In his book The Devil You Don’t Know, Fr. Louis Cameli makes the important observation that as Christians we believe that not only has God made all creation from nothing (ex nihilo) but also from love and now, through Christ, God is summoning all creation back to the fullness of love. Where the omnipotence of God is revealed in creation from nothing; the heart of God is made known in creation from and for love. In Christ, we encounter God as love and we learn that the dynamic of true and authentic love stands at the very foundation of all creation and even the Creator himself.
With this awareness, the answer of our Lord to the question of the Pharisees’ “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” takes an added meaning. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:35-37)
One does not necessarily have to be a person of faith in order to love others as you yourself. In fact, this ethical imperative can be a point of encounter and dialogue between people of faith and atheists and agnostics.
This coming week Pope Benedict will continue a tradition begun by Blessed John Paul II in gathering leaders of the world’s religions in Assisi, Italy to discuss and dialogue about peace. For the first time (and this is upon Pope Benedict’s insistence) a group of non-believers (atheist and agnostic writers and philosophers) have also been invited to this gathering. The Holy Father knows that the imperative of loving ones neighbor as oneself is a privileged point of encounter between all peoples of faith as well as people of faith and those who profess no faith.
In the command of loving ones neighbor we do indeed have a privileged place of encounter which we share with others but as Christians we also must recognize that our love of neighbor has its foundation in a deeper reality than just the social contract. The greatest and first commandment for us is that we shall love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, soul and mind. Our love of neighbor is rooted in our love for God and as we learn in Scripture it is not that we have first loved God; it is that God has first loved us.
The two great commandments given us by Christ are not just something we do but foundational truths of who God is and who we are as made in God’s image. We are created from love and we are being brought back into the fullness of love by God’s grace.
When we love God and love our neighbor we are about more than just an external action; by loving our neighbor we are being formed into the very truth of who we are meant to be and the truth of all creation.
“This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it…”