Hear, O Israel. Thou shalt love God. And not just a little, but with an all-consuming passion. With your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. [CLICK para español]
Now, commanding love seems strange. After all, can I really obey this command, just by my own choice? Doesn’t real love always involve a force beyond my control? Isn’t that the distinguishing characteristic of love? Namely, that it comes to me and changes me by its power. It consumes me. I don’t choose love or control love. Rather, I receive the force of love within, and follow its lead.
So someone could say, in response to God’s law of love: “Lord, You can command me to love you all you want. But I can’t do it by my own choice. You need to give me the gift of divine love first.”
Amen. He does. God commands by His law only what He makes possible by His grace. He is the immeasurably loveable Compassionate One. He has counted all the hairs on our heads. He loves us with more devotion than a mother loves the baby nursing at her breast.
He has opened His Heart up to us, by sending His only-begotten Son, Jesus. We know the love the invisible God has for us by the love that Christ showed us on the cross. And to know that love of God is to love God in return.
So: Yes, He commands us to love Him with all our hearts, but only because He has loved us with His whole Heart first, thereby moving us to respond with love.
And He commands that we love Him back not for His benefit, but for ours. The truth is that loving God above all things is the only way to have a life worth living. The only way to find meaning in this life is to love God. If we don’t love the triune God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, we will wind up loving something else instead–something much less truly lovable, something beneath us.
But there’s more. Not just, “Love God with your whole heart, mind and strength.” But also: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” –Now, Lord Jesus. The man asked for the greatest commandment in the Law. He asked for one. But here come two.
Is this fair? Loving God totally is one thing. God is noble and glorious and true. But loving my neighbor, too? My neighbor annoys the living daylights out of me. And loving myself, also? That’s probably the hardest thing of all. The more experience we acquire in life, the more we tend to conclude: this human race of ours is not all it’s cracked-up to be.
But, let’s remember: God only commands what He makes possible by His grace. When I gaze upon the face of my neighbor, I may not experience love. I might actually think to myself: “Not sure I have the patience to deal with this character right now!” And when I gaze at myself in the mirror, I may not experience love. I may not be impressed at all. But that is not the point. That’s not what this commandment is about.
The real question is: When the Lord Jesus Christ gazed at people when He walked the earth, what moved His Heart? Unfathomable understanding, sympathy, and love. Christ saw with perfect clarity how good, how beautiful, how honest and lovable all the people He encountered could be.
He sees the same when He gazes upon us now. From heaven He sees us with eyes that penetrate to the inner heart of the good man or good woman we all got formed in our mothers’ wombs to become. He sees the path to heaven that stretches out in front of each of us. He sees it perfectly, in every detail—and He always sees it, no matter what nonsense and confusion we manage to get ourselves involved in.
There’s only one way to fulfill the double commandment of divine love which Christ laid down. Only one way. Namely, to let Him love through us.
I may have lost faith in the people around me. But Jesus Christ has not. I may have lost faith in the fundamental goodness of mankind. But Jesus Christ has not. I may have lost faith in myself. I may have lied to myself about myself so many times that I no longer really believe myself about anything. But Jesus has not lost faith in the honest man I could be.
Fifty-five years ago this month, Pope St. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. The pope made an act of sublime faith. Faith not just in the goodness of God, but in the fundamental goodness of the human race, too. Pope John believed that people could learn to trust each other, and lay aside our petty antagonisms, and work together for a more peaceful future.
The fifty-five years since October 1962 have seen plenty of continued antagonism. World peace has not exactly broken out.
But we Christians still hold fast to the vision of the good, holy pope who started Vatican II. We still believe in mankind. People thought Pope John was naïve to believe that mankind could become good. But believing in God—and believing in man—doesn’t make us naïve. Because Jesus Christ still reigns. And Christ still gazes upon us all with the kind of love that can make us good.