“Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind… love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus says in gospel of Matthew (chapter 22).
These greatest of commandments echo in my head and heart not only this weekend because they will be proclaimed and preached about, but because they guide my daily living. As they guide my daily living, they challenge me to how I embrace life.
To love my neighbours as I love myself means that I am taking care of myself. Not only physically and socially but also spiritually and my soul too. It is not easy to love one’s self. We measure ourselves against others, we view our lives in comparison of what they have and we don’t, we allow our mind to fill not with God and God’s love but with jealousy, worry and hurts. How do I love my neighbour if I can’t love myself? How do I love my neighbour when my jealousy makes me build walls and fences around my stuff and my heart? When my worries and fears turn to judgement, prejudices, and false images of my neighbours? When my hurts from my journey are projected upon my neighbours and they become not good enough, or don’t do things the right way or meet my expectation? It is tough to love my neighbour as myself because this means I need to evaluate my living.
Do I love myself by making time for prayer and simply being before my God?
Do I love myself by having a heart of gratitude?
Do I love myself by constantly acknowledging what I have and trusting it is enough (both materially and skills/talents?)?
Do I love myself by forgiving myself for my shortcomings and when I hurt another?
Do I love myself by seeking the greater good for all, for the human family that I myself am a part of?
When we stop and reflect on how we love ourselves and how we interact with the human family, our patterns become obvious; maybe a bit too painfully obvious. I know it causes me to pause and say, “Oh that needs a redo or I need to let go or I have not listened to the still small voice in my heart.” I know that when I pause and reflect on my actions, I see that my heart needs a tune up and needs to align again with the Love of all loves, our God.
Psalm 18 declares “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are incorporated into the heart of our God. God indeed is our strength. Yet time and again we deny ourselves this beautiful gift because we don’t think we are worthy; we can’t see the love that makes up our very selves. We instead turn loving the Lord our God into loving the Lord the God of our choice – whether that be money, possessions, work, reputation, travel, food and drink, etc. – anything to cloud over the truth of God’s DNA being in our DNA and the truth to which to which this calls us. It is easier to love those things than it is to love the fulness of Love – our God.
Do I love our God – the source of all love or do I love the stuff I love?
Do I love my neighbour knowing God is present in them in ways I may not see easily?
Do I love our God not simply by whispers of a prayer but by listening for God’s voice as well?
Do I love my neighbours because they can show me new paths to God?
St. Francis of Assisi was a young man full of the illusion that he was his own God. His loving of self was an illusion that consisted of parties, being a knight and having a place of distinction among his friends and community. When he finally saw past this illusion or rather when this illusion was stripped of him and he was left with nothing but himself in a prisoner’s cell and then in front of a crucifix, he came to understand loving God and neighbour in a new way. When Francis of Assisi was able to embrace the freedom of the gift of poverty he was raptured with love of God and love neighbour. “My God and My All,” he would declare time and again knowing that God was indeed with him and within him. He would see the presence of God in his neighbour the leper, his neighbour the brother and his neighbour of creation. He was able to do this because he was no longer saying, “I am God and I am All” he was able to love them as himself because he knew they too were carrying the love of God in them. God was indeed that close time and again, how could he not love God and neighbour? It’s the same question we must ask ourselves. Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio states “Francis of Assisi was aware that to live a God-filled life he would have to undergo conversion of heart… we do not change the world, we change ourselves and the way we see the world. A changed life changes the world.” This is reality of loving our God, loving our neighbour and loving ourselves. It is the reality that St. Francis let captured his heart and life, we must do the same.
We are living in trying times, where our societal structures are being challenged, where new realities are creating awareness which have been kept suppressed and where truths about humanity are surfacing. It is easy to live holding on to the false illusions of what was instead of looking into the now and listening for the heart of God emerging. The heart of our God is emerging (and always has been) in the cries for justice, in the call for human dignity, in the respect of the human person, in the aching of our sister mother Earth, in the church truly becoming the body of Christ. It is not easy to love one’s self, and these trying times are awakening our hearts to this truth. Yet in the silence as well as the voices raised the voice of God is heard. The voice of Love is present to us, is in us and is heard. Our God, Love of all love is present and is our rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, source of our salvation, stronghold and full of steadfast love (Psalm 18) because the heart which loves God and loves neighbour beats that close… can we hear it?
Be still. Listen…