Monday, February 20, 2006

Love of Neighbor

All of us who bear the name Christian know (or should know) that the Greatest Commandment is the commandment to love God and neighbor. For most of us, however, this command is something that is simple and complicated at the same time. We have an internal conviction that the love of God and neighbor cannot be separated, but we have an extremely difficult time living out this command, even with the holiest of intentions.

I wanted to comment on some passages from the Holy Father's new Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) in order to harness some of his ideas as to how we as Christians can effectively live out this love of God and neighbor.

For most traditionalists, love of God doesn't seem to be much of an issue, or so we think. It seems we tend to think of ourselves as those who truly love God due to our emphasis on evangelism and a pious search for truth; always on the lookout for any hint of syncretism or relativism that might muddy the waters of truth. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with these sentiments. True discipleship rests in always seeking to follow all that Christ has commanded. But, it seems we often fall short in the love of neighbor that is to flow from this love of God. Consider the following from the Holy Father's encyclical:

If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.

(Deus Caritas Est, 18)

"...proper, but loveless." If there's anything most of "traddies" need to hear it's those words. We are so focused on knowing the truth and getting others to accept it that we often fail to see the pain in the lives of those who struggle to accept the truth, and the pain we can cause others through our words. I have yet to read in the Gospels the kind of tirades that most of us are capable of when it comes to presenting the "truth." We hold on to our belief (true as it may be) that we have some understandings that the "average joe" just isn't blessed enough to have, and instead of admonishing with love, we fall in love with not the truth itself, but merely our possession of it.

The Holy Father gives some good advice that all should heed in their pursuit to successfully love both God and neighbor. He emphasizes that:

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.
(Deus Caritas Est, 18)

Certainly, communion with Christ in the Eucharist is of paramount importance in attaining this communion, but there is an aspect that often gets overlooked - through the Eucharist, we who bear the name Christ have become "one" with Him through the Eucharist. To viciously attack another even with the noblest intentions of bringing them "truth" is a good way to put ourselves with the goats in the judgment scene of Matthew's Gospel. The same holds true for our attitude toward those who are outside the fold. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that our neighbor is not merely he who is part of the brotherhood, so to speak. I must see Christ in these individuals as well, and treat them accordingly.

This all might sound so obvious to us, but is it? Do we not have the temptation to forget that Christ loves others as much He loves us, and that He loved us even when we were locked in the ignorance that we so deplore in others? To be true evangelists we must constantly remind ourselves of the fact that Christ is in others, and on the other end of our words. We must adopt the hearts of apostles, who have deep communion with God. We cannot give what we don't have. We must constantly work on our communion with God so that we can truly love others. Then we will be able to truly be Christ to others, or as the Holy Father puts it:

Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.

(Deus Caritas Est, 18)

God Bless,