What does it mean to be called into agape love and to love our neighbor as ourselves? And more importantly, how can we adequately fulfill this commandment Jesus gave us in today’s reading? At first blush it doesn’t appear as if this should be too hard, after all, to love another conjures up visions of joy and happiness – visions of love. Images of a romantic love, parent-child love, and of brotherly love flood our minds with much warmth. How blessed are we to worship our God – he who is love himself. As his children he wishes nothing more than for us to share in his beauty of love. This love, where God bestows infinite gifts on his children as he promised the Prophet Hosea, is the same love Jesus calls us to participate in and extend to our neighbor. Yes, we are called into a deep love, a love that is in unison with God’s agape love.
So now the question becomes, what must we do so that we can truly love our neighbor with agape love? Obviously forgiveness is a key component and we must seek to grow in forgiveness so that love can more fully bloom within our relationship with others. However, there is more involved in addition to forgiveness if we are to share in the fatherly love of God, the communal love of the Holy Spirit, and the brotherly love of Jesus Christ.
To start the journey of understanding the path set before us we need to do a bit of self-examination. However, given that we are pretty good at deceiving ourselves and justifying our less than loving behavior, we must solicit the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Advocate who is here to help and guide us in love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. – John 14:15-31
By surrendering to the Holy Spirit we set into motion the expansion of love within our hearts. Once firmly planted, our internal desire to do good will awaken and we will have no choice but to follow a call to serve others. However, we must be ever mindful that God has placed within every person’s heart a desire to do good, and it is only through God’s aid that this desire can reach full maturity.
Without divine assistance we run the risk of developing misplaced desires and we can become a “do gooder” or an advocate of such things as community service, or secular endeavors that attempt to serve without the heart of the One who authored service. Sadly, many seek such ventures in an attempt to heal hidden wounds that only God can heal. They falsely believe that the accolades, respect, and all the worldly rewards will be sufficient to heal such wounds.
We see in the world today, especially in the USA, an abundance of secular goodness. Such goodness presents itself as community service, grass-roots efforts to help heal others, and a plethora of other “worthy” causes all presenting themselves as brotherly love. However, while producing some good, they will never produce agape love without the full surrender to God himself. And worse, many involved in such endeavors falsely believe they are experiencing ultimate love and, as a result, they fail to seek the deeper, truer love that God alone offers. While acknowledging that many such works can produce heavenly fruits,full expansion can only occur if properly fertilized by God, because it is only through God that the ultimate garden enters full bloom.
So what fertilizer must be added to fuel such works into full beauty and maturity? It is the Holy Spirit who fertilizes and tills the soil, providing the solid foundation required for full bloom. The Holy Spirit must be allowed to build the foundation of the plant of good works so that true brotherly love can result. It is this foundation, modeled by Jesus Christ, where we empty ourselves so that love can live and expand within us.
And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Once we no longer live to do good works for our own reward we open the door of God’s full love. Once the door is opened we can begin to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will begin to experience the fullness of love for our brothers, a love that does not stop at the small warmth in our hearts. Agape love goes further, much further. Yes, it includes a sharing a of our neighbors joy; however, it also includes a sharing in their heartbreak.
When we truly see the pain of another through agape love, even those who have harmed us, we cannot help but extend love and forgiveness towards them. When we see the wounds that have led our neighbors to do what they do, all our defenses must come down and we become free to see them as God sees them. With our defenses down we only have one thing to share with our neighbor – the fullness of divine love.
By ourselves we cannot love at such heights, unless we have attained the greatness of our saints! We mere mortals need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction. He will walk with us as we lay witness to another’s pain and he will use us as an instrument of healing. However, we must first surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit before a full love of others can manifest in our hearts.
In the end, to love our neighbor as ourselves requires that we first love God above all others. Our desire to have him live in our hearts must surpass all other desires we could ever hold. We must be rooted in God and become God centered. Once we arrive here we surrender and allow God’s Holy Spirit to take the reins of our hearts. The Holy Spirit will fertilize the soil we live in and Jesus will become our master gardener, showing us how to prune and care for the plant that is us.
My Catholic neighbors in Christ – let us surrender to God together as we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that the entire world can experience firsthand the love of God through us.
Holy Spirit – consume us with your fire and fill us with your love.