Click here to view lesson on the mission as disciples
“I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13: 34-35)
The primary duty of Christians is to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We have been told this again and again since we were very small. When it comes to loving God, there are major problems. Every day we seem to face further difficulties… small ones, and sometimes major ones. Why does God arrange things the way they are, causing us worry, anger and frustration? A Benedictine abbot once said,
Life in a monastery is like life on the outside.
It’s just one damn thing after another.
Over the centuries, some of the best spiritual writing in the Catholic Church has been done by saints and mystics who complained about how difficult it was to love God.
When it comes to loving our neighbour, we are faced with even more difficulties:
This is easier said than done. Since it seems impossible to love some people, we are tempted to abandon the effort completely. But when we understand what the Gospels mean by the word ‘love’, we discover that it is indeed possible to love others.
When we say that someone loves someone else, we usually mean that the two people are very close and intimate with each other… such as a couple ‘in love’ or when a parent adores a child. When someone loves someone else, they are delighted to be in the company of the other. They enjoy each other. Personal satisfaction is included when we use the term ‘love’ in this sense.
We even use the word ‘love’ for things: a pet cat or dog, a band, a football team, fish and chips…
But the Gospels use the term ‘love’ in a much broader sense. Eugene Boylan, a Cistercian monk, said that the Gospels command us to love everybody, but they do not command us to like anybody. He says that to love everybody means to wish them well – regardless of how we might actually feel about them. We often have little control over what we feel, but we do control what we wish and what we do. We are not the slaves of our feelings. What we actually do, is what we have decided to do:
Do not to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.
This is the whole of the Law of God, the rest is just commentary,
… said Rabbi Hillel, a great Jewish teacher who lived a generation before Christ.
Christ himself prayed for those who were crucifying him:
Forgive them, Father; they don’t know what they are doing.
Likewise, Mother Julian of Norwich, a great hermit of the Middle Ages, warns us that…
Looking at another’s sin clouds the eyes of the soul, hiding for the time being the fair beauty of God – unless we look upon this sinner with contrition with him, compassion on him, and a holy longing to God for him.
To love everybody means to wish them well – regardless of how we might actually feel about them.
Lord, you know my heart, and there is nothing I can hide from you. You know that I am your devoted disciple, and also that at times I feel like running away, compromising, living a life without you. But I wish to stay with you, and for this I need your help and your strength. I know that discipleship has strings attached: the huge demand that I love the other disciples, my fellow Christians, as you have loved us all. This is an enormous challenge that we might grow in love, constantly seeking to love more generously, even sacrificially. If you hadn’t shown the example, it would be easier for us to walk away, but we are invited, commanded, to love each other as you have loved us. Thank you for your confidence in us, and please help us. Help me. Amen
Activities for the classroom
- How is loving God related to loving my neighbour?
- Design a poster on the theme: ‘Love God, Love others’.