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Last week, we embarked on a Lenten Mission to give our hearts a spiritual checkup. Throughout the mission, we are focusing on this key passage of Scripture:

And one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question, to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40

Our journey began by examining the priorities in our life with the goal of God being first place in all that we do. This week, we will be looking at the first portion of the Great and First Commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” Matthew 22:37a

What does it mean to love God with all your heart? First, we must ask the question, “What is love?” St. John the Evangelist in his first letter tells us “God is love.” In full context, he says:

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God…So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:7, 16

A little further along in this chapter, St. John gives a great description of the key in determining if we truly love God or not.

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. 1 John 4:20

So you may be saying, “Ok, I get that God is love but what is love?” In English, we have only one word for love. We can say we love our favorite sports team, pizza, craft beer, and our mom. Are these all the same? Hardly. Scriptures were written in Greek which has four words that describe different types of love:

  1. Storge (affection)
  2. Philia (friendship)
  3. Eros (romantic)
  4. Agape (charity)

God is all of these but most particularly God is agape; a total, selfless love like Christ handing Himself over for the salvation of sinners. Love is other-focused, not self-seeking but seeking only the good of the other. This is how we are to love in our marriages and families. When we love like Christ, putting others ahead of ourselves, we are mirroring the love of God.

Pope Benedict XVI thought love important enough to dedicate his first papal encyclical to the topic, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). In it he says this about love between a husband and wife in marriage:

Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.[1]

St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Family in the Modern World), said…

[T]he family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love…Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.[2] (emphasis added)

Husband and wife – individually to each other and together as a couple to their children – have the responsibility of demonstrating through their lives the love of God. This loops us back to our previous Scripture reference from the first letter of John: “he who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). The measure of our love for God is the extent that we love others — our spouse, children, and neighbors. We can only love as God loves if we have had a personal encounter with “Jesus Christ – the incarnate love of God.”[3]

To love God and to love as He loves, we need to look to Jesus hanging on the cross as our model. He gave His very life for our salvation. This is love: freely, faithfully, totally, and freely given for the good of others. Pope Benedict XVI says:

Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.[4]

God created us out of love for friendship with Him and each other. To love is to know God. This is our mission and our vocation.

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:5

[1] Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 25 December 2005, §11; internet: http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html (accessed February 25, 2021).

[2] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, §17:2, November 22, 1982; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html (accessed February 10, 2021).

[3] Benedict XVI, §12.

[4] Ibid., §39.