Love is a slippery word. In some ways it is like the word ‘God’: the danger is in thinking that we understand it. Love is mystery and, unlike our common understanding of the word ‘mystery’, this is not something to be figured out and solved. No, the mystery of love is a truth that lives beyond us.
Shortly before He ascended into heaven, Christ made a powerful exhortation to the Disciples. He said: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you.’ He then underlined the point: ‘You also must love one another’. Jesus is saying that it is no add-on option to love each other, no appendage. ‘By this love you have for one another everyone will know that you are My disciples.’
Here we have the very centre of Christ’s message: His new Commandment to love one another.
It can be difficult to love because we do not always recognize what God’s love is. It is possible, though, to touch the hem of the mystery of love, simply by looking to Christ.
Christ never ceased to affect other people. He reached out on a level that even His disciples sometimes couldn’t understand. Whilst the world looked for a great ‘military’ messiah to bring peace, the Son of God moved on a different level altogether: He moved within His own community – among the broken, the poor, the sick, the marginalised, the people who were not cared about. Notice how the world Christ lived in, just like ours today, was full of people who needed His love. We know that He gave it unceasingly, and behind it all is compassion: the grace-filled desire to bring love to another person.
To call ourselves His followers, we too ‘must love one another’ in this same sacrificial capacity. This means giving love, even perhaps when we do not want to or when it doesn’t suit our own agenda. It means redacting our own self-interests and working – despite ourselves – for peace. These small actions of love begin in our own particular community, wherever that happens to be. St Benedict calls the monastery a ‘school of the Lord’s service, and we can apply this beyond the monastic setting into all Christian life, because all service of Him is based on the commandment to love.
The very Kingdom of God is present in a smile, in a word of compassion, in any act of reaching out to our neighbour. Small acts as they are, we run the risk of reducing Christ’s single commandment into an added extra; something to do when we feel like it, when it suits us. We all of us can let the Kingdom of God slip like sand through our fingers as we pursue greater aims, whatever they happen to be. For as it is said: And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
It is then, difficult to love. But it must begin on the level that Christ loved: which is compassion for those around us. And we may use today’s Gospel words as our aim, for by these acts of love, we shall be known as His Disciples.