Most of us were brought up with the understanding that we must love our neighbour. That is very much part of what it means to be Christian. We respect the people around us, even if we don’t like them. We respect them because we believe that we are all children of God, created by the one God, no matter what our race, colour or religion.
We also know that sometimes it can be very difficult to love the people around us. It is much easier to give to charities, supporting people in other countries, than to show respect to the people living next door, or even in the same house, or work place.
However, there is something else that comes first. That is, the love of God. It is no accident that Jesus put this first, or that it comes first in the commandments. Love God above all else, with all your heart and soul, with all your strength and then love your neighbour as yourself.
Why is this so important? because it is very difficult to love the people around us, especially the ones we find difficult, unless we love God first. It is our love of God, as our faith begins to grow, that gives us the strength to love others. The more we are filled with the love of God, the more sensitive we become to the world around us. It is then we begin to notice people in trouble and people in need. God’s Spirit within us that shows us these things and helps us to see others as people with needs, rather than just Christians, or Muslims, Mexicans or Irish. First they are people; human beings with the same needs and desires as anyone else. It is the love of God within us that shows us this and that gives us the desire to help them.
How do I love God? By keeping his commandments. If you love anyone you show your love by trying to please them and by trying to do what they ask. It is the exact same with God. There is no point in saying that I love God if I’m not prepared to keep his commandments. There is no point in sleeping with your boy friend or girl friend, and then saying that I love God. God asks us not to do this. Who am I kidding? We cannot justify stealing, or not paying taxes and then praying to God to help us. If we hope for God’s blessing and help, or to grow in our spirit, we must try to live his commandments. They are commandments, not suggestions and this means sacrifices. It means that we will be different from others who don’t believe in God. And this is how it has been throughout the centuries. Christians have always been different. If I want to call myself a Christian I have to try to live as a Christian. Otherwise it means nothing.
All of us will all have to give an account of ourselves to God when we die. And we will be on your own then. We won’t have friends or politicians standing behind us to cheer us on. We will not have any earthly status either. It will just be each of us before God. Does that mean we need to be afraid? Not if we try. If we sin, or fall, or do what is wrong, we should never be afraid to ask forgiveness. God promises forgiveness, if we turn to him and repent. But I’m talking about persisting in some way of life that is contrary to the laws of God. We must be careful that we’re not rewriting the commandments for ourselves. God doesn’t ask for 100% success, only effort.
St. Augustine has a lovely saying which sums it up. He says, ‘Love God and do what you like.’ If we really love God, we will try and do what He asks. While trying to live as God asks can seem like a burden initially, the reality is the opposite. Living by the teachings of Christ brings a great freedom and happiness, because your spirit knows that you’re on the right track and that takes away fear. Once we begin to come closer to God this way, then we begin to be filled with a love for him that gives us the strength to look out for the people around us.
I know many people I would term ‘people of faith’, who really try to live what they believe, and they are always keen to help people around them who are in need. It comes quite naturally to them, because of their love of God and I’m sure there are many of you here too. If we focus on growing closer to God, looking after our neighbour comes quite naturally. The same goes for a lot of the moral teachings of the Church, which people love to argue about so much. If we start arguing about these problems before we have faith, they will just remain an obstacle between us and God. But if we grow in faith first, these things naturally fall into place.
Hear O Israel,
The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.