Love of Neighbor and Love of God
Presence of God – Make me understand, O Lord, that the surest sign of my love for You is a sincere love for my neighbor.
A soul who lives for God sometimes needs to be reassured that its love for Him is not an illusion. What criterion will give it the greatest certitude? St. Teresa of Jesus says, “We cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reason to believe that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor. And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater the love you will have for God” (Interior Castle V, 3). This is an indisputable argument because the virtue of charity is but one; and while it is difficult to verify our love for God, it is impossible to deceive ourselves about our love for our neighbor. We have no need of any great insight to know whether we are charitable, patient, forgiving, and kind to others, and precisely from the way we behave toward them can we deduce the measure of our love for God.
Sometimes we can deceive ourselves thinking we love God very much because we experience certain spiritual joys during the time of prayer. We believe that we are ready to confront any sacrifice for the love of God because we feel ardent desires arising within us. St. Teresa of Avila, with keen psychological insight, warns souls of the pitfalls into which they may fall and puts them on their guard: “No, sisters, no; what the Lord desires is works. If you see a sick sister to whom you can give some help, never be affected by the fear that your devotion will suffer, but take pity on her: if she is in pain, you should feel pain too; if necessary, fast so that she may have your food, not so much for her sake as because you know it to be your Lord’s will” (Interior Castle V, 3). This is real love, and it was exactly in this sense that St. John the Evangelist said in his first epistle, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). He did not say, because we love God, but because we love the brethren, for fraternal charity is the most certain sign of true love for God.
“O Lord, the surest sign of my love for You is the degree of perfection with which I keep the commandment of charity toward my neighbor. As this is most important, I must strive to know myself better, even in the very smallest matters, taking no notice of all the fine plans that come crowding into my mind when I am at prayer, and which I think I will carry out and put into practice for the good of my neighbor, in the hope of saving even one soul. If my later actions are not in harmony with these plans, I can have no reason for believing that I should ever have put them into practice. Nor should I, my God, imagine that I have attained to union with You, and love You very much, because of the devotion and spiritual delights which I may have had in prayer. I ought rather to ask You to grant me this perfect love for my neighbor and then allow You to work. If on my side I use my best endeavors and strive after this love in every way I can, doing violence to my own will so that the will of others may be done in everything, even foregoing my own rights; if I forget my own good in my concern for theirs, however much my nature may rebel; if I try to shoulder some trial, should the opportunity present itself, in order to relieve my neighbor of it, You certainly will give me even more than I can desire. But I must not suppose that it will cost me nothing. Besides, Lord, did not the love You had for us cost You, too? To redeem us from death, You died such a grievous death as the death of the Cross” (Teresa of Jesus, Interior Castle V, 3).
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Art for this post on love of neighbor and love of God: Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.