When an old Cistercian monk was asked what he believed, he simply said: “I believe more and more in less and less.” I think the older we become and the more practised in following Christ, the more clearly the bare bones of our faith stand out. After half a century or more playing golf, the golfer’s technique becomes simple. He has developed an intuitive feel for how to stand, hold and swing the club. He doesn’t focus on all the details of fingers, thumb, grip, arms, shoulders etc. etc. etc.. He does it all naturally, like second nature.
Jesus, like an old pro, sums up in a few simple words in this Sunday’s Gospel his whole message: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Three loves – God, neighbor, myself – which are really one love. The last one is key to the others. If you don’t love yourself in an appropriate manner, you won’t love your neighbor and you won’t love God. The marvel of the Gospel is that while it is admittedly difficult to put into action, its simplicity allows it to be understood even by a child.
Psychologists tell us that one reason we find it difficult to love others is that we really do not love our own selves. The alcoholic drinks out of self-loathing, and the pornographer’s pleasure comes from self-disgust. Many people are unaware of their true selves. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” The speck of dust in another’s eye is easier to deal with than the chunk of clay in our own. Human nature has always found self-knowledge difficult – Self-love too.
Loving our neighbor is fraught with difficulty, and for the same reason; a demanding thing called “I”! Christ invites me to love people I don’t know or like. It’s a radical love of those that society wants to dismiss: the local nuisance, the homeless family, the Traveler, the drug addict and child molester, the prisoner, even the earth itself….. Love God and love neighbor sounds so simple yet these are the toughest, most radical lines in the Gospel.
What about loving myself, the basis of all our loving? To quote that great mystic and theologian, St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Proper self-love is to love myself for God’s sake only. It involves a letting go of my agendas, hopes and plans, and becoming poor in spirit so Christ can have more of me.”
Fr QQ. 11/1/2018