Friday, May 20, 2011

Most Essential: Christ's Commandments to Love

Recently I engaged in a back-and-forth in the blogosphere.

The topic was interesting and it kept me intellectually occupied for a couple days researching church teaching not just in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but some source documents that went back a few decades.  My counterpart is a sharp sister - not a nun - a fellow Catholic that takes seriously to learn and defend the faith.

One of the concluding remarks from her side was, "your compassion is misplaced."  I could not really respond after that.  I don't think she meant it as bad as it reads, it was just her other point was a stronger one to her, and this part of it had to be weakened I think.

Hard to imagine compassion being misplaced.  I am not writing this to win an argument.  I am making a new one.

Love is Primary.  Everything else is secondary and that includes moralism.

I am just sharing as powerfully as a new blogger can the most important, most essential knowledge I have gained in my 43 years breathing air.

I am going to cover this hard, with the Word of God, with the words from His mouth (Jesus=Word of God), and other words from scripture, with images and music that will viscerally and emotionally impact you.

   You may come away from this post thinking I hit a finishing nail with a sledgehammer.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily on August 30, 2009, "Wisdom seeks to understand what matters.  Whereas knowing many things may be useful, it is nothing without wisdom.  Wisdom is
 knowledge of the essential, knowledge of the aim of our life and of how we should live." 

The two greatest commandments were summarized by Jesus, and this seems good place to start if I am looking for knowledge of the essential, the aim of my life, and how I should live.

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength
  2. Love others (with His grace) as He has loved us

I add the "with His grace" because there will be times when we in our humanity, our brokenness will not be able to love or forgive without His grace.

In short it all comes down to love.

You'll recognize this verse, many use it in their weddings.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ~1 Corinthians 13:3

Are you familiar with this one?

We have recognized for ourselves, and put our faith in, the love God has for us.
God is love,
and whoever remains in love,
remains in him. ~ 1 John 4:16

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in
Deus Caritas (God is Love) Est 7:
Yet to become a source, one must constantly drink a new from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (referring to the scene in John 19:34)

What images help you visualize God's love for us?

  • God's love for us is similar to the look of love a mother has as she holds her newborn baby
  • David's (OT -- 1 & 2 Samuel) fatherly love, compassionate and self-sacrificing for Absalom even when he had mind for patricide
  • Jesus praying for forgiveness for those putting him through physical agony
Here is a song that really drills home the love of God and its symbolism is especially powerful as we are still in the midst of the longest running wars in The United States of America's history.  I have two versions, one from a radio studio.  Vocals aren't as pure, but the expression is there on the performers faces (Cherryholmes).  The second is one with pictures of our military men and women.

If you watched Passion of the Christ you'll remember the scene from John 19:34
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.  
(that occurs at 4:00, if you want to skip to it, and then come back later when you are ready to see what precedes it, which is a) Christ's great gift of his Mother to be Our Spiritual Mother, b) Christ yelling out his feeling of abandoment prophesied in Psalm 22:1, c) the actual giving up of his spirit.)

Disclaimer:     This is the part where I thought you would think finishing nail being hit with a sledgehammer.  This is the most powerful scene in the movie.  You might want to take a second to prepare your heart.

What is essential?

  • Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus because it focuses on Christ's interior life and his personal relationship with each one of us.  Christ "loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20
  • Contemplate that love!  Experience that love, and respond to that love.  Living with an ongoing awareness of God's love for us, for me personally, inspires gratitude.
  • Make reparation to the heart of Jesus by sorrowfully acknowledging our sins, and the ingratitude we and others are guilty of, and make sincere effort to respond to love with love.
How do I contemplate Christ's love for Me?

St. Margaret Mary was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus's Real Presence--Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the appearance of the host stored in the Tabernacle in her convent, when Jesus appeared to her bearing his Sacred Heart.

He said to her, "
Behold the Heart that has loved men . . . instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part of mankind only ingratitude."

To contemplate the heart of Jesus is to contemplate his love.  We praise him.  We thank him.  We offer him our own love in return, which he so desperately desires.

Here is a prayer from
A Heart Like His: Mediations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Father Thomas D. Williams:

Lord Jesus, let me never become hardened to the central truth of my existence.

You love me!  
No matter what befalls me, no matter what direction my life takes, you will always be there with your love for me.
You will be my strength, my consolation, my all.
I trust in your love.
Jesus, I love you so much.
You better than anyone know how poor and fragile my love is,
yet I wish it were a bonfire like your own.
I desire to love you more, to love you as you deserve.
I wish to be an apostle of your love, to help others to know and experience it, so that they may love you, too.
Please grant me this desire.
Heart of Jesus, burning bonfire of love, make my heart like yours!

Jesus told Martha what was essential in Luke 10:39, 42

Martha had a sister called Mary , "who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching."  Martha wanted Jesus to get Mary to get up and help her serve him and the other guests.
Jesus said, "One thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

Q:  What is essential?  What one thing is needful?

A:  To sit and worship at the feet of Jesus as we learn from his teaching.

How are we to live?  Jesus tells us
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.  And a second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ~ Matthew 22:37-39

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love! . . . 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 15:10, 12

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. ~ John 13:34-35

Scott Hahn's commentary on this last verse in the 
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:
The Torah commanded human love for ourselves and our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).  Jesus commands divine love for one another that is modeled on Jesus's own acts of charity and generosity (John 15:13, 1 John 3:15-18).  This supernatural love comes not from us but from the Spirit (Romans 5:5, CCC 1822-1829).

Jesus speaking:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ~ John 15:13
This I command you, to love one another. ~ John 15:17

How do you lay down your life for your friends? 

(from spirituality/love/desert_spirituality taken from Love as God Loves by Roberta Bondi)

When asked what this means, Abba Peomen (Desert Father) answered, “When a [person] hears a complaining word and struggles against himself [or herself], and does not . . . begin to complain; when a [person] bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a [person] lays down his [or her] life for his [or her] neighbor.” 

The Desert Fathers teach that love is expressed, not in great acts, but in small acts done with great love.

How much easier it is to daydream about the dramatic acts of love and self-sacrifice I or the church might make to prove our love of God or neighbor! But the temptation to regard such small actions as unimportant while there are so many serious social problems in the world is the temptation to understand the Christian life only in heroic proportions.
While we dream of heroic acts of love, we often fail to simply love others in small ways:  “If we wish to love our neighbor, we start small by trying first to avoid harming the neighbor, refusing to gossip about the neighbor, and offering small help”.
The assumption of the Desert Fathers was that “it is the little things we do over a long period of time that form character and make our relationships with ourselves, others, and God what they are”. Through small steps we express God’s love: “If you are able to extend one small act of kindness to another human being you have already begun to live out of [God’s] love”.

St. John the Evangelist speaking:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren   But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. ~ 1 John 3:16-18

St. Paul the Apostle speaking:

Because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:5b

CCC 1822

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God  above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

CCC 1823b

By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive.

Jesus speaking again:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. ~ John 15:9

Want to learn more?  Please check out this site.  It is amazing . . .has some amazing metaphors to show us how to love God, and how with God's grace to love others.  

Here is an excerpt, and I would include the whole thing but then if you have read this far, you may be going well past your available post reading time for one blog.
For the Desert Fathers, love is the goal. Dorotheos offers a beautiful illustration concerning how the practice of love toward others draws us into the love of God.
Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle. The center point is the same distance from any point on the circumference. . . . Let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God himself is the center: the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of human beings. . . . Let us assume for the sake of the analogy that to move toward God, then, human beings move from the circumference along the various radii of the circle to the center. But at the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God.
This metaphor not only illustrates how love draws us to God, but it also puts God in his proper place – at the center of all things and all relationships. “It assumes that God is present in a real way in God’s own universe, at the center, metaphorically speaking, drawing all people and things to God by a natural love for God, placed in their nature by their creator”.
(Italics emphasis added) If the goal is love, and love toward others draws us into the love of God, then the opposite is also true. Refusing to love others draws us away from the love of God. Keeping the goal of love in mind is an antidote against the mistaken idea that one could actually be a good Christian if it were not for other people!
Keeping this in mind keeps us from descending into moralism: “If the fulfillment of the moral law for its own sake is seen to be the point of the law, the temptation is, in cases of doubt, to err on the side of caution. But if the point of the law is love, then the Christian must be prepared to take real risks for the sake of other people”.
May God's Holy Spirit water the very powerful words from this post in my heart and all that read it so that we may all bear fruit for his kingdom!


  1. This is very beautiful! Thank you!

    I hope that you will also consider the bedrock moral principle of Christianity, that love without Truth is not really love at all. We can never, ever divorce Truth from Love. They are intimately connected (God is both Love and Truth, without any defect or contradiction).

    Here is good evidence of that:

    True love corrects error. True love protects the faithful. True love obeys God in all things. True loves cares for the soul, and the eternal destiny of the other, more than it cares for the body.

    We must always speak and live the truth in love. The Church speaks many truths which fallen humanity cannot (or does not want to) understand. We are humble, we submit. We keep love wedded to truth no matter the cost to us.

    I love this quote from St. John of the Cross, echoed by many other saints:

    "Should I misunderstand or be mistaken on some point, whether I deduce it from Scripture or not, I will not be intending to deviate from the true meaning of Sacred Scripture or from the doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church. Should there be some mistake, I submit entirely to the Church, or even to anyone who judges more competently about the matter than I."

    It can be so hard to have the courage to speak the Truth, even when we don't clearly see it, or when it requires that we cause earthly pain to someone we love when we gently correct them (as the spiritual works of mercy require of us in grave matters). It is not easy to live the Christian life, and sometimes, very painful things are required of us in the service of Love and Truth. Just a glance at the Crucifix tells us that….


  2. Leila, I bet you like this quote from Fulton Sheen, right?
    "If you want people to stay as they are, tell them what they want to hear. If you want to improve them, tell them what they should know."

    Thank you for telling me and others what we should know about the truth.

  3. Colleen, ha ha, why yes I do like that quote! :)

    One more thought, just because I'm intrigued by what you said here:

    "Hard to imagine compassion being misplaced."

    I actually see miguided compassion every day. Isn't the whole abortion rights movement about misplaced compassion? "We don't want the woman to suffer, we don't want the unwanted child to suffer", etc. Same with gay marriage, same with fornication, same with so many other things we don't speak on because we have "compassion" and want people to be "happy".

    Do you really feel that misguided compassion is almost non-existent? Or, is it perhaps so prevalent that we barely notice it anymore?

    (By the way, I agree, we are full sisters in Christ!)


  4. Leila, this is going to take me 2 hours to answer. It is a great question I want to answer, but probably won't be able to until after my kids are in bed tonight. Thanks for serving it up. :)

  5. Leila, I exceeded the comment limit again. I am going to make response to your question a post then as it will take me another 45 minutes to figure out where to parse or edit, etc.