Love Your Neighbor As Yourself November 10, 2023

In his homily on All Saints Day, Fr. Daniel Griffith spoke of the challenges we face in our society and in our church: We live in a time of deep polarization and broken relationships, in a world characterized by division, hostility, and war. Rooted in God’s grace, he wondered if people of faith could create an “on ramp” toward unity to transform our nation and world. This movement would be characterized by a deep friendship with Christ and a deep desire for holiness.

When I was young, I often found myself frustrated by the Great Commandment:  In Matthew 22 Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” and he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus was clear about how to love God. He was clear about how to love our neighbor. But there was no clarity about how to love oneself—even as this was a crucial part of the equation. My life was full of self-doubt and self-recrimination. So many people I knew struggled with personal issues. Indeed, loving our neighbor as ourselves was not often a high bar.

This frustration stayed with me for years. Holding a deep desire for God in my life, I longed to know how to love. Yet, I was stuck.

I had a deep awakening as I discovered the gift of contemplative prayer.

Drawn in by God, all prayer is transformative. Different forms of prayer resonate with different temperaments and needs. Pope Francis reminds us, “The fact that love for the Lord comes first reminds us that God always precedes us, he anticipates us with his infinite tenderness, with his closeness, with his mercy, for he is always near, tender, and merciful.”

Fr. Thomas Keating states “Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.”

As I practiced Centering Prayer, I began to experience God’s love in a new way. I began to get glimpses of an intimate truth—every part me, including my failings, fears, and limitations, are gifts from God. Pope Francis states: “There [in God’s arms], we absorb the Lord’s affection; there, we encounter the love that impels us to give ourselves generously,”

It finally became clear. When I love God with my whole heart, soul, and mind—I am transformed: God is love, and I become that love. Pope Francis states, “we reflect the Father’s love like mirrors. To reflect God’s love, this is the point — to love him whom we do not see through the brother[s]/sisters whom we do see.” This is how I am to love my neighbor.

Leaning on the grace and mercy of our God, and the engagement of the Spirit in our lives—knowing we seek spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection—we have a choice.  

  • Are we willing to touch the vulnerabilities deep within our hearts and minds?
  • Are we willing to surrender our personal gratification for the common good— for the benefit of the least among us?
  • Are we willing to let go of the facade of self-determination and superiority—to step off the conveyor belt of competition and superiority?

Being transformed by God’s love can humble us—but it can also call us to audacious, bold action. Rooted in the love of God, let us work together to create an “on-ramp” for faith, hope, love, and healing in our community.

Janice Andersen
Director of Christian Life