Thursday, October 27, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, people thought he would be a tough one, rigid and traditionalist, concerned with the institution of the Church, putting the Church in a defensive mode. They even ridiculed him intending the pun, “German Shepherd” for a German Pope who they thought would be on the guard, and nothing of the sort of the charismatic and revolutionary John Paul II, his predecessor. Not long after Pope Benedict XVI was made Vicar of Christ, he wrote his very first encyclical, and it was “Deus caritas est” – God is love. Nothing can be more charismatic of the faith and revolutionary for the world than this very basic but essential confession of faith that God is Love. The Pope affirmed the very nature of God, the heart of God, the most basic truth about God, that God is Love. God has loved us with the passion of eros, a love that keeps on loving and keeps on desiring the good of the beloved. God has loved us with the depth of agape, a love that is self-giving, that shares life to the beloved in a self-gift. Jesus exemplified the love of God, eros and agape.
Today, we hear Jesus declaring the two greatest commandments: Love God and love our neighbor. It is interesting to note that Jesus’s summary was not a prohibition, but rather an imperative. The Law of God is not restraining. The Law of God is enabling. The Law of God enables the good that disables the bad. The Law of God fulfills the best of us, and leaves no room for the worse in us.
The question of the law then is how to love. Jesus tells us, “first of all, love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Love God first, foremost and fully. Last Sunday we were told, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and give to God what belongs to God.” The roman coin bore the image of Caesar, and so it had to be given back to Caesar. But we asked, what bears the image of God? We recalled Genesis which said that men and women are created in the “image and likeness” of God. So what do we give to God? Our very selves, our whole selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we owe everything to God. What we should offer to God then is the gift of ourselves.
A total gift is also what is asked by the greatest commandment. To love God is to give him total allegiance, total control of our lives. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola exemplifies this:
Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty. Take all my will, my mind, my memory. All things I hold, and all I own are thine. Thine was the gift; to thee, I all resign. Do thou direct, and govern all and sway. Do what thou will. Command; and I’ll obey. Only thy grace, thy love on me bestow. These make me rich. All else will I forego.
“You shall love the Lord you God with all you heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” There is however a twin to the love of God. Jesus tells us, “Love your neighbor.” If we truly love God, we cannot but love our neighbor. The First Letter of John puts it in this way: “If anyone says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar; (in the Bible, the devil is the father of lies) for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 Jn 4:20) Benedict XVI writes that love can be commanded because we have been loved first. Not that love can ever be forced. Not that one can ever be commanded to love. It is rather because being loved enables and transforms the beloved to also share and give love. The Pope wrote, “God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He love us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first,” love can also blossom as a response within us.” I can love because I have been loved. The more I love, the more I grow in the love given me. A popular action song puts it rather simply but clearly:
Love is something that you giveth away, giveth away giveth away. And it come right back to you. It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t get any. Spend it. Lend it. Give it away. And it comes right back to you.
Love grows through love. And this love is not simply a feeling. It is rather concrete. The first reading from the book of Exodus reminds us of the corporal works of mercy:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
And we should add the spiritual works of mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
By these, we love our neighbor just as our God has loved us.
On a final note, although love of God and others are part of our very being, sometimes, we neglect and refuse to do so. Maybe because at times, we only look at ourselves, and love only ourselves. One popular ballad seems to be the anthem of many: “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Me, myself and l. We tend to trust ourselves alone, seek to please and pleasure ourselves alone. We relate with each other in view of our selfish interests. Come to think of it, there is nothing wrong with loving ourselves. But we have to look at the bigger picture. If we look at the two greatest commandments, where do we find ourselves? In the love of God and in the love of neighbor. True love of the self is love of God and love of neighbor. Relating this to previous Sunday’s Gospel, we should remember that we are created in the image and likeness of God. If we love ourselves, we also should primarily love God of whom we are but an image. If we love ourselves, and if we love God, we should love others, who like us, are made in the image and likeness of God.
And if we all love ourselves in this way, putting God above all else, yes above all power, above all fame, above all wealth, above all treasures this earth has ever known, if we relate with one another in love, not in arrogance, or violence, or competition, or distrust, or discrimination, we will see a world transformed. And the love and good will we give, we receive back.
God is love. God has loved us. Since we have been loved first, then we are able and are called to love one another. What could be more basic and revolutionary at the same time?