-13).
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you summed up the whole law and the prophets in two great commandments: you said that we are to love God and love other people. Lord, touch our hearts so that we may be people who are able to love, and thus we will enjoy the peace and unity of your kingdom where you love forever and ever. Amen.