We become like the things we love. We see this most dramatically with teenagers. One day, they are dressed like anybody else. But then, infatuated with a new music group or subculture, they transform from head to toe. Suddenly they have a new hairstyle, new clothes, and, most lamentably, a new attitude. Their new figure matches their new love. What they see and love in some new trend or band, they try to become themselves. These superficial transformations are easy to make and (thank God) easy to undo. Deeper transformations, becoming virtuous or holy, take a lot more time and require a far greater love.
This weekend, Jesus enumerates the two greatest commandments. The first is to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The teenager, dressing like her favorite rock group and cycling through their hits infinitely with her iPod, comes close to loving them with her whole heart (we call them “teen idols” for a reason). Similarly, the one who loves God, always has him in mind. Like the teenager, gradually shaped into a likeness of what she loves, so the one who loves God, is gradually shaped into his likeness as well. It is only by striving to fulfill this first commandment, to love God with everything, that we inch closer to the greatest challenge: “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Only love will bring us there.
Jesus tells us that the second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” is like the first. It is easy to see why. Fulfilling the second command naturally flows from the first. God is love. He is not a solitary, self-enclosed love. He is a communion of love, the love of three persons. The more we become like him, the more we love like him. A sign that we are growing in his likeness is not that we are more piously devoted to him, but that our lives reveal a sincere love of others. If we are truly fulfilling the first command, we will naturally fulfill the second.
Our world often asserts that we can love others, without loving God. There are many who argue that God and religion actually hinder the love of our neighbor. But this is a mistake. We cannot love others unless we know what love is, and we do not know love unless we know God. “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us.” We must know this love first; then we conclude “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1Jn 3:16). Only love begets love, and love only comes from God.