Love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:31)
In his work with individuals at a L’Arche community, Fr. Henri Nouwen described his growing awareness of two kinds of love. The second love, or human love, he said, is but a reflection of the first love, which comes from God. God’s love has no shadows. It has no conditions, and we need not fear his rejection.
Clearly, in loving us, our Father has set a very high bar for himself—as high as the heavens! Yet today’s Gospel reading reminds us that the bar for our human love is set pretty high, too. Love your neighbor. Period. No qualifications. Just love. Will our love be perfect? Probably not. Fulfilling the call to love is—and always will be—an ongoing challenge. So rather than expecting yourself to do it perfectly from Day One, try a more gradual approach.
Here’s one suggestion. Take a piece of paper, and make a chart with three columns. In one column, write all the words that you associate with God’s love for you: kind, faithful, merciful, compassionate, and so on. In the second column, write all the things that love does: it protects, comforts, disciplines, hopes, rejoices. Then, in the third column, write down the names of saints or people in Scripture who have demonstrated these characteristics.
Now, pick a saint on your list, and try to find out how he or she came to demonstrate a certain aspect of God’s love. Pick an aspect that you most want to work on in your own life, something that can use a little help. Find a book about this person, or do an online search for stories and articles. You’ll most likely discover that this person wasn’t born perfect. It probably took many years for him or her to learn how to be so generous, humble, compassionate, or whatever other virtue you are looking at.
Next, as you discover this saint’s path, try to find points of contact with your life. How can you imitate him or her as you try to become more loving? Think of one small change you can make over the next week or two, and write it out. Make it your aim to grow in this “second love,” so that you can more fully reflect the “first love,” which comes from Almighty God.
“Lord, help me to love my neighbour as you love me.”
Psalm 81:6-11, 14, 17
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne