Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
'I get so lonely I could die.'
These lyrics from the well known song Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley may speak to our own life experience. Indeed, there's something logical about putting loneliness and death in the same sentence.
Man is made for relationship. He is who he is because of who he loves and whom he is loved by. The philosophers would say that man in relationship is a human person; man alone (without a sense of loving or being loved) is only a human being, i.e. a human who merely exists.
Man is made for love. The guests in Heartbreak Hotel know this only too well. Without love human life loses its meaning and becomes alienation which gives birth to the words: I get so lonely, I could die.
How important then to listen carefully to Jesus' words today: You must love… .
They are framed as a command but are actually an analysis of what gives human life its fundamental significance.
A careful reading of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis will show that in the beginning, from the moment of our creation, God established us in four relationships. These relationships are part of the very substance of our human lives: our relationship with God, with our self, with others, and with the natural world. These four relationships shape the very path we must walk to reach our destiny and therefore, thanks to our fallen human nature, constitute the decisive stumbling blocks on our journey.
It is in our relationship to God, to our own self, to others and to the natural world, wounded but redeemed, that we now live out our daily lives as disciples of the Lord. How important, then, that we get them right, because it is so easy to get them wrong!
It may come as a surprise, for example, to hear a married couple say, 'We have always loved God more than we love each other.' Or for a father to say, 'My first love is for my wife, and only then for my children.'
Obviously there is much more to say in order to finetune exactly the hierarchy of love I am attempting to assert here. But the truth remains that we can get our relationships wrong all too easily and cause, thereby, significant disorder in our own life, and in the lives of those who form our relationship network.
I love to hear engaged couples telling me they have decided to live chaste lives until marriage because they 'want to be faithful to God!' These couples have got it right. They have put God before themselves; they are in a right relationship with him and therefore, with each other.
You must love the Lord your God … this is the greatest and the first commandment.
And when they marry this couple will be in a right relationship with their children who have a right to be born within a loving, stable, committed and secure marriage.
To get the order of our love relationships right is to bring about the 'order of God's love'. St Ignatius sometimes used this beautiful phrase. It is an order which brings peace and life, health and fruitfulness.
The greatest and first commandment is to love God. How? With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second commandment is to love our neighbour. How? As yourself. This is the divine vision and plan according to which we were 'put together' in our mother's womb.
It is a great tragedy to meet individuals who live as though they understood the first and only commandment to be: I will love my self with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind. Let us pray to be preserved from this catastrophic corruption of our true nature.
Next week each of the three readings affirms what we sometimes forget - that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the one Father. The love we have for our self is the definition, the template, of the love we should have for each other, and there must be no exceptions.
As we have just heard in the first reading today we must not molest the stranger because we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We must not be harsh with widows or orphans or the Lord will make our wives widows and our children orphans. The consequences of breaking the bond of love between ourselves and our neighbour are severe.
Christian warfare is fought on the battlefield of relationship. Let us examine ourselves in the light of the great commandment of love, and allow the Lord's words to be both encouragement and correction for us.