Love of God and neighbor is the greatest commandment

Each Sunday we come back to celebrate God’s love for us. We are inspired to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as our self. This is because God has loved us first. We are all loved into existence by God. He created all human life in his image and likeness. This is why loving God also means loving our neighbor. We cannot love God if we don’t love our neighbor. And it holds true that we cannot truly love our neighbor unless we love God. As we come to the close of this month of October dedicated to the respect of Human Life, this command of love reveals why as Christians we respect life from the moment of conception until a natural death. We respect His image and likeness in every person. Therefore, even the tiny life of newly conceived baby in the womb of her mother, whether planned or not, whether handicapped or not, should be loved. This includes the lives of the poor, the sick, immigrants, the elderly, the dying and those on death row. We are his masterpieces no matter what condition we are in.

Often there are people in life who we naturally want to reject. But that is when we see the need for the commandment to love. Love doesn’t come naturally, it comes supernaturally into our hearts from Jesus. It helps us to love those who we don’t like. For example, many see all the illegal immigrants coming into our country and their first reaction is anger or fear or rejection. But not us Christians. We see them as our neighbors. We love them as we love ourselves. We imagine our own little children wanting to escape poverty, drugs, and gang violence, and so our first response is “What can we do to help them.” We’ll figure out the legal matters later. Love of God and neighbor is what saves us from fear, anger and hate. We always put love above legalism.   

As Christians when we see people living sinful lives it saddens us because sin is simply to turn away from God’s love. But our faith leads us not to reject those who live in sin but to love them. Now that are country is redefining marriage as something other than what God created, many people will be deceived into following the world’s definition of love. How are we as Christians to react? Do we harden our hearts? No. We are to love them now more than ever. Of course, this does not mean we join the media and the popular culture to promote false definitions of love. Rather, we show them what true love is by not condemning but showing patience and respect and offering true friendship. We should not fear them but love them. We should teach our children what true love is, even when someone is living contrary to love of God and neighbor. Perhaps our show of authentic and true love will win them over in the end just like the love Jesus has for us is slowly winning us over. If he doesn’t win us over the world will.

Authentic love promotes the dignity of life. There is a seminarian named Philip Johnson in North Carolina who recently wrote an article in response to a young woman Brittany Maynard who plans to have a doctor euthanize her (help her commit suicide) because she has terminal brain cancer. The seminarian also has terminal brain cancer but knows that he cannot take his life in his own hands because his life is in the hands of God. He knows that the lives of the terminally ill are just as equal and precious as those who are well, even if doctors say someone is not worth living anymore. He knows that if God allows suffering for a bigger cause just like he allowed the suffering of his Son. We simply cannot know what God will do and to take our own life prevents God from doing his part. Every moment of our life counts. And so the loving thing to do is to assist the dying to have comfort and dignity, not to take life from them.

Life is precious even for those who are difficult to love. As Christians we are called to love even those who are on death row. That is why the Church is against capital punishment. Those who are condemned need love now more than ever. Christians know that we all deserve death, but Jesus took on our death sentence for us when he died on the Cross. So we become advocates for life! It is the loving thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do. It is what makes us like Christ. God created life and only he can end it. We must love life and defend it! If someone is threatening other lives, like we see with the radical Muslims in Iraq, it is an act of love of neighbor to defend the innocent from the attack of the unjust aggressors. But we pray for those with evil in their hearts, that they will discover the love of God and the love and respect for all human life.

It is easy to condemn others but how often do we fall short of this command to love. We are selective in who we love. But God loves us all equally. His love is perfect. And so we need to confess the times we did not love God with all our heart and did not love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus is the only one who lived this commandment perfectly. It is impossible for us to live it perfectly, because we are imperfect. We often love ourselves before God. We get impatient with God. We want things our way. We get irritated with our neighbor, our brothers our sisters, our spouses, the various people that we pass by each day. We make fun of those who struggle with finding love. We even foster hate in our hearts for those who do evil things. But each time we go to confession Jesus lovingly forgives us.

Forgiveness is the sign of true love. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God is ready to forgive us because he loves us. He wants us to be filled with his love. Those who are full of God’s love in this life and freely share it with others go to Heaven in the end. They are called saints. We will celebrate All Saints Day this Saturday. Those who have love for God and neighbor but still are attached to sin, they will go to Purgatory when they die to be purified and prepared for the perfect love in Heaven. Next Sunday we will celebrate All Souls’ Day and pray that all the souls of the faithful departed may go to Heaven. Now if we die rejecting the grace of God’s love then Hell is our destiny and there is no celebration for these souls except maybe Halloween. So the goal is Heaven.

Life is short and Human life here on earth is very fragile. There are diseases. There are wars. There is death. These remind us that one day wrath will come and everything will be destroyed. But the one thing that will not be destroyed is love. That is why Jesus commands us to love. He is offering us salvation from the wrath, salvation from death. He is inviting us into the eternal life of love with God. As we close out this Month of October which is also dedicated to the Rosary, let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for all life on earth so that whenever the end comes we may all be saints in Heaven who rejoice forever in Gods’ love. Amen.

Father Timothy Gallagher


St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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