Love, as a popular song says, is a many-splendoured thing. And this is where love begins to be misunderstood. Love, as most people understand it, is reduced to something that is romantic and emotional. The mass media has an influence on this. It presents love as a feeling, a romantic feeling, or even a fleeting infatuation.
But Christian love is different. It goes beyond feelings. It is something that Jesus envisioned for his community of Christians. The world may know them that they are Christians by the way they love each other. Let us try to reflect on some important points on Christian love as taught by Jesus:
Firstly, Jesus teaches that Christian love is a commandment. And this is where love is supposed to be understood. Love has nothing to do with feelings. It is imperative to love. All Christians are called to love. Love as a commandment was first fulfilled by Jesus himself, by hanging on the cross. On the cross Jesus showed perfect obedience to the Father’s will. On the cross Jesus showed his unconditional love for humanity. He offered his life for all, friends and foes, without exception. Jesus gave a new commandment of love, “Love one another as I have loved you”. He enjoins us to emulate His way of love.
Secondly, Jesus teaches that loving God is the greatest of the commandments. It demands a total and comprehensive commitment to God. When Jesus said that we should love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, it means that we love God with all our being. Often, we humans just pay lip service to God. We simply say that we love God, but this is not translated into our actions. If all Christians and Catholics are lovers of God, then there is no room to compromise Sunday Masses with other activities. The Sunday obligation would remain our top priority. Why? If we indeed love God, we cannot afford to miss him in the Sunday worship. Going to Mass should not be seen as a mere obligation, but, rather it is our way of showing our love to God.
Thirdly, Jesus teaches that the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Well, Jesus may be aware that in the order of priority, loving ourselves comes next after loving God. I love myself and you too love yourself. In fact, the popular song says, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”. But we have to take note that loving ourselves is not the second greatest commandment. Rather, it is loving our neighbours. And Jesus instructs us that the way how we love our neighbours should be exactly the same as we love ourselves. Thus, he says, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
For Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the love of God and the love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin. A person who truly loves God cannot afford to hate his neighbour. The love of neighbour is a reflection of love of God. This is a reminder for us that we must be true witnesses to this commandment of love. There are people who are devout Mass-goers and, in that sense, they can be considered as lovers of God, but when they get home they can have several enemies. So, their love of God has not been reflected in the way how they relate to others. These people should try to correct that. There is no room for splitting this love: that on the one hand, we can love God, and on the other, we can hate our neighbours. Rather, there has to be correspondence between our love of God and our love of neighbour.
Jesus gives us the heart of the Christian spirituality. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.” Here, in a nutshell, we have the whole teaching of the Bible… The only real failure for a Christian is the FAILURE TO LOVE. To separate the two great commandments goes clean contrary to the Gospel. Yet, unfortunately, this often happens. Those who have faith often have no love, and those who love often have no faith. Thus the Gospel has been torn in two. Jesus spoke of two great commandments. The first – that we should love God. The second – that we should love our neighbour. If we want the total Gospel we must have both.
Fr Gerald Biñegas RCJ
Holy Family Parish, Victoria, Australia
Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A