When I was growing up, I used to think that Jesus was the first person to teach us about love. Of course, I later learned that when the Jewish lawyer asked him which was the greatest commandment in the law, he answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22:36-39) Jesus put these two commandments together from two different books of the Old Testament.
Jesus taught us that the most powerful and essential element in life is Love. Love is our foundation and our destiny. It is where we come from and where we are headed. As St. Paul reminds us, “So faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Love is who we are. When we do not live according to law of love, we are not being ourselves. When we love, we are being true to ourselves and are acting according to our deepest convictions. We were made after the image and likeness of God. St. John tells us, “God is love.” When we love, we are living according to our divine dignity.
We have heard this phrase “created in the image and likeness of God” so often that it may have lost some of its power. However, if this statement is true, then our family of origin is divine. A loving God created us so we can be a source of love in our world. Thomas Keating once said, “Divine love is compassionate, tender, luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward, unifying everything.” That’s the kind of love we should be seeking for our own lives.
Relationships are the fundamental elements of Christianity. Like any relationship, we must cultivate our union with God and kept it alive. God always takes the initiative in dealing with us. St. John reminds us, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)
The spiritual writers of the past have always emphasized how God has loved us. This comes through most of their writings: God is the initiator, God is the doer, God is the one who seduces us. It’s all about God’s initiative. In turn we want to return the love in a similar way that God has loved us. It’s not like we have to prove our love for God by doing things. Our job is simply to complete the circuit.
The saints experienced this full impact of Divine Love and for the rest of their lives they tried to find ways to return that love through service and worship. They realized that we can never earn God’s love. We only can respond to the love that God has shown us. God’s love is never based on fear; neither should our love for God.
What lovers would be content with chance passing encounters in the street? The more they love each other, the more they want to spend time with each other. Likewise, when we seek a real relationship with God, we develop a holy discontent for spending so many of our waking hours trapped in the type of living that we find ourselves. We want more. The “more” we long for is a deeper relationship with God and others.
As we prepare ourselves for the celebration Jesus’ birthday, may we be aware that he was sent to remind us that we are worthy of honor, dignity and above all, God’s unconditional love. In turn, we are invited to share that love with others, bringing hope, joy and peace to our world.