"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt. 22:34-40).
In this Sunday's readings from the Old Testament, God gives clear instructions: "You shall not molest or oppress an alien; you shall not wrong any widow or orphan." Jesus teaches that love is the essence of discipleship. All that God asks of us can be boiled down to two simple commandments: that we love God with every part of our being and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. These commandments are not original to Jesus. He takes them from the Jewish law, in which he was raised and came to fulfill. They are the foundation of the law.
These commandments are deceptively simple because they raise numerous questions. Can love be commanded? Do we have control over the motivations for our actions, feelings, dispositions, and the inclination of our hearts? Can we really control what we love, who we love, or how much we love? What kind of love is it that Jesus commands us to be for God and neighbor? What does that love look like in practice?
Love can never be separated from justice. Justice nearly always involves giving special concern to the needs of the vulnerable: the widow, the orphan, the worker, the poor person, and the migrant. Catholic social teaching stresses this as well. We are to work for the common good and in solidarity. We are our neighbor's keeper. In solidarity, there is no other or alien; we are all in this together. In these trying times of wars, racism, poverty, and violence, it is important we practice the love of neighbor and begin to understand what it truly means. By promoting the rights and dignity of other persons, especially those who are most vulnerable, we are doing the work of justice.
The love of God and love of neighbor are closely connected. God loves all of us, regardless of our wealth or standing in society. God has a special compassion for those most vulnerable or marginalized in society. We show God's love by loving those whom God loves, which is what Jesus modeled for us through his life and ministry. If we do this and open ourselves to God's grace, that grace will transform our hearts. As our hearts are transformed, we will work for justice.
"Thus says the LORD: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victims from the hand of their oppressors. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place" (Jer. 22:3).
Author: Adrienne Curry, M. Div. Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries, Archdiocese of Baltimore