EG 161: Love of Neighbor

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdalenePope Francis at the outset of this section in Evangelii Gaudium, refers to a universal call to grow in faith. He’s not just talking about knowledge. When he speaks of “observation,” he relies on a time-honored Ignatian principle used at the outset of discernment. Let’s read further:

161. It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation. It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbor: “The one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbor is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). These are the words of Saint Paul, for whom the commandment of love not only sums up the law but constitutes its very heart and purpose: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). To his communities Paul presents the Christian life as a journey of growth in love: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). Saint James likewise exhorts Christians to fulfil “the royal law according to the Scripture: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (2:8), in order not to fall short of any commandment.

Jesus Christ’s commandment at the Last Supper is primary, and the impetus to love others is woven through the whole New Testament. How does this connect with observation? My sense is that believers come to an awareness of God’s love for them. They respond with a mutual affection within the Body. We cannot physically embrace a God we cannot see. But we can demonstrate love to others, to the neighbor. And who is our neighbor? We can take a long observation, a long look around us to figure that one out.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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