Love of neighbour

A Spirituality of Communion

Making the Church the home and school of communion

Fourth Point of Spirituality

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine you did for me”

(Mt 24:40)

How can we be close to God? One of the best ways to be close to God is by loving our neighbour. Jesus tells us that what we do to the least we do to him. “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was in prison… and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). Our neighbour is whoever is next to us in the present moment. 

By living the Gospel we “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16), and like him we want to love without exception and take the first step in loving our neighbour. By living the Gospel we come to the realization that we are all brothers and sisters in this world and that we have one God and Father of us all. In the past, one’s neighbour was sometimes looked upon as an obstacle to loving God. Now we realize that love of neighbour is at the heart of our Christian life. The more we love our neighbour, the more we love God. A Christian is one who loves all the time. 

Diversity

Scripture:

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”

MT 22:39

“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers”

1JN 3:14

A Key Experience

Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focolare Movement, officially known as Work of Mary, tells us her experience of how putting in practice God`s love changed her life.

The discovery of what it means to put into practice this point of the spirituality of communion in the words of Chiara Lubich 

One day we read, “Whatever you did for one of these brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40). Because of the terrible circumstances of the war, people around us were hungry and thirsty, they were wounded, in need of cloths and shelter – those who have lived through a war know what’s it like. So we used to cook large pots of soup and take it to them. We also invited the poor to have lunch with us. 

One day a poor man came up to me and said, “I need a pair of shoes size 12.” To find a pair of shoes during the war was something difficult and then, to find the right size was even harder. There was a little church nearby, St. Clare’s, near the hospital of Trent. I entered the church and went in front of the tabernacle. I said, “Jesus, give me a pair of shoes, size 12 for you in that poor man.”  As I was leaving the church, right at the door, a young lady came up to me. She handed me a package. I opened it, and what did I find? A pair of men’s shoes size 12. These experiences made us even more eager to live this new life. 

For Reflection

Some characteristics of “Love of neighbour” that Chiara Lubich drew from the Gospel: 

If we act like children of God, knowing that he loves us, our lives will be made new, filled with serenity and joy.” – Pope Francis

“St. Francis of Assisi wanted to be poor of everything in order to have only God.

He prayed: “My God and my all.”

  1. Love everyone 

This way of loving requires that we love everyone, as God does, without distinction. We do not choose between who is nice or unpleasant: old or young; countryman or foreigner; black, white or yellow; European or American, African or Asian; Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu… In today’s terminology we could say that this kind of love avoids every form of discrimination. 

  1. Be the first to love 

Another step in the art of loving is being the first to love by always taking the initiative, without waiting for the other to go first… God does not wait for us to love him but has always in thousands of ways shown us that he is the first to love, regardless of our response. We were created to be a gift to one another, so we are faithful to our true selves when we reach out to our brothers and sisters with a love that precedes any sign of love on their part. 

  1. Love others as you love yourself 

If this one thing alone were practiced, it would be sufficient to make the whole world a great family: love as you love yourself, do to others what you would want done to you… Think what the world would be if not only individuals, but whole races and nationalities practiced the Golden Rule in this form: “Love the other’s country as you love your own.” 

  1. “Make yourself one” with others 

“Making yourself one” with others means “walking a mile in the other’s shoes” in order to understand their thoughts and problems, and share their joys and sufferings (see 1 Cor 9:22: To the weak I became weak… I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”). 

  1. Love Jesus in everyone 

In describing the last judgement, Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these last brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40)… He considers done to him whatever good or evil we do to others.  

  1. Mutual Love 

True love, the Art of Loving, reaches its highest point in loving one another. 

  • A neighbour passes near to us in each moment. It’s Jesus. Measure your love for God by the love that you bring to that neighbour. 
  • Jesus had said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40). Consequently, our whole previous way of looking at people and of loving them, collapsed. If in some way Christ was in everyone, we could not practice discrimination or have preferences. Out went all the human criteria by which persons are classified as beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant, rich or poor. Christ was behind each person. Every neighbour was truly another Christ if his or her soul was enriched with God’s grace; and even if someone was without grace, he or she was still potentially another Christ. Living in this manner we came to the realization that our neighbour was our way to God. Each brother or sister appeared to us as a doorway through which we had to pass in order to encounter God. After having loved God all day in our brothers and sisters, in the evening, in recollection or in prayer, we would experience a wonderful union with him. 
  • We can’t go to God alone, but we must go to him with our brothers and sisters, since he is the Father of us all. 
  • One of the straightest roads to God is our neighbour.  

Related Thoughts:  

Christ leads us to go out of ourselves more and more, to give ourselves and to serve others. 

Pope Francis 

“You should know my daughters, that when you set aside your prayers or the holy Mass in order to serve the poor you would not be losing anything, because serving the poor means going to visit Jesus and in the poor person you ought to see God.” 

St. Vincent De Paul 

It is necessary that our love be an “art”, an art that exceeds the ability to love in a mere human way. Much, if not all, depends on this art. I have seen this art lived, for example, by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Whoever met her loved her. Likewise, Pope John XXIII… many years after his death, his memory is still alive among the people.  

Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan 

For Sharing:  

  • What does loving the neighbour next to me in the present moment mean? 
  • What does it mean to love everyone? 
  • What are some examples of the way Jesus loved his neighbour? 
  • Do you remember some of Jesus’ parables or stories about love of neighbour? 
  • Imagine a day spent putting the Golden Rule into practice from morning to night. 
  • Daily examination of conscience: Did I see Jesus in my neighbour and make myself open to welcome each neighbour? 
Montage composite image of multi ethnic people looking to camera and smiling.

Experiences

Why aren’t you angry? 

This past September two of my three children started school – one kindergarten, the other nursery school. I was finding that trying to get them all ready and out the door by a certain time was becoming stressful for me. Not realizing it, this stress was also affecting my children. 

One day I sat down with my son to tie his shoes before he left for school and really tried to love him as if he were Jesus himself. Looking up into my face, he said, “Why aren’t you angry?” I thought I didn’t hear him correctly and asked, “What?” He repeated his question. 

I made a speedily examination of conscience and I realized what he meant. In a certain sense my son didn’t recognize me because my anger had become such a part of his life. For a brief moment I was filled with sadness and in the very next moment I felt a deep gratitude to God. I had changed and I could see that change in my son’s eyes.  

A.M. 

Cleaning out of love 

One day my mother was working outside and so was my father. When they were outside I noticed that the dishes were dirty and the floor was dirty, too. There was nobody to wash the dishes or to clean the floor. So I decided to wash the dishes and clean the floor to love Jesus in my mother and father. When my mother got inside and saw the clean floor she hugged me and she was happy. 

Claudia, 9 

Not talking but doing 

This semester at college I’m taking a seminar that combines philosophy and theology. The class is divided in small groups where we present to each other papers on our thoughts about the day’s readings, followed by discussion. 

I prepared a paper on a certain philosopher’s understanding of Christianity, and when my turn came, I proceeded to defend my ideas. Soon I was into an argument with one of my friends. Then others in the group joined her in picking apart my ideas and I began to feel attacked, frustrated and angry.  

I was making a philosophical point about love of neighbour when I suddenly realized how absurd it was for me to be saying these things when I’d completely forgotten to love the people sitting next to me! 

I remembered the Gospel, “Those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23), and realized that loving doesn’t mean talking about it, but doing it! 

My ideas or my winning the debate should not be more important than loving those in my group. I knew I had to let go my ideas and listen to what the others had to say. In doing so, I soon discovered that we were basically trying to say the same thing. Within a few minutes a dialogue opened up and love was able to break through all the misunderstandings. 

A.U. 

She could hardly stand up 

My nephew’s graduation was coming up and the whole family had been invited to attend. We were all at the ceremony in church when one of my relatives turned up very drunk. In fact she could hardly stand up. 

Everyone was ashamed of her for coming in that condition, and no one wanted to be seen with her afterwards. One by one they left the church through the side door until she was left all alone.  

The words of the Gospel that I was trying to live were, “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good” (Rm 12:9). At that moment what came to my mind was, “I know it is good to love this person.” So I went to her and helped her to stand up straight. I could see the neighbours were looking at us in wonderment. I went on walking, not minding what they might have to say. She was not aware of what was going on, but I felt at peace.  

A short time later, this relative died. I thank God for the chance God gave me to have been able to love in this circumstance and to experience the joy that comes from loving my neighbour. 

E.U. 

What can I do? 

Try to put into practice what you have learned today. Then at the beginning of the next group meeting, share your Gospel experiences with the others – one or two episodes when you were able to love your neighbour as yourself – as a gift.