“On these 2 commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets”. These words were proclaimed in today’s Holy Gospel. This passage makes it clear that Jesus’ central teaching is about love: love of God and love of neighbor.
It is important to emphasize that these 2 statements are “commandments”. They are not suggestions or recommendations or something to do if “you have the time and you are not too busy”. They come from the Lord himself, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity. As such, these 2 commandments need to be viewed as divine teaching.
The 1st commandment is not just “Love the Lord God”. It is: “Love the Lord, your God. The 1st commandment is just that – it is first; it is no.1; it is the greatest; it is the most important. This commandment challenges us to make our relationship with God the number 1 priority in our lives. Our whole existence is to be focussed on loving God. We are called to commit ourselves to God with our whole being: thoughts, emotions, strengths, weaknesses – everything that makes us who we are. The invitation of this Gospel is to love God the most and the best. There ought not to be one person, thing or circumstance that we love more than or better than God.
At 1st glance, this seems like an unreasonable expectation. Are you saying that I am to love God more than my spouse, my children, my relatives, my family, my friends? The short answer is “Yes”. But, let’s consider Jesus’ explanation of how this is to happen.
The second commandment is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. The 2nd commandment is just that – it is 2nd; it is the 2nd most important priority of our lives. There are 2 parts to the 2nd commandment. Let’s begin with the 2nd part.
“Love your neighbor as yourself”. We are called to love ourselves. Love of self is not about being vain or conceited; it’s not about being standoffish and viewing one’s self as superior to others.
Therefore, what does it mean for me to love myself? The answer is to start at the beginning. God made me. He created me. I have been formed by his hands. I am a deliberate and conscious act of God’s will. I am not a mistake or an accident. I owe my existence to a decision made by God. God loves me perfectly. There is no wrong in his loving. It is impossible for God to make any improvements in the way he loves me. That’s how precious I am to God. Therefore, I have dignity, worth and value.
I ought to have a positive self image. Healthy self-esteem is part of God’s plan for me. My love of self is based on this reality. But God loves every other person with the same love that he has for me. Each of us is a child of the same Father.
The 1st part of the 2nd commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The call of the Gospel is for me to love every person I meet as I love myself. The bottom line is that we are commanded to meet the needs of others as we meet our own.
The Gospel of Matthew points out “The 2nd commandment is like the 1st”. So, what is the relationship between the 2nd commandment and the 1st? Let’s use the example of a 2-story house. If you want to get to the top story, to the highest level, you can’t get there immediately. First, you must enter the door, get to the 1st story, the first level and then take the stairs to get to the 2nd story, the highest level.
Our relationship with God is like that. If God is to be the #1 priority, the top level, the highest level of our lives, we can’t get there immediately. The 1st step is to navigate the 1st story (love ourselves). The 2nd step is to take the stairs (loving others as we love ourselves). Only then is it possible to find our way to the top. If God is to be #1, the only way we can get there is to love the people we meet in our daily lives. God is present in every person. In serving others, we serve God.
Let’s return to the original question: Are you saying that I am to love God more than my spouse, my children, my relatives, my family, my friends? The answer is “Yes”. However, Jesus explains that, it is in loving my spouse, my children, my relatives, my family, my friends like I love myself, I can show that God is #1 in my life. Furthermore, Jesus says that this is the only way.
The love of God and neighbor are deeply connected to one another. If we say that we love God, but hate other people, we’re wasting our time. This should not surprise us since Jesus is the God-man, the one in whom divinity and humanity come together. Therefore, it’s impossible to love Jesus as God without loving the humanity that he’s created and embraced.
St. Francis de Sales was a bishop who lived from 1567 to 1622. One of his famous sayings was: “Show me the person you love the least. That’s how much you love God!” If we fail to show compassion, kindness and concern towards someone else, we are failing to love God.
Bishop Robert Barron tells this story: When a man asked the English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins what he must do in order to believe in God, Hopkins replied, “Give alms.” By responding with concrete acts of love to the needs of the suffering, the vulnerable and the marginalized, we enter more fully into a love relationship with God.
On October 4, the feast of St. Francis, Pope Francis went to Assisi and visited the tomb of St. Francis. On top of the tomb, the Pope signed his most recent encyclical entitled “Fratelli tutti” (an expression that St. Francis often used).
The translation of this Italian title is “We are all brothers and sisters”. “All” means everyone. There are no exceptions. There are to be no exclusions based on race, ethnic origin, language, family status or religion. As the 1st Reading points out, God condemns all forms of discrimination that lead to injustice.
In this letter, the Pope quotes St. John Chrysostom who said: “Do not honour the body of the Saviour in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold”. The point that the Pope is making is that opening our hearts to our brothers and sisters is a guarantee that our hearts are open to God.
“On these 2 commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets”. The entire point of religion is to open us to the path of love. Everything else is of lesser importance. Prayer, devotions such as novenas, rosaries, exposition and benediction, the 7 sacraments, sacramentals—all of it—are meaningless if they do not conform us to the way of love of self, love of others, and therefore, love of God.
As our Eucharist continues, let us pray to God that these 2 commandments may become the foundation of our lives. May they influence all we think, all we say and, more importantly, all we do.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
October 24-25, 2020