Most of us were brought up being taught that we must love our neighbour. That is very much part of what it means to be Christian. That means we are to 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 try to see them as human beings before anything else.
I often think of the accounts we have of how Jesus dealt with the various people he met of other faiths and nationalities. He healed the Roman soldier’s dying slave. The Jews would have hated and feared the Romans, as they were the occupying force of Palestine and a particularly brutal force at that. He healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. She was a pagan. He spoke to and encouraged the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. We are also invited to try and see people through the eyes of Jesus, that is, to see people as people, before anything else.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to love, or respect, the people around us. It is often easier to give to charities supporting people in other countries, than to show respect to the people living next door, or in our workplace, especially when people have done us wrong.
It is interesting that when Jesus is asked which is the first Commandment, He mentions two. We are to love God above all else, with all our heart and soul, with all our strength and then love your neighbour as yourself. The two are connected, which is why He mentions them together. It is our relationship with God, 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 needs of the world around us. It is then we begin to notice people in trouble and people in need. God’s Spirit within us 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. As our love of God grows, we begin to see the world around us in a different way. We start to see it through God’s eyes and it develops a desire to make the world as God wants it to be.
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 boyfriend, or girlfriend, or promoting abortion and then saying that I love God, when God tells us not to do these things. 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, but 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 before God when we die. And we will be on your own then. We won’t have friends, or politicians, or attorneys standing behind us, to argue on our behalf. 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. There is a difference in falling into sin sometimes, versus persisting in some way of life that is contrary to the laws of God. The Lord teaches us what is sinful, so that we cannot say we didn’t know. 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 great 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.
There are many people I know whom I would call ‘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.
In 1994 in Rwanda, an horrific genocide took place. In Rwanda there were two main tribal groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. As often happens, one group despised the other and under a new Hutu president, the Hutus decided to rid the country of the Tutsi. In just over three months, approximately one million Tutsi were murdered. One Tutsi woman, by the name of Imaculée Llibagiza, survived the holocaust. At the time it occurred she was 24. She came from a family of six and by local standards they were well-off. During the massacre, all but one of her brothers were slaughtered. She survived by hiding in a restroom, which was 3’x 4’, along with five other women, for three months. A sympathetic pastor hid them, risking his own life. His house was searched regularly, but they had pushed a wardrobe across the door of the restroom and it wasn’t noticed. They eventually escaped and managed to get to a French UN camp, where they were safe, although by then they were half starved.
While in hiding, they were in constant danger of being discovered. She describes her ordeal in a book called Left to Tell. During her time in hiding she found herself praying the rosary for hours on end. As she continued to hear about the slaughter of her loved ones and friends, she found herself wanting to inflict the same pain and torture on their killers, but she also found through prayer that God kept calling her back from that hatred. It was a battle within herself.
When the war was over and the Hutus had been overrun, she came to know one man in power who had arrested and interrogated many of the killers. Because of this she was given a chance to go to the prison to face the man who had murdered her family. When he was dragged before her, she recognised him immediately. His name was Felicien and he had been a close friend of the family. Felicien was too ashamed to even look at her. The prison warden said to her, ‘What do you want to say to him?’ She replied, ‘I forgive you.’ When he had been taken away again, the warden said to her in astonishment, ‘What was all that about? How could you forgive him? Why did you do that?’ She said, ‘Forgiveness is all I have to offer.’ Her relationship with God was what brought her to that place, where she could see more than just a killer. She now lives in the US and works for the United Nations.
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”