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 that God has created “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 within the very life of the Creator himself.
The two commandments of love of God and love of neighbor were not necessarily new in the time of Jesus. What is unique about the gospel teaching of Christ is that our Lord inter-connects the two. Love of God and love of neighbor now become an intersecting point for one another. In this reality it is helpful to note that God does not compete for love with men and women; in a certain sense he does not insist on the reciprocity of love (which should obviously exist). Jesus does not say: “Love me as I have loved you,” but: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This sets the tone for our love of God and of one another.
This is singularly important as it leads us into an awareness of the very depth of love that God calls us to: a love that does not need to compete, a love that does not seek self but rather is willing to die to self, a love that wills the good of the other.
On the surface to contemplate living this truth of love is daunting to say the least and, left to our own devices, impossible. But God is with us and God is patient. In our second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 1:5c-10) we can take comfort because we can learn that the progress in faith that Paul refers to can be our progress also. Paul reminds the community of how they welcomed him, and how they became “imitators” of he and the Lord, “receiving the word” to the point of becoming a “model for all believers”. Finally Paul reminds the community of how they, “…turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” It is not coincidence that in all of this we hear the language of journey and progress.
As we make this journey and progress of faith – learning a love that does not need to compete, that does not need to seek self, that can will the good of the other – then we begin to leave the idols of our day behind and we begin to turn to God in truth. The idols of our day are many. We heard of two of them in the first reading (Ex. 22:20-26) – fear of the stranger, the alien and the one who is different as well as greed. But there are others; violence, fear of encounter, narcissism of self and group, gossip, rumor and pride (just to name a few). The idols of our world are many and for each of us they are also particular. Each one of us is weighed down by our “idols”. No one is exempt. Often, they seem so impassible and fixed – even to the point of leaving us with the false belief that this is just the way things are and nothing can change.
Love of God and love of neighbor are not a static point that is weak and ineffectual in our world of today, rather these two “greatest of commandments” are a journey that always leads to new life and new strength! Faith is a journey of learning the reality of the love of God, learning to live that reality and through this coming to understand that the idols don’t have the final say, that (in fact) they are often illusions and that we can leave them behind and live a different way! We can live with a love that does not compete, that does not seek self and that can will the good of the other above all else. We can put our idols aside and we can learn to serve the living God!
“You shall love the Lord, your God … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”