“If in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties', then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper', but loveless.” ― Pope Benedict XVI (Emeritus), God Is Love--Deus Caritas Est: Encyclical Letter
(Gospel Text: Mk 12:28-34 )
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The horizontal relationship with our fellow man is also a part of God's great commandment. We cannot love God without loving each other.
In his pastoral epistle, St. John makes this vividly clear when he writes that, "He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in light and in it there is no cause for stumbling." (I Jn. 2:9, 10)
The fruitfulness of our relationship with God is critically linked to the way we relate to those around us!
If we use the image of the vine when talking on the "neighbor level," we begin dealing with the area of fruit - how our lives "taste" to others. Jesus told his disciples that an abiding relationship would yield fruit in our lives. So what does this fruit look like? As spiritual beings, our fruit is described by St. Paul in Galatians: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (GAL 5:22-24).
Our love for our neighbor is detected through the spirit in which we care for them and not simply the act itself. Mother Teresa put it this way, "It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving." She went on to say, “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in - that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible”. So it is not merely that we do things for others but the interior motivation that calls us to loving activity.
God is interested in authentic expressions of love not imitation fruit. No matter how hard you bite down on an artificial grape, it will never be tasty. The same can be said for our love for neighbor.
This Lent I would encourage you to spend some time in the closest Catholic Church near you and sit before the Blessed Sacrament. Take a few moments, in silence, and allow God to love you. In doing so, look up at the cross and the body of Jesus that hangs there. Notice, His arms are extended in a loving embrace of the world.
Through us he wants to love those around us. Through his love we can truly love our neighbor.