A big challenge: loving God by loving our neighbor

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

INDEED, it is a big, if not overwhelming, challenge! But somehow Christ himself clearly told his disciples, and now us, about this. The way to love God is to love our neighbor, whoever and however he may be to us.

We are reminded of this truth of our Christian faith in that gospel episode where Christ was asked about what the greatest commandment of God was, (cfr. Mk 12,28-34) which happens to be the gospel reading of the Mass on Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time.

While he said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything that we have got, he proceeded to tell them about the second greatest even if he was not asked about it. And that was that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

It surely causes wonder why Christ had to add the second greatest commandment. And the only possible and plausible explanation could be that since man is God’s image and likeness and thus shares in God’s life and nature, if we truly love God, we should also truly love man which is what neighbor means.

In other words, loving God is concretized and made immediate by loving man. And this is a big challenge because while we can easily profess that we love God whom we do not see with everything we have got, it is quite another story to love man whom we see and with whom we cannot avoid having differences and even conflicts.

We know that not every man is likeable and lovable to us. And yet we are commanded to love everyone, including even our enemies. Thus, Christ, the God who became man to give us “the way, the truth and the life,” said it also very clearly that we should love our enemies. (cfr. Mt 5,43-44)

This is the real test to see if we truly love God—when we manage to love everyone. This can only happen if our love for God is a faithful channeling of the love of God for us, as shown to us and enabled in us through Christ in the Holy Spirit. We cannot love God and neighbor if we do not have the very love God, which is his very essence and which is also meant to be our own essence.

This kind of love just cannot be driven by our own natural powers. It will always need the grace of God who actually is all too eager to give it to us if we would just bother also to be very receptive and responsive to it.

Again, this truth of our faith reminds us that our life just cannot remain in the natural level. We have been endowed with enough natural powers—especially our intelligence and will—to enable us to enter into the spiritual and supernatural level of God. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the fullness of our humanity is when we become one with God, and that the purpose of our life here on earth is to pursue that fullness.

This is where we need to do what Christ told us about how we can follow him, how we can love everyone as he himself has loved all of us. And that is that we should deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow him. (cfr. Mt 16,24) Only then can we truly love God by loving everyone else.

Email: roycimagala@gmail.com

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