Matthew 22:34-40
Love as Jesus Loves
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus named these two commandments as the foundation of how God taught the Israelites to live through the law and the prophets. As disciples of Christ, we know that they are how we are called to live as well.

Our faith tells us that the first commandment loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind, is logical. How can we not love God completely? Not only is He perfectly loving, pure goodness and with infinite mercy, but without Him, we would not exist. He created each one of us out of love, and created all of the beauty that exists in the world around us. Also, every gift we receive comes from God, such as our natural talents, our health and the virtues we possess.

Beyond the physical world, our salvation comes from God, whose death offers us freedom from sin and entrance into eternal life. We are even promised a life in heaven that surpasses anything we experience on this earth. It is also a promise that surpasses anything we deserve because of our sins. Yet, in His love and mercy God invites us there.

From all of this it follows that we should love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and while we fail repeatedly to do so, we can see why it makes sense. We also know from experience that the more we are able to love God, the more peace and joy we have in this life. 

The second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is more difficult. While God is infinitely lovable, our neighbors, like us, have flaws. They can be selfish. They are petty sometimes. Some have quick tempers. They may disagree with us on important issues. More so, Jesus tells us to love our enemies as our neighbors, which might seem impossible compared to the ease with which we love God. 

How can we possibly live out this commandment of neighborly love? Only by striving to live out the commandment to love God. Our encounter with God draws us into His divine and perfect love. It leads us to care for our loved ones, our family and friends. It also leads us to help those in need, such as the poor, the stranger and the persecuted. In God's love, our neighbor is not just our fellow Christian, he or she can have any faith, or no recognizable faith at all. We are called to love everyone in the same way, for we are all created out of divine love and in the image of God. 

This helps us to see just how important that first commandment is. Being in loving communion with the Holy Trinity through prayer, the Sacraments, Scripture and the Church offers us the grace to love our neighbor in a supernatural way. It is only through this grace that we are capable of loving as Our Lord commands us to. 

More than three centuries ago in France, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received a vision in which Jesus Christ took her heart and placed it within His own Sacred Heart. When He offered her heart back to her, it was aflame with His divine love. It was only through loving and faithful union with Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart that we are able to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. 

May we always seek to gain the sacred fire of Our Lord's love by encountering Jesus, which we can do anywhere and at any time. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, so we can always find a home in the divine flame of Christ's Sacred Heart. Through this, we are strengthened to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. Through this, we can love our neighbors, whoever they may be, as God does.

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