By JOEL PADGETT
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
Is there a quote that you have carried with you throughout your life? A phrase that really cut you to the heart? A saying that helped shape you into who you are today? They may be few; but if they exist, you know.
While I was attending the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I was struck by one such quote. I don’t remember the exact context, but I perfectly remember the words: “You love Christ as much as the person you love the least.” It turns out that this is a paraphrase of a quote from Dorothy Day: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” The point stuck. And when I find myself struggling to love someone, my conscience seems to find a way to prick me with it again.
Day’s words simply reflect Sacred Scripture. Almost two millennia before, St. John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Regarding “Who is my brother?” (in other words, “neighbor”), Jesus responded to that question with the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:29-37). And what provoked that question was Jesus’ proclamation of the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
God. Neighbor. Self. A failure to love any of these, in the way that God calls us to love, is a failure to love the other two. For someone who strives to love God with all their heart, soul and mind, it is very humbling to realize that, ultimately, one always loves God the least—together with whomever it is that one loves the least. But how can we learn to love everyone as God loves them? By exercising the theological virtue of charity, we are not merely imitating Christ. We are participating in the very life of Christ; and the more that this charity grows within us, the more we are able – by participation – to love as God loves. It is a gift from God that requires our openness to receive it, as well as our collaboration in exercising it. And it is a gift that we are able to ask God to increase in us every day.
In a similar vein, all baptized Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. By God’s grace, we are his adopted children, members of Christ’s Mystical Body. Do I truly strive to love all my brothers and sisters in Christ as such? Even those with whom I have serious disagreements? Even those by whose actions harm is inflicted upon Christ, his Church and all of humanity? I direct this reflection first and foremost at myself. Perhaps our greatest challenges are politicians, celebrities, certain members of the Church; or maybe someone who has hurt us in the past. Now, to be clear, to love someone means to will their good, and a person’s greatest good is ultimately and always the truth of Christ. In that light, perhaps one of the best ways to love others, especially if one feels incapable of doing anything else, is to humbly and lovingly ask for the grace to love them and to pray for their conversion or ongoing conversion to Christ; and, just as importantly, to beg others to do the same for us.