Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
People oftentimes accept Whitney Houston’s song as Gospel truth: “I found the greatest love of all inside of me. The greatest love of all is easy to achieve…learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Of course, our time greatly values self-esteem, which is basically founded on self love. There is much emphasis on the self to the point that we have become narcissistic.
There is no question that the Lord commanded us to love our own selves. If it were not so, then how could he command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”? It seems that for a healthy relationship with others to take place, you must first have a healthy relationship with yourself. In other words, self-acceptance is the pre requisite to accepting and loving others.
But saying this is to miss the whole point of today’s reading. Remember that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is only the second commandment. The first is this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Lord shows us the primacy of love for God. This is the first and the greatest of all commandments. Learning to love yourself is not the greatest love of all. Before we can learn to love our neighbor or even love ourselves, we have to love God with the totality of our being – with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Why is this so? It is because I am not the center of the universe – God is! “The Lord our God is Lord alone!” God does not owe me anything but I owe Him everything. Everything I have and everything I am comes from Him. Why do I have to love Him with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength? It is because of all me came from Him and belongs to Him. “In Him we live, in Him we move, in Him we have our being” (Acts 17: 28). Without Him, I am nothing.
Because God is the origin, the first, the center, and the end of everything, He is the only one I must love for His own sake. This means that I should love God for the simple reason that He is who He is: God. Everything else and everyone else I should love only in reference to God…only for the sake of God. This is the essence of Charity as a theological virtue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC, 1822). Charity, according to St. Paul, is the greatest virtue of all (1 Cor. 13:13). “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:14); it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love” (CCC, 1827).
Let us love with the right priorities. Let us allow Charity to purify our ability to love. The Christian “no longer stands before God as a slave in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who ‘first loved us’” (CCC, 1828). St. Basil said: “If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages…we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands…we are in the position of children.” (Ibid.)
Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!