When I was in high school, some words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the late superior general of the Society of Jesus, seemed to pop up everywhere I looked. You may have come across them yourself at some point:
“Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”
Whether these words are a poem or a prayer (you’ll hear people call it both, though I think it wrong to consider them “prayer” in the proper sense, as the words are addressed to the reader, not to God), the advice given is quite solid. Fall in love and live from that place of love. If the formatting of these words is correct, then Fr. Arrupe’s deliberate capitalization of the word “love” matters, for here he is recognizing what St. John teaches when he tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). To truly know God is to know love, to live in love, and to enter into something that is far more than a powerful emotion. The relationship to which we are called is quite total and encompassing.
Perhaps the idea of falling in love provides the necessary counterweight to the idea of a commandment. The Law of Moses, given by God on Mount Sinai, of course retains its infinite value. But we sometimes recoil at the idea of being commanded. As free Americans, we are not always so open to the idea of being told what to do. So when our Lord is approached by the Pharisees who ask Him about the greatest commandment, He answers in a unique way. Jesus quotes the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Scripture continues, commanding that this be taught to children, and that these words be spoken of in conversation, on journeys, and be meditated upon. They should be bound on the hand and on the forehead, and be at the door and gates of the home. The Jewish people even today quite literally bind these words to their bodies as they pray, and at a Jewish house, you can expect to see a small rectangular box containing these words affixed diagonally to the frame of the door. Notice though, that this is not a command to do something difficult, but to love. From love, we move to action – sharing the love of God with others, and allowing it to be present for us in physical reminders (binding it to our bodies, posting it in and on the spaces we inhabit) and in relationships (conversing about it and allowing it to be the center of our friendships). Jesus then teaches us that this must lead us to love our neighbor as ourself. Love makes us realize that the commandment is not a way for God to bark orders at us, but rather to show us what is most necessary.
As we read this Gospel, then, we might reflect on how well we are fulfilling this first and greatest commandment, and the second which flows naturally from the first. Do I love God, and if my love for God is not as strong as I would like it to be, am I open to allowing my heart to grow? Am I willing to receive the love that God has for me and to accept that He loves me in spite of my sin and imperfection? Does my faith and the way I practice it each day lead me to love my neighbor, to serve the least among us, to be an instrument of mercy in the world? This is indeed the first and greatest commandment, and if we follow it, loving God with every fiber of our being, and through that love for God, loving our neighbor as ourself, it will, as Fr. Arrupe notes, make all the difference.