Loving God & Neighbor: Why and How?

I can still remember his face and the passionate tone of his voice when he spoke some words to me and other seminarians. It was at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal of 2002 in the United States. Some priests in a diocese had recommended to their bishop that one way to deal with the low morale and burnout of the clergy was to allow them more days-off during the week. Our priest-professor in the seminary, obviously enraged by such a request, said to us:

When you become priests, I don’t care how many days-off you may have during the week, or how long a vacation you have yearly or what exotic places you go to for your vacation; as long as you are not growing in you love for God and for His flock entrusted to you as priests, you will never know true joy.

Why is it imperative for us to keep the two inseparable Commandments to love God and neighbor that Jesus gives in Sunday’s Gospel? Some of us may have asked our parents or other authority figures why we should obey their instructions only to receive that familiar answer, “Because I say so.” Can we and do we keep the two-fold Commandment of love simply because God says so? What then is the deeper reason that sustains our striving to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves?

The newly liberated Israelites are warned by Moses in today’s First Reading not to molest or oppress the aliens because they themselves have experienced God’s liberating power that freed them from oppressive slavery, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” Having experienced the compassionate love of God that liberates, they must extend a liberating and compassionate love to the widows, aliens and orphans.

This is the very first reason why we must keep the commandment of love: we have received this love as a gift. We are not the origin of this love but we have this love simply because God has loved us first, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” (1Jn 4:7) In addition, this love is a gift from God, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us first.”(1 Jn 4:10) This gift of divine love is received through the person of the Holy Spirit, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

The Second Reading points us to the second reason why we must keep the Commandment to love God and neighbor. The Christians in Thessalonica had received the Gospel wholeheartedly and had experienced persecution because of their new faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Moved by the Holy Spirit, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven,” thus becoming “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Though they “received the word with great affliction,” they experienced “joy from the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit moved them to concrete acts of love for God even in their affliction and, once they responded positively to the promptings of the Spirit, they experienced a joy that could not be quenched by their earthly travails. We too strive to keep the commandment to love God and neighbor because we want to have the unquenchable joy of the Lord in our hearts.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the Spirit of love and joy from the moment of our baptism. This Spirit is always moving us to love God and neighbor more and more with all that we have. When we respond to the Spirit’s call to love God and others more, we have the deep joy of the Lord that abides even in the midst of the trials of life. This is why we must strive to keep the greatest Commandment of love in all that we do, think and say.

God desires our deepest joy always and He does all things so that this joy becomes ours. God, “who is love,”(1 Jn 4:8) made us through love and calls us to love Him in others for His own sake. God so desires that we live in this love that He “gave us His only begotten Son so that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life.”(Jn 3:16) Jesus Himself came that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) The Father and the Son never cease to send forth the Spirit of Love into our hearts to move us to deeper spiritual joy along the path of greater love for God and neighbor.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for God and how are we responding? Maybe the Spirit is moving us to go deeper in our prayer life or to confess a particular sinful habit and amend our lives. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to end a sinful relationship or to serve Him more selflessly in our apostolate. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to participate more actively in liturgical celebrations or to attend the sacraments more frequently or spend time in delving into His word in Scripture.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for our neighbor? Maybe we are being moved to reach out to someone whom we have written off in life or to reconcile with one who has hurt us. Maybe we are being inspired to speak kind words to someone we always put down or to spend time with someone that we would rather avoid. Maybe we are being moved to intercede for those who lack faith and strength to pray or to instruct the ignorant in faith and morals. A deep and unquenchable joy awaits us as we pursue the will of God and His greater glory and strive to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of others.

The example of Mama Mary shines out so brightly in this regard. Mary’s act of charity is exceptional because, in her love for God and for us her sinful children, she received and responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you,” with a complete gift of herself to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Filled with this Holy Spirit, Mary was so powerfully moved by the Spirit that she “arose and went in haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth,” serving Elizabeth’s needs for three good months. Can we think of a more profound hymn of joy than Mary’s Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior?” With and through Mary, the ever-faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit, we too can believe in the gift of love received through the Holy Spirit and let this Spirit move us to seek for that deep and lasting joy which remains the sure reward of a growing love for God and neighbor.

Having all that we need to love God and neighbors more in this world of selfishness and greed, a world where individualism and egoism is rampant, where consumerism and hedonism dictates life choices, where it is so easy to use others as means to our selfish goals, the words of my seminary professor ring out as true as ever: “No matter what we have or do or enjoy, if we are not loving God and others more and more, we will never have deep and lasting joy.”

In our Eucharist today, Jesus renews in us the outpouring of His Spirit because He wants us to be truly joyful even in this world as we await the perfect joy of heaven. We have the gift of the Spirit of love that never ceases us to inspire us to greater love for God and others no matter the cost. Let us love God and neighbors just as He is moving us and we will also have the joy of the Lord in our hearts, a joy that nothing in this world can take away from us.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

By

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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