We’ve just heard what is almost certainly the most simple and yet beautiful of all the Commandments of our religions: To love, to love God and to love our neighbour.
Yet, people sometimes say that this seems vague.
So, I want to offer a brief thought on one of the connections between loving God and loving our neighbour. In particular, to comment on how to make this command specific, precisely because people say, “Oh, that’s nice, but ‘love’ is rather a vague concept”.
When we think about what it means, specifically, to love God, then we can think of a number of specific commandments:
To attend Mass each and every Sunday, because it’s THE prayer he left us, “Do THIS in memory of me”;
To pray to Him every day;
To never curse or abuse His holy name;
To always seek His forgiveness each time we sin, and in seeking His forgiveness to resolve to never sin again.
But, in many things, it can seem like the specific commandments, the specific obligations that we owe to God in Himself are relatively few.
In practice, if we want to know what God is asking of us, what He is commanding us, we need to look to our neighbour.
Our neighbour has been made in the image and likeness of God, and Scripture tells us that loving God means loving our neighbour.
“If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”(1Jn4:20)
So we need to constantly ask ourselves whether we see God in our neighbour, and whether we hear the commandments of God in the needs of our neighbour –because this is how God frequently and specifically communicates His commandments to us.
When a child is behaving in an obnoxious manner, and the parent feels the anger welling up inside him, he needs to think: the image of God is inside this child, God is commanding me to respond to him with love. God has made that child in His image in such a way that the child can be loved in a way that a plant or an animal cannot be loved. And, in particular, in specifying the general command to love, the child’s very obnoxiousness is the specific command calling to the parent.
When your mother or father is asking you to do something, you need to remember: the image of God is in my mother and father and the command to love God means to love them and love them in the very thing they are asking me to do.
When the car driver in front of me is going is a steady 30 in a 60 zone, the command to love the image of God in him commands that I put a restraint on my impatience.
And when I’m at my wit’s end because my computer screen has frozen from the 30th time in ten minutes, and then, at that minute, three people call me on the phone, then the command to love God means that each one of those callers gets to be treated as what he or she is: someone made in the Lord’s image, and I must put aside how I’m feeling about something else.
It is often not easy to love my neighbour, he can seem to be a rival to my time and energy –do I satisfy his needs or mine?
But if I can remember that my neighbour is in the image of God, and if I can remember what God has done for me and that he deserves to have me love Him, then I can acquire an additional motive for loving my neighbour, loving the image of God in my neighbour –remembering that God loves this person and so should I.
To return to my initial thought: loving God can seem like a vague concept. But if we recall that God has made my neighbour in His image, then the specific ways I must love God are very often manifestly precisely in my neighbour.