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DEAR FATHER | Loving our neighbor requires an emptying of self to let Christ shine forth

How can I love my neighbor for his or her own sake, without any love for self?

When Jesus was questioned as to the greatest commandment in the law, He responded with one answer: love. The first way we should share love is with God. Since He created us with a destiny to share life and love with Him on earth and in heaven, and we are called by God to love Him with our whole being, our mind, soul and strength. The second way we are called to share love is with our neighbor: family, friend, an acquaintance or even our enemy. We are called to love each person we meet as ourselves.

An authentic call to love summons me to love in a pure way that is focused on others and their welfare. At times, though, it seems doubtful that such a love is possible. Perhaps a thought of repayment comes into my mind as I am performing an act of charity for them. Or a thought of how good of a person I am for doing this work for them may enter into my mind. If I don’t feel that they are grateful enough for me taking the time to help them, perhaps some resentment may creep into my heart. Some even say that after much time and discipline, these and similar temptations enter their minds. So is Jesus giving us a command that is impossible for us to fulfill?

As the psalmist says about God, “For He knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). The Lord knows that, with our fallen human nature, it’s hard to concentrate on even one thing without a distracting thought or temptation coming to us. What our Lord asks of us, and the saints counsel as well, is that we simply put the distraction out of our mind as quickly as possible and continue performing the good act out of love for the other. Another action we can do is, at the beginning of the act, to consecrate the act silently in our mind to be done for love of God and the love of the other person. Then at the end, to thank God for the opportunity to serve this other person and ask His blessing upon them.

This is a good plan for planned actions or ones that are asked of us. But what should we do if a charitable action is forced upon us and we do not feel like doing it?

Here, remembering the Passion of Our Lord is a great help, the saints tell us. To think of all that the Lord suffered for us can move us to greater sympathy and patience at that moment. Also, seeing this as a moment to serve Christ in the other can be a great help to serve in a Christlike way. Finally, perhaps praying a short prayer or meaningful Scripture verse may help as well to respond with a more charitable attitude.

This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.

Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.

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