Today’s Readings reinforce the themes of last Sunday’s liturgy: the 2 great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.
The 1st commandment of love of God is the subject of today’s Gospel. First of all, it needs to pointed out that when Jesus talks about hating parents, spouses, siblings and children, he is not to be taken literally. God would never ask that we literally abandon our families.
But, as the writers of the web site Sacred Space point out, “It is rather a dramatic way of saying that anyone who puts any person, even those closest to them, before total commitment to Christ and his mission is not ready to be a disciple. There can be no compromise here; it is all or nothing”.
This commandment challenges us to make our relationship with God the number 1 priority in our lives. Our whole existence is to be focused on loving God. We are called to commit ourselves to God with our whole being: thoughts, emotions, strengths, weaknesses – everything that makes us who we are.
The invitation of this Gospel is to love God the most and the best. There ought not to be one person, thing or circumstance that we love more than or better than God. If we ever have to choose between God and any other person, thing or circumstance, being a disciple means that we have to let go of that person, thing or circumstance.
As Bishop Robert Barron explains: “God must be loved first and last. Everything else in our lives has to find its meaning in relation to him”. Each of us is encouraged to ask these questions: Is there anyone or anything in my life that I am clinging to that is preventing me from giving myself completely and unconditionally to God? What must I let go of in order to become a better disciple of the Lord?
The 2nd commandment of love of neighbor is the subject of the 1st Reading. St. Paul says: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. There are 2 parts to this commandment. Let’s begin with the 2nd part.
“Love your neighbor as yourself”. We are called to love ourselves. Love of self is not about being vain or conceited; it’s not about being standoffish and viewing one’s self as superior to others.
Therefore, what does it mean for me to love myself? The answer is to start at the beginning. God made me. He created me. I have been formed by his hands. I am a deliberate and conscious act of God’s will. I am not a mistake or an accident. I owe my existence to a decision made by God. God loves me perfectly. There is no wrong in his loving. It is impossible for God to make any improvements in the way he loves me. That’s how precious I am to God. Therefore, I have dignity, worth and value.
I ought to have a positive self-image. Healthy self-esteem and mental health and well-being are part of God’s plan for me. My love of self is based on this reality. But God loves every other person with the same love that he has for me. Each of us is a child of the same Father.
The 1st part of the 2nd commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The call of the Gospel is for me to love every person I meet as I love myself. The bottom line is that we are commanded to be as passionate about willing and seeking the good of others as we are about willing and seeking our own good.
The love of God and neighbor are deeply connected to one another. When God is #1 in our lives, we realize that God is present in every person. The heart of the spiritual life is that, in serving others, we serve God.
St. Francis de Sales was a bishop who lived from 1567 to 1622. One of his famous sayings was: “Show me the person you love the least. That’s how much you love God!” If we fail to show compassion, kindness and concern towards someone else, we are failing to love God. If we say that we love God, but hate other people, we’re wasting our time.
When a man asked the English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins what he must do in order to believe in God, Hopkins replied, “Give alms.” By responding with concrete acts of love to the needs of the suffering, the vulnerable and the marginalized, we enter more fully into a love relationship with God. The face of the person to whom we respond is the face of God.
As our Eucharist continues, let us pray to God that these 2 commandments may become the foundation of our lives. May they influence all we think, all we say and, more importantly, all we do.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
November 3, 2021