love of God and neighbor

THE GREAT SIGN THAT YOU LOVE GOD!

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39)

“In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love” (St. John of the Cross)

I once had the idea of getting a tattoo on my forearm, saying: DON’T FORGET TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. I never got the tattoo, but the principle remains the same – it is very easy to forget our obligation to love our neighbor. And sometimes it even seems as if we are programmed to find fault with our neighbor.

As good as we may be our corrupt and fallen nature is quite capable of nurturing resentment and contempt (dare I even mention hatred) towards our neighbor. And yet one of the foremost ways our virtue is tested is through the way we treat and interact with other people. In this sense there are numerous occasions to act virtuously each day because most of us are constantly coming into contact with other people, and even with difficult characters who test our virtue to the max. It would be a mistake to think that in this world of many temptations the devil fails to tempt us against the love of neighbor. In other words, we need to be on our guard and recognize when we are being tempted against the love of neighbor. To not recognize these temptations is the occasion for many falls – even serious falls.

We may even say to ourselves during such a temptation: “Ah, I see my heart is being moved not to like this guy; I will have to greatly check this impulse to speak unkindly to him, and I will give my best effort to act charitably towards him. Jesus help me.”

This whole matter of combating temptations against the love of neighbor is quite important, for the GREAT SIGN that we love God is our love of neighbor. Father Garrigou-Lagrange explains this principle quite well, relying on Saint Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas [states]: “Primarily and essentially, the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, principally as to the love of God, secondarily as to the love of our neighbor, both of which are the matter of the chief commandments of the divine law. . . . Secondarily and instrumentally, however, perfection consists in the observance of the counsels.” The great sign of the love of God is precisely love of one’s neighbor. Christ Himself says so, and we cannot insist too strongly on this point: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:34-35). This love of our neighbor is the great sign of the progress of the love of God in our hearts, so much so that St. John adds: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9). “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. . . . Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:14-15).  (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, p. 154).

According to Father Garrigou Lagrange, we may even be called to the heroic love of neighbor as we grow in the perfection of charity:

St. Thomas points out also that in the perfect, charity toward one’s neighbor, the great sign of our love of God, extends not only to all in general, but as soon as the occasion presents itself to each of those with whom the perfect have relations, not only to friends but to strangers and even to adversaries. Moreover, this fraternal charity is intense in them, reaching even to the sacrifice of exterior goods and of life itself for the salvation of souls, since Christ said: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We see this charity in the apostles after Pentecost, when they were “rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). This is also what made St. Paul say: “But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, p.160).

A great spiritual writer, Father Grou, reminds us of the difficulties we experience in loving our neighbor. He says: “Yes, the love of our neighbor, in a true sense, is much more painful to nature than the love of God, although it is also true that these two loves cannot be separated. Thus our neighbor is the cause of almost all the faults with which devout people have to reproach themselves, and how many of these kind of faults do they commit without perceiving them, without having any idea of having done so, and which they would have a difficulty in acknowledging” (Manual For Interior Souls, p. 145).

Father Grou also suggests the means to overcome this difficulty: “But to attain to this [love of neighbor] it is clearly to be seen that we must continually renounce ourselves, and keep ourselves always in a state of dependence upon God, always united to Him by prayer, always attentive and faithful to His inspirations. The exact observance of the two great precepts of the law of the Gospel is undoubtedly worth all the trouble we may have to take in subjecting ourselves for that end to those teachings of the interior life which may be hard and painful to human nature” (Manual For Interior Souls, p. 146).

The love of neighbor should be a special object of our prayers, of our daily examination of conscience, and of our sacramental life. Only God can give us the grace we need to truly carry out this commandment of brotherly love.

CONCLUSION: One of the greatest obligations we have here on planet earth is to love our neighbor. The devil knows this and tempts us to disparage and dislike our neighbor. These temptations, nevertheless, are the “raw material” out of which we grow in holiness – precisely because they provide us with the opportunity to act virtuously, overcoming our repugnances and dislikes, by choosing to act charitably towards our neighbor.

“For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autum frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive” (Louisa May Alcott).

Indeed, this love is so powerful that it will transcend the seasons of this life, lasting throughout eternity, never ending as the Apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 13: 8,13), but forged first here on our earthly pilgrimage during this time of testing.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

 

References: The idea for this post came from Father Grou’s observation that we can sometimes experience even great temptations against the love of neighbor (see p. 177 of the Manual For Interior Souls). From this point of Father Grou I came to a much more profound realization that I need to be on guard against such temptations. It is Father Faber who points out that our temptations are the raw materials out of which we make acts of virtue.

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AN EFFECTIVE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT

 

“You must run in such a way that you may be victorious.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

I would like to discuss with you in this note a great and necessary principle of spiritual advancement. The important principle I am referring to can be stated as follows:

THE MORE A PERSON PROMPTLY MORTIFIES HIS EVIL INCLINATIONS, THE MORE THE LIFE OF GRACE AND CHARITY WILL GROW IN HIM

We neglect this all-important principle of spiritual advancement at great risk to our growth in holiness and charity. Thus, if we fail to promptly mortify the evil inclination of bitterness or resentment toward another person, then more and more this bitterness and resentment takes root in our heart and soul and significantly impedes our spiritual development. If we are going to grow in charity, if we are going to grow in the love of God and neighbor, then we must learn to promptly mortify our evil thoughts and inclinations as soon as they rear their ugly heads! “We take captive every thought”, says St. Paul, “and make it obedient to Christ [and his law of charity] (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

Prompt mortification of our evil thoughts and inclinations is a great principle of the spiritual life, and we would be living a type of illusory spiritual life if we felt we were not called to practice it. This mortification involves a “stripping off of the old nature” with its sinful tendencies (Colossians 3:9), and a “putting on of a new nature” in “the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10). In the context of this note, we are talking primarily of mental, not bodily, mortification: we are talking about what psychologists might call cognitive training, and in traditional Catholic parlance it is called mortification of the mind or mortification of the will. Whatever it might be called it involves a two step process of:

1. Seeing and identifying in the mind an evil inclination or thought; and

2. Mortifying or casting out the evil thought just as quickly and effectively as possible.

As we train the mind to engage in this cognitive process through repeated, virtuous acts of mental mortification, it will develop into an amazingly healthy habit that purifies the mind of its evil or sinful tendencies. When we begin to consistently root out all these evil inclinations, like lust and malice and envy, we therefore begin to allow Christian charity to take “a deeper root in our will.” And the essential development of the Christian life is growth in charity: growth in the love of God and neighbor.

In another note, I present this concept of the mortification of the mind in a slightly different manner as formulated by a great Catholic spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, who speaks about “purity of heart” accomplishing so much in the spiritual life. See the following link:

HOLD MY HEART UP TO THE LIGHT: PRACTICING PURITY OF …

All of the great Catholic spiritual writers talk about the great spiritual principle of mortification, and it is a topic that needs to be better addressed at the current time.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. See link directly above.

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