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Our Love of Others
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The subject of our present reflection and will come in two parts, is on our love of others.
It is Christ himself who used the expression new commandment. When as you know, He gave His long discourse at the Last Supper. So important is this term new commandment that on its proper understanding depends I think in large measure a true appreciation of the New Testament. That correctly distinguished the two testaments as old and new. And we know that the dividing line between the two testaments is the towering fact that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Surely God becoming man is very, very new. Once become man, God established a new covenant. Not only as He had in the Old Testament with the Jews, but with the whole human race. A covenant as we know is a sacred contract where each side in the contract both makes a promise and expects something in return. On Gods side this meant the outpouring of blessings in the New Covenant far above and beyond anything known under the Old Covenant. On our side it means present tense, it means the present practice of greater sacrifice out of love for God, that had ever before been required since the dawn of the human race. New Testament Scripture as we call it, is filled with evidence of Gods special love for man, shown by the Incarnation. It is also filled with evidence of Gods expectations of man in the practice of virtue. The more God gives, the more He expects. More in demanding greater self-sacrifice especially in the quality of our love of others which Christ mainly came into the world to teach us by word and example. And of course, you know who these others are whom God in the person of Christ showed how much He loved even unto death. Who are those others, my friends, you and I.
So much by way of introduction; as we have been doing, we shall look at this biblical theme, our love of others first from the pre-Christian perspective of the Torah and then from the perspective of the Gospels and the teaching of the Apostolic Church. Our present reflections therefore on the love of others as taught and required in pre-Christian Judaism. This is of more than passing value, for two reasons. First that by way of contrast we might better appreciate what the New Testament is all about. That its really new. And secondly and very practically that we be not mislead by the practice of the absence of love outside of dedicated Christianity. In other words, the scandal to which we are mostly and mainly and constantly exposed is the lack of love in the modern world today. Am I clear? To make sure that we realize what God becoming man really means, in practice it principally means loving others with a charity simply unknown and I will add, unpracticed outside the ambit of the followers of Christ. Fundamental to Old Testament ethics, was the belief that whereas hatred comes from the devil love comes from God: a contrasting theme throughout the Old Testament. Hatred is born of Satan, love is born of God. And again the Old Testament, where hatred leads to death, love leads to peace and everlasting life.
Already in the Pentateuch, as you know the first five books of the Old Testament, the Israelites were told, I quote, You must not exact vengeance nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh. Unquote, Leviticus 19:18. However, not only in this context which we have just quoted, but throughout the Old Testament, ones neighbor was understood to mean a fellow Israelite. Or at least someone closely associated with the Jews. Such as a resident alien in Palestine or a proselyte one who had converted from Paganism to Judaism; but never, never a Gentile as such. So true was this that Rabbinic literature, which means the learned commentaries on the Old Testament, shows that it was only after the second century before Christ that the Rabbis even began to recommend love for other people than the Israelites.
It is only against this background that the parable of the Good Samaritan takes on its full meaning. It is not a coincidence, that only Saint Luke, the disciple of the apostle to the Gentiles who narrates of all parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his conversation with Jesus, a Jewish lawyer tried to outwit the Savior by posing the following question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Christ shrewdly answered with another question. What is written in the law? When the lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus about loving God and ones neighbor, he was told by Christ, do this and life is yours. Providentially the lawyer pressed his question. He asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor? Good Jewish lawyer: thanks for pushing Christ. The lawyer knew well enough that a standard Jewish understanding of neighbor, was a fellow Israelite. The lawyer also knew that Christ was teaching something more. Then came the parable of the Jew who fell into the hands of brigands. And after they robbed him and beat him up he lay helpless on the side of the road. Thats the setting. Get the point of the parable. The main lesson that Christ wished to teach was, who is neighbor. According to Jewish tradition, neighbor was a fellow, fellow Jew. So Christ tells this story and then he gets from the lips of the cynical Jewish lawyer the answer that has changed the history of the world. As Christ told it, a Jewish priest then a Levite saw the man, the Jewish man lying there and passed by. But a Samaritan came along and he took care of this Jew. Even to providing for his lodging at a friendly Inn. Then came Christs question back to the lawyer. Which of these three, do you think proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into the brigands hands? Are we clear? The whole point of the parable was to bring out in sharp outline that whatever neighbor meant in the Old Law, it has a very different meaning in the New. Christ asked him, which of these three proved neighbor to the Jew lying beaten up and robbed on the road? The lawyer had no chance. What else could he say? It must be the one who took pity on him. The Saviors closing statement summed up the contrast between a restricted love of others under the Old Law, and universal love under the New. Given this reservation, the practice of charity in the Old Testament, was not only prescribed, but made a condition for receiving blessings from Yahweh in return. Throughout the Torah, the practice of charity is described in great detail. In fact this virtue is identified with justice or righteousness implying the duty to give to those in need. And for Old Testament ethics, especially the poor the widow and the orphan.
We are still in the Old Testament. The practice of charity towards ones neighbor was to be done with kindness and humility. Oh, on this level we Christians have not graduated from the Old Law: to practice charity with kindness and to do so with humility. What condescending charity we can practice. Where its perfectly obvious we are doing our beneficiary a favor. Finally, still in the Old Testament, it was not only the individual Jew who was to practice charity, it was also the responsibility of the Jewish community. And my dear Christian friends this better be looked at more closely than Im afraid many people have been doing. We are to practice charity not only as solitary persons, we are to practice charity as societies. Parishes are to practice charity. Dioceses are to practice charity. Religious communities, qua communities are to practice charity. When I see as often I do, sometimes upwards of a square mile of prime land occupied by a religious community, and within walking distance of the Mother house desperate poverty. I want to shout, Good God! Where is Your love?
New Testament - St. Luke
So much for the Old Testament: my plan is to cover one half of what I have to share with you about our love of others in the New Testament as found mainly in the gospel of Saint Luke. And then in our next conference concentrate on Saint John. While the entire New Testament teaches the duty to love others, it is especially in the writings of Saint Luke and Saint John. Note I say writings. Luke wrote the Gospel and the Acts. And John wrote the Gospel, three letters and the Book of Revelation. It is especially in these two sacred authors that we find the most precise doctrine on the subject of Christian charity. You might see it not surprising. Saint Luke mainly addressed himself to the Gentile world: where Paganism was the state religion, whose rulers were notorious for cruelty. And whose emperors were deified. Saint John wrote toward the end of the first century by which time could be seen in stark contrast the difference that Christianity made in the character of human society. Try to remember the next sentence into the years to come. The followers of Christ loved not only one another, but even their worst enemies with an affection that could only be explained by the influence of more than human power at work in human hearts. Left to its own devices, the human heart is selfish. Left to itself the human heart is cruel. The principle moral miracle that God came into the world to work is the miracle of melting human hearts. And enabling them to love.
Now we go to Saint Luke. It is only this disciple of St. Paul who records the longest sustained narrative of the Savior on loving those who do not love us. You might say, Father could you have saved that for the end? And told us about loving nice people? I could have, but I wouldnt have been faithful to my Master. This narrative of Saint Luke comes immediately after Christ had given the four beatitudes and four woes. Matthew has eight beatitudes. Luke for reasons best known to the Holy Spirit who inspired him doesnt give us eight beatitudes, he gives us four beatitudes and four curses. Each pronounced by Christ. Right after giving these four beatitudes, which is four promises of happiness and four threats, Christ warned the disciples not to expect to be accepted by the world. Then come a series of new commandments on the practice of charity. And would you believe it? They amount to ten.
Please try not to look at the clock. I hope this will not be our longest meditation. But if it is, itll be giving you a chance to practice what I am preaching.
First and each commandment will be a mandate of Christ: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Luke 6:27. This is the opposite of what we are naturally inclined to do. Raw human nature is kind to the kind, and loving to the lovable. And what do you expect? Hostile to those who are hostile.
Second commandment: Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you badly. Luke 6:28. Instinctively we treat others in the way they treat us. They smile: we smile in return. If they frown, you mean that Im supposed to smile at somebody who frowns at me? Bless those who curse you. To bless or wish well to those who wish us evil and to pray for those who mistreat us. This is not difficult; its impossible to naked human nature. Thats what grace is all about. Thats why grace confers super, long pause natural power. And moving the Rocky Mountains is easy compared to the heroic demand that some people can place on our charity.
Third commandment: To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too. To the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Luke 6:29. Christ is not telling us to ask for humiliation or foolishly expose ourselves to being robbed. A professor psychologist friend of mine tells me, I would like to add one more to the Ten Commandments. Thou shall not tempt. Not bad. We dont have to go around telling people, would you please slap me? Nor is Christ denying the right we have to our good name or personal possessions, which we have a right even to defend. But the Savior is indicating the readiness He expects of his followers to follow Him in bearing insults and injuries for the sake of His name.
Fourth Commandment: Give to everyone who asks you and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Luke 6:30. Again Christ is not saying we should blindly give to anyone whatever he asks for. Nor that we may not legitimately demand restitution after being robbed. But He is saying that our disposition of soul should be such that we see this as Gods providence. Whenever, remember that adverb, whenever anyone asks us for anything mysteriously we may not be able to give exactly what we are asked for, but somehow, it is God making the petition. And so too, when we have given, or lent, or even have been robbed of something, that was rightly our own, what am I saying? Behind the thief, is God. What faith this takes. That nothing, absolutely nothing that ever happens, everything is part of Gods mysterious providence.
Fifth Commandment: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. Luke 6:31. What kind of virtues do we like to have people practice in our regard? Im sure wed all give the same answer. Im almost tempted to have each of you write down how you like people to treat you. Then Id like to give, but I wont, a conference. I wouldnt name any names. They could all be anonymous. And I wager, that with minor exceptions we would all say the same thing. We would like to have others practice patience towards us. That people put up with us; that they practice forbearance toward us; that they are understanding and kindly and thoughtful and kind and cheerful. Very well that I say this, but the Son of God. Thats the way we should behave towards others. What an embarrassing examination of conscience we can all make. Right?
Sixth Commandment: Do good and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Luke 6:35. The whole mark of true charity is not to bargain with ones heart by expecting to be repaid by the one to whom we do good. And by the way, He will generally not be disappointed if you do not expect to be returned for the charity you show. How can we do it? Whats the motive? Christ tells us it is twofold. In this way we imitate the love of God which gives to the deserving and the undeserving without discrimination. If in New York City the gentle rain fell only on good people, or the blasts of cold in winter were felt only by the wicked. Well, it wouldnt be the real world. God is kind and bounteous toward everyone. So kind indeed that we are liable to be scandalized at Gods what seems to be prodigal charity. All right? If God loves all without discrimination, so should we. Moreover, still Christ, we are assured we shall be repaid in Gods own way and time because we have behaved like Him in the practice of selfless love. How I would like to spend the rest of the night assuring you that love pays, love rewards and the more costly your charity, the more you will get from the Lord. In ways you would never dream.
Seventh Commandment: Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate Luke 6:36. Compassion here means mercy. And mercy of love, mercy is love that costs the one who loves. There is cheap love and costly love. Another name for costly love is Mercy. It sees others suffering and in need and does not turn away but turns towards them to alleviate their pain and as far as possible meet their need. In fact what people most want from others, what do they most want? They most want other peoples loving readiness to give assistance, in a word, to show compassion. Even though you may be physically helpless, ah, but the spirit is never helpless. You show that you love, and the hardest hearts will be moved. I know. I know.
Eighth Commandment: Do not judge and you will not be judged yourself. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves. Luke 6:37. Christ is not saying here that we may not pass judgement, negative judgement on peoples misconduct. That would be silly. If they do wrong, we cannot say, How nice. What Christ is saying however, we may not condemn the person. In other words, only God reads the human heart. We may, and often we must, pass judgement on the misbehavior, misconduct even the crimes all around us. Who in his right mind could condone abortion? But having spoken to enough pregnant women who are contemplating abortion, I know if you show compassion and love towards them and mean what you say, I dont condemn you, God judges. But for your own good do not, do not kill this child. Last night I received a call from a city in the east, unnamed. About the transfer of a new born baby, by the mother who had been almost forced to abort the child. Thank God she did not, and a childless couple in the Midwest, are anxiously waiting to adopt the baby. Do not condemn the person, even when you must condemn the crime.
Ninth Commandment: Grant pardon and you will be pardoned. Same verse, Luke 6:37. This injunction of the Master, is almost an axiom of New Testament morality. It is imbedded in the Lords Prayer and says in so many words that God will be as merciful. That is a terrifying comparison. God will be as merciful to us as we are merciful and forgiving to others. Especially to those who so obviously have hurt us. Every offense people commit against us, every injury, every insult, every thoughtless behavior that may sometime pierce us into the heart is Gods providential way of giving us the blessed opportunity of expiating our sins.
Tenth and last commandment: Give and there will be gifts for you. A full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. Because the amount you measure out will be given back. Luke 6:38. Again this is not a bargaining proposal. We give so much, say money, to a person in need. And well, we expect even more money from an unknown source in return. No. But it is part of the New Covenant, remember covenant means contract, covenant means agreement, where each side makes a demand of the other and makes a promise in return. Christ is telling us the kind of love we show to others is the kind of love God will show us. I wish, I dont really in the manner of speaking, Christianity were easier. No wonder, there were so many heresies over the centuries. Every one an escape from the cross. Our liberality towards others will not go unrewarded by God. How He will bless us. And whether in time or eternity or both only He knows. But He will come through. One thing we know, that our generosity will always merit divine grace in this world, and celestial glory in the world to come. We all have a free will that we are to use to benefit others by sharing with them something of what God has so lavishly given us. Not only can we chose to give or not give, but we can choose to give little or give much. The measure of our generosity to those in need, and not by the way in far off China, but right here, is the measure of Gods liberality to us. To believe this and consistently act on this commandment is almost a definition of Christian sanctity.
Dear Lord, You came to teach us nothing more emphatically than the obligation to love those whom You put into our lives in order that by giving ourselves to them we show how generous we are to You. And dear Jesus, we know that our love will not be unrewarded. As You said, I love those who love Me. And we love You by loving those whom you place into our lives in order to prove how much we care.
New Testament - St. John
Our present meditation is once more on what the scriptures tell us about our love of others. But this time we shall concentrate exclusively on the writing of Saint John.
It is not surprising that John, whom divine revelation calls the beloved disciple the same one who gave us that profound and inspiring definition of God God is love. Nor surprising that the one who leaned on Jesus breast at the Last Supper, that this same man would say so much about our love, not only for God but for others. We may therefore distinguish between what Saint Luke and now what Saint John tell us about our love for other people. We may say that Saint Luke the physician, that say the inspired writer who was down to earth, in his writing about the practice of charity, he would be very practical. An impractical physician is a dangerous man. Luke, we may be sure was a good doctor and down to earth. The Ten Commandments of love that Luke quotes Christ as giving us are very down to earth. You couldnt be more practical than to be told love your enemies. But now Saint John, he gives us what we might call, not the practice of charity, thats Luke, but the theology of charity, thats John. It is Saint John therefore who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes for us what loving others really means. In Christs farewell discourse of the Last Supper, after foretelling His approaching passion and death, the Savior tells His disciples, and here is the passage, I give you a new commandment, love one another, just as I have loved you. You also must love one another. By this love that you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples.
Before we go on to apply Christs teaching to ourselves, lets unravel this single most demanding mandate of Christ on His followers. He calls it a new commandment. It is the practice of this kind of charity that in essence makes the New Testament new. We are told to love one another. As we shall see, thats more than just loving your neighbor. But as the translation we read tells us, Christ says we are to love one another not only like or as, but just as He loves us. It is, Christ tells us, by this kind of selfless practice of charity that we shall be identified as the followers of Christ. How come? Because no one else but a person enabled by the grace of Christ, can love like Christ. Christ can love in that absolutely selfless way, because Christ is God. And if you want a new definition of God, here it is. God is the selfless one. Thats the way He wants us, who claim to be His followers to love others. The Savior repeats this imperative of the New Law and then adds. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
These two passages which are our Magna Charta as followers of Jesus, occur in the thirteenth chapter of John: thirty-four and thirty-five, and in the fifteenth chapter of John verse thirteen. The crucial word here as weve started saying, is the adjective new. Christ used the word new. So we are allowed to ask, how is Christs commandment to love others new? It is new only if it surpasses the old. And we better understand what we mean by the new law of love. Living as we are in a country which needless to say can no longer be called a Christian nation, and much less a Catholic one. In a country whose founding fathers were protestant, where all our laws, all or laws are juridically borrowed from protestant societies, we better know, we better know what Christ means by His new commandment of love. Otherwise well be following the example of other people: who are not, as we are, believing Catholics. The Old Testament precept, as we know, was thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. Is the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, a difficult commandment? You better believe it! As by now I have told I am sure several hundred audiences, we love ourselves deeply. We love ourselves endearingly. We love ourselves constantly. We love ourselves, what an adverb, selflessly. That is Old Testament charity.
Christ then first, (and these will be numbered) Christ then first elevated the Old Testament mandate by telling His followers, they are no longer to love their neighbor, as much as they love themselves. Which as weve just said, and who doubts it, is a high standard of charity. So high indeed, that in all centuries of recorded history, there has never been a law commanding its citizens to love other people as they love themselves. The best that any civil law has ever been able to demand, and as we know from our crowded jails, it is almost impossible to have people observe, all the civil laws can command is: you shall not be unjust to your neighbor. You shall not steal from your neighbor. You shall not kill your neighbor. No legislator no learned Solomon would dare command his citizens to love others as they love themselves. Even Old Testament charity demands a lot of grace from God. What then, did Christ do by making new, the commandment to love? By elevating the norm from earth to Heaven? No longer is the standard by which we love others our own endearing self-love. We are to love others as God, God become man loves us. And surely He loves us more than we love ourselves.
Second, we ask ourselves what is new about Christs commandment? It is also new in identifying the upper limits of our love for others. We may say these limits are high in the extreme. Was it Brother Barrett the founder of the Brothers of the Good Shepherds who coined the expression charity unlimited? Am I correct, on target? Christs commandment to love others is to love them without limits. What is the limit to love? The limit to love is to be willing to lay down ones life, with apology for the quadruple alliteration. Limits of love to lay down ones life. That is the ultimate of human charity. Charity is genuine when it is willing to suffer. And sacrifice is just one word for love that suffers. That, after all, is what Calvary means. It is love paying the price of love. God as we know, and in John in his first letter, fourth chapter, eighth verse. Jn.1 4:8 where John defines God as love. It is this God who is love who became man. And He tells us, and this is no cliché or pious aphorism, this is a Commandment. We are to love unto death. We are not to stop loving until we die. We are to keep loving even though loving others, hear it, kills us.
On my way here my plane stopped in Kansas City. It gave me a chance to walk several times through the long airport to get my three miles of exercise while reciting the rosary. Then I thought Id buy a newspaper, the Kansas City Times, not much worth quoting, except one story, of a young man of deeply believing Christian parents who in his effort to save a drowning girl saved her but died in the process. This commandment therefore of Christ is new because it prescribes limitless charity. That we are to love others even at the cost of the pain that a person experiences in dying. We are to love others even unto agony. And we dont have to read St. Bernards masterpiece on love, or St. Francis de Sales classic work on love to know that there are times, and God will make sure He will provide the times, when loving others will mean agony. We are asking the same question, what is new about Christs commandment to love? It is finally new because it became the foundation of the Christian community. He told other followers Not only love your neighbor, but love one another. A loves B and B loves A. And sometimes to illustrate the principle when I teach Christology I will put the ABCs down to Z, fill the board with the alphabet, scattered. Then Ill draw lines from A to B, from A to C, from A to D, and finally from A to Z; then with B. I never finish the chart, giving up on what I want to illustrate.
Christs commandment of love describes the kind of reciprocal, mutual, interchange of love among two or more people. It is that kind of love; given by two people each to the other, or by three people each to the other, or by thirty people each to the other, that my friends, that constitutes a Christian community. A community is not a group of people with four walls around them. Community is not cohabitation. My favorite symbol of people being physically near each other without forming a community is a crowded elevator. And when I visit my publisher on Park Avenue in New York; because the elevator goes to forty-six floors, all kinds of people, oh they are close to each other sometimes you cannot get another person on the elevator, they are proximate all right to one another. But, but unless love unites people, you have a crowd but you dont have a community. This newness that Christ conferred on His Commandment of love is at the foundation of His Church. It was the late Paul VI who drawing on the Churchs tradition said, We should begin calling the Church of Christ oh its a community all right, but, a community united by love. And he told us to start using the name. The Church is not only a community She is a communion. Thats what we mean when we recite in the Creed, I believe in the Holy Catholic, the Communion of Saints. Christ wants His followers to so love one another that because they believe in the one God who sent His only begotten Son manifests their faith in practice by forming a communion of love. We go on.
According to sacred tradition, when St. John the Evangelist was advanced in years and could no longer preach at length as he used to, he would confide himself in his letters or in his homilettes. They were so short the people complained. Hed get up in whatever improvised pulpit he had and would keep repeating Little children let us love one another. And when the Christians said, But, John, there must be more that the Master taught you. The answer is recorded. Shortly before John died he said, No, thats all the Master taught me. Everything He revealed is contained in this imperative, Little children love one another. Oh, but we have to become like little children. We know how dramatically this was brought out in the first two of St. Johns letters. Even in his Second Epistle, check it, it is only thirteen verses long, not even a respectable chapter. Nevertheless he wouldnt be John if he didnt get into those thirteen verses this statement, Im writing to you now not to give you any new Commandment, but the one which we were given at the beginning. And to plead, let us love one another. Second John, there are no chapters, verse five. St. Johns First Letter might almost be called a revealed commentary on Christs new Commandment. May I ask you in the weeks and months to come to re-read, re-meditate on St. Johns First Letter, it is most embarrassingly revealing. Through verse after verse from a dozen angles John repeats, and explains, and exhorts this cardinal precept of Jesus, That we are to show our love for God by loving others. Indeed, unless we love others we dont really love God. Quote John, Any one who says, I love God and hates his brother is a liar. Since a man who does not love the brother that he can see, cannot love God whom he has never seen. Jn.1 4:20.
Of course this love must be based on the truth. It is not emotion or sentiment, but an operation of the human will enlightened by faith. The follower of Christ sees in every person who enters his life, including the drunk waking me up by calling at two in the morning, to the persons whom God uses, hear it; whom God uses to hurt us. So that by patiently enduring their pain we not only say, but mean, my God it hurts, but my God I love you. And love is shown by the patient endurance of pain.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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