God loves us. No surprise there. We learned that when we were little kids. “Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cause the Bible tells me so.” And….hopefully….we love Him back. But……what IS this “love”?
I love my wife. That’s one kind of love. I love my kids and grandkids. That’s another kind of love. I also love my leather, Laz-y-Boy recliner chair. That’s something else altogether.
I love baseball, and hockey, and soccer. I was surprised how sad I was when I heard that Ernie Hays had passed away. Even though he’s been retired for a couple of years, he provided the sounds of baseball and hockey for many years. Who didn’t get goose bumps when the Clydesdales marched around the stadium while Ernie played “Here Comes the King?”
The word “love” has a lot of different meanings for all of us. Sometimes the English language doesn’t do a great job of explaining what we mean. I guess that means that there will always be jobs for poets and songwriters. Lucky them. But, I digress.
The first reading today, from the book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses telling the people to “FEAR the Lord, your God, and keep…all His statutes and commandments.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound too lovable. It sounds pretty scary. But Moses goes on and finishes with the words “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”, the exact same words Jesus uses in today’s Gospel. Yet, there’s a difference.
One of the scribes [remember Jesus hasn’t always had the best relationship with the scribes] asks Him which is the first of all commandments. He answers, quoting Moses in the first reading: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Then He adds a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When the scribe repeats Jesus’ words back to Him, Jesus tells the scribe that he’s not far from the kingdom of God. “And no one dared to ask Him any more questions.” See, there’s that little element of fear again. No one DARED ask any more questions. Besides, what could they ask? Jesus has just given them the ultimate answer. There is nothing else. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Understand Jesus’ words, as the scribe did, and you won’t be far from the kingdom of heaven.
But, what kind of “love” is Jesus talking about? Remember I said at the beginning that God loves us. Does He love us like a spouse, or like a parent, or does He love us like I love my Laz-y-Boy? I think the answer is “none of the above.” The difference between you and me and God is that God IS love. He can’t do anything but love us. He couldn’t stop loving us if He wanted to. No matter how much we sin, no matter how much we mess things up, no matter how little we may think of ourselves, He still loves us with an intensity that we can’t even imagine.
If you think about the greatest love of your life, probably your spouse but it could be anyone; if you think about the entire love experience with that person, even if you’ve been married 50 or 60 years, even if you were childhood sweethearts, it’s nothing compared to how much God loves you. Whatever love you and I are able to feel is just a tiny percentage of the love that He feels for us.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the worst sinner in the history of the world, God is head-over-heels in love with you. You might think you’re totally unlovable. You may think you’re a total waste of space and that nobody could possibly love you and God still loves you with a love that’s beyond our understanding.
God loves Judas. God loves Adolph Hitler. God loves Jeffery Dahmer. God loves every tyrant and mass-murderer who ever lived. How can He not love you and me?
Jesus is telling us to repay that love. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Easy to say….hard to do. In fact, we can’t do it….alone. We need God’s help. That sounds kind of silly. We can’t love God without God’s help. But it’s true. We have to feel it and we have to show it in the way we live our lives. That’s where the love your neighbor part comes in and that’s where prayer comes in.
When you pray, ask God to give you the grace to love your neighbor more. Look for ways to show your love. Right now, hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters are suffering from the big storm in the Northeast. First of all, pray for them. I hate it when someone says “the least I can do is pray for them.” The sentiment is good. Their heart is in the right place. But praying for them is the MOST you can do. Imploring God to come to their aid is HUGE, especially if millions of people do it.
Not to downplay anyone’s suffering but when disasters happen, that’s when God-loving Christians shine. We couldn’t help others if no one needed help. If you can send money, that’s good too. There’s an address in this week’s bulletin for Catholic Charities. The money you send there will be forwarded to Catholic Charities in the affected areas.
But I have a bigger challenge for you. Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I’m willing to bet that that a lot of us don’t love ourselves as much as we should. C’mon. Admit it. You wish your were in better shape. You wish you were smarter. You wish you were better looking. Loving yourself, as you are, is called self-esteem. I’m not talking about vanity. That’s sinful. Self-esteem, like almost everything else in this world can be a sin if you take it too far.
On the other hand, a total lack of self-esteem can lead to mental illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, depression, drug abuse, and alcoholism. Most of us fall in between the extremes, but too many of us are on the low end of the scale. YOU WERE MADE BY GOD! You are part of God’s plan. Give thanks for what you are. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve yourself. I’m trying to lose weight. [Not too successfully, but I have lost a little.] The thing is, God didn’t make me fat. That’s on me.
I’ve said it before. God wants us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. He wants us to be more, to learn more, and to do more. That’s one way we show our love for Him.
Pray every day. Read good Catholic books, especially the Bible. Eat less. Exercise more. If we do those things, we’ll automatically think more of ourselves, be more thankful for who we are, and love God, with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.