“Love is an inclination” – Hannah Arendt
A long time ago I heard the story of a rose who realized how beautiful she was. Intoxicated by her own splendor, she decided that she only wanted to be caressed by the gentle touch of a butterfly, and so she did not appreciate the attention she got from all the other insects that flew around her.
One day she saw a spider passing by and asked him to weave a web around her so that the flies could no longer bother her. The spider set right to work and the rose was very satisfied, especially when she saw how the small insects would get trapped in the web. Just then the butterfly appeared, but as he drew near he was frightened by the sad spectacle and quickly flew away.
The rose spent the rest of her short life wrapped in solitude.
We see this tendency towards isolation more and more often nowadays, masked behind a false claim to one’s personal rights. We want to be the center of attention and we are so selective about our relationships.
The customs we had suppressed at the borders, we have applied along the margins of our own existence. It is becoming a popular way of treating others not only in politics but also in our way of life. The beauty of a reciprocal relationship is slowly being replaced by the obsession with our own egos. The other is no longer a pilgrim who crosses through our world but an enemy that we must remove.
It seems strange that doctor of the Law would ask Jesus what the most important commandment is but, as happens in our own lives, we can do everything right yet never actually learn to love. This doctor of the Law knows what the first commandment is but he has probably never lived it. In the Church we also know all the precepts, but we do not truly live by them.
So Jesus points out where the problem is: loving is a question of the heart! But the heart, in the language of the Bible, means the whole person, the unity and the totality of the person.
You cannot love sometimes, just when you feel like it. If you love, you love always and with all your soul. Jesus says that the heart is where the spirit and the mind join; that is where what I feel truly expresses what I think. But we are often divided, fragmented and incoherent people.
Loving God is not only the first precept that we must accomplish so as to pass to the next level. Loving God is the foundation of the very possibility of loving anyone else for the simple reason that, only in the relationship with God can I feel fundamentally loved.
Only in the relationship with God can I feel truly forgiven despite my fragility. I can only generate love if I feel truly acknowledged in this original relationship that is rooted in the deepest depths of my heart.
Many people are unable to love because they are not willing to undergo the deep experience of recognizing that they are sinners and yet loved undeservedly. We are not willing to undergo that experience of an inexplicable gift of love that staggers us.
This is why the love that Jesus speaks of is not a mere human love. It is not philanthropy; it is not a love that can be lived through a generic social commitment. That love that Jesus is talking about is a foundational love: a love that finds its source in a relationship deeper and more original to which every man and woman is called.
Only if we are anchored in this primary relationship with God can we begin to love others in a healthy way, without fusion or opposition: loving the other as yourself does not mean merging yourself with them or eliminating them.
Loving the other as yourself means allowing the other to experience what we have lived in our foundational relationship with God.
Loving the other means seeing his or her deepest needs, not projecting my unsatisfied need on him or her. Loving others means welcoming strangers, giving them clothes if they are naked, giving them a father if they are orphans.
If I, and my needs, are at the center of my world, I will never truly learn to love. Others will always be obstacles to my freedom and the limitation on my expansion.
It is the rose’s self-delusion that condemns her to a life of solitude.
Questions for personal reflection:
- Where do you experience God’s love for you?
- How do you demonstrate your love for others?
Gospel of the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt. 22:34-40)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
The Gospel of the Lord