command to love

The Command To Love

Every Mass begins with a prayer called the “collect.” The priest prays it right before the day’s readings. While it may slip by us sometimes, it’s good to pay attention. It typically gives us a “clue,” if you will, as to what we should pay attention to during the Mass.

The collect for today’s Mass begins: Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command…”

Make us love? That seems odd. Can we be made to love? Isn’t love an emotion, something we have little control over? How can we be commanded to love?

It’s true that our culture wants us to think that “love” is a warm, fuzzy feeling that we have little or no control over. “The heart wants what the heart wants,” right? We can’t help who we fall in love with. And yet, Jesus commands us to love. John 15:17 could not be more clear: Love one another as I have loved you.

Love, for Christians, is not a feeling. Feelings come and go, are not always rooted in reality and can lead us down the wrong path very quickly. How many of us have “fallen in love” with a person who does not have our best interests in mind? What about falling in love with someone we barely know, but with whom we’ve shared an intense event?

No, love is not a feeling, but an action. It is a decision. Further, it is a decision to put the needs of someone else before our own. Deacon Keith Fournier, talking about the foot-washing of Holy Thursday:

The Love of Christ is made into symbolic action, because Love is a verb. Love is a command, a mandate. This foot-washing is more than a re-enactment; it is an invitation to participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ through His Church.

The Eucharist is the “Sacrament of Love”, in the words of our beloved Holy Father Benedict XVI. In that first Encyclical letter he underscored not only the depth of the Mystery revealed in that penultimate Sacrament, but he also connected that Sacrament – and our participation in it – to our choice to live lives of love in the real world.

Sometimes love requires us to do very difficult things: to confront a loved one who is enmeshed in addiction, to stand at the bedside of a dying friend, to discipline a teen who screams, “I hate you!” No parent wants to get up at three a.m. to tend to a terrified toddler who’s had a nightmare. The saints stand as example: choosing to care for the destitute and dying, the leper, taking the place of one slated to die. There is no romantic feeling when we ourselves are in pain and choose to offer up our suffering in union with Christ’s.

Christ can command us to love because love is a choice. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes up the question of being able to love upon command.

The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self- abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy (cf. Ps 73 [72]:23-28).

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.

“Seeing with the eyes of Christ:” this is how we are able to love upon command. We abandon our wishes, desires and needs and instead put the other first. We see them as Christ sees them: God’s creation, imbued with dignity and worthy of our time, our help, our love.

Love is a choice; God never forces us to do anything. We are free creatures. But if we follow Christ, we must follow his commands and He commands us to love. We choose to love “in the real world,” as Deacon Fournier says: that world of death, angry teens, broken relationships and sin. We love – not as a feeling – but as action, acting as Christ would, seeing others with his eyes.

Today, let us pray with the whole Church: Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command…” Let us choose to love.


7 Heavenly Virtues: Medicine For Our Soul And The World

Yesterday, we discussed the 7 deadly sins. As stated, these sins deaden our souls to good and if left unchecked, lead to Hell. Thankfully, there is a remedy for this, a medicine, if you will, for the soul: 7 heavenly virtues.

For each of the deadly sins, there is a corresponding virtuous remedy. (A virtue, by the way, is a good habit that leads us to holiness, to God.) If for example, one struggles with gluttony, the virtue that person must cultivate is temperance. Here are each of the deadly sins with the corresponding virtue:








In today’s world, far too many people equate chastity with “no sex.” This could not be true! Since God made man and woman to complement each other in every way, that includes sexual union. Chastity means that first, we respect sexuality as a gift from God. We do not treat others as objects to be our “playthings.” Second, it means that we all must practice chastity according to our state in life: married, single, religious.

Temperance can often bring to mind the extreme stance of about 100 years ago that led to Prohibition: alcohol is evil! We must stop people from EVER imbibing. Instead, temperance means that we enjoy food, beverages, and all good things moderately. It is one beer and not the entire case. It is a tasty, healthy meal prepared and enjoyed by all, and not a back seat filled with the wrappers of fast food.

Charity seems to refer to giving to someone in need, and it can be that. But as a virtue, there is a broader meaning. “Charity” comes from the Greek “caritas,” the type of love we should show to all. It is the love that helps us love ourselves and others too much to allow us all to stay stuck in sin. It is a giving of one’s self. It heals greed by keeping us focused on others, and not ourselves. Rather than “me, me, me” charity says, “How can I serve you?”

The virtue of fortitude cultivates true courage. Sloth is, in many ways, related to fear. “I’m afraid I won’t get a job; why bother looking?” “Dad is always telling me I don’t do anything right, so I’m gonna lay here and watch tv.” But sloth also leads us to laziness in our faith: “I know I’m supposed to go to Mass, but Sunday is the only day I get to sleep in.” By practicing fortitude – doing what is right even when it is difficult – we can overcome sloth.

Envy is that “green-eyed monster” that makes us angry over others’ good fortune. Benevolence, on the other hand, allows us to see others’ success with the same attitude that we would see our own. We realize we are all God’s children, connected if you will, by divine DNA. Benevolence allows us to stop comparing ourselves to others; rather, we seek the goodwill of all.

If you pray for patience, God will provide. No, he will not “magically” make you more patient. He WILL provide you with plenty of opportunities to BE patient! Wrath sends our lives out of balance: we become consumed with anger and revenge. We seek to hurt others. We “lose it.” Patience provides balance. We react with docility rather than anger. We don’t “fly off the handle” with annoyance and petulance; we react with a calm spirit.

If pride is the root of all the deadly sins, then humility must be the starting point for all the remedies that virtues provide. Humility does not mean you’re a doormat: that you allow people to take advantage of you, or that we don’t stand up for justice when someone is wronged (even if that someone is ourself.) No, humility is Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. It is the attitude that, as a Catholic, I am meant to serve others first. We treat everyone with dignity, from the leader of a nation, to a CEO to a homeless woman on the street. Even more, we realize that we are no better than anyone else; we are equal in God’s love and mercy for us.

No one said being a faithful Catholic was easy! Practicing the virtues is hard – there is no way around it. Just like an athlete must put in hours and hours in the gym, or an artist knows that only the time-consuming practice of technique will create great art, so it is with virtue. We try, we fail and confess, we try harder. That is the “cure” for sin and the medicine needed for ourselves and our world.