God’s commandments presuppose a relationship of love

A young man sat in front of a priest learning about the Catholic faith. He asked the priest: “Father, what must I do to be a good Catholic?” The priest responded, “A Catholic must go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, go to confession once a year and receive the Eucharist, observe the days of fasting and abstinence, and help to provide for the material needs of the church.” The young man then replied, “Yes, Father, but which one of these is most important?”

As we see today’s Gospel play out, I can easily imagine this interaction being transplanted into a high school classroom, RCIA class or adult formation class. The scholar of the law is focused on which commandment is the greatest. Jesus’ reply points not to the strict following of a commandment, but rather the motivation that guides our following of the commandments. Tradition holds that the commandments were written on two tablets. The first three pertaining to love of God were on one tablet and the last seven pertaining to love of neighbor were on the second. 

Following these commandments without love means nothing (see 1 Cor 13). The reason God gave the commandments in the first place was to guard and protect a covenant relationship that he had established with the people of Israel. The commandments presupposed a relationship. The answer then to the question: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” is simple yet great: love.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”): “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (no. 1). This gets down to the issue. If I want to be a good Christian, a good follower of Christ, I must live in a relationship of love with him.

What if my relationship is poor right now? Sometimes we make the matter of faith and prayer more complicated than it should be. If I wanted to grow in friendship with someone, the solution would be simple and in front of my eyes: I need to spend more time with him. I need to call him on the phone, have lunch – we need to be in each other’s presence. Only after the friendship has been established does setting up requirements make sense. Friends may say: “So we can keep our relationship growing, we need to talk at least once a week.” However, it would be quite strange if I walked up to a stranger and told him: “To be my friend you need to call me every Saturday at 1 p.m.”

Jesus Christ wants to have a relationship of love with you. He promises us that if we knock, the door will be opened. The call for us is to make the time and space in our lives so that we allow an encounter of love with Jesus Christ to take place continually. Take a moment, right now, and tell our Lord: “Jesus, I want to grow in love with you!”

Father Joseph Sund is associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill and St. Joseph Parish in Amelia. He also teaches at St. Mary School in O’Neill.

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