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Bible Alive is a Catholic scripture magazine which draws its strength, inspiration and direction from the liturgical cycle. Latest edition out now.

Love One Another

Affection is the beating heart of the Christian faith. If we want to serve God, if we want to make others happy and if we want to feel happy ourselves, we must follow Christ’s instruction to love

Unless we love, can we truly call ourselves Christian? For it says in The Bible: ‘Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8).

We may label ourselves Christian, go to Church, fall to our knees and pray, read holy books and purport to be good, but if our hearts are not full of compassion or if we are not striving to be kind, then it is pointless.

When asked which commandment was most important, Christ said: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength,’ and then added that another commandment is ‘equally important’: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ he said. ‘No other commandment is greater than these’
(Mark 12:30-31).

If God is love, then it is very easy to obey Christ’s command to love God! After all, who doesn’t like love? Rather than asking for a new car or better friends when we pray, let us instead dwell upon the wonderful reality that God is love.

This immense force is a love so unconditional and so infinite that it loves everything. How easy it is to marvel at a power of affection that is so beyond the capacity of our own hearts – it is literally a ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.

In the mystic text The Cloud of Unknowing, written in the 14th Century by an anonymous author, we are discouraged from attempting to intellectually understand the divine. We shouldn’t over conceptualise God, says the author. Rather we can only reach and comprehend God in the mysterious depths of our hearts: ‘In the exercise of power of knowledge God remains incomprehensible,’ says The Cloud. ‘Whereas in the exercise of love he may be fully comprehended.’

Those of us lucky to have been touched by grace know for certain that God is love. The Lord stirs as a movement and a feeling of completion within the heart and when we feel this timeless, ineffable power within us, we can be sure we are sensing just the tip of an iceberg.
The mystics and saints speak of cultivating heart and mind in order to receive God’s love. They all repeat the importance of ‘emptying’ ourselves of all concerns and preoccupations and listening out for God in that inner emptiness. ‘In the silence of the heart God speaks,’ said Mother Teresa.

The Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade emphasised the need to dwell completely in the present (rather than in thoughts of the past or future) because that is where God is. He said that if we cultivate a ‘holy interior simplicity’ with ‘a peace in the depth of the heart’ then we can experience God’s affection: ‘The only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this the soul remains lovingly passive in God’s hands, receiving… Every moment of our lives is a sort of communion with divine love.’

The greatest thing any of us can do is love others – feeling affection for our fellow citizens, regardless of race or religion, as well as the animals of the earth, is the life force of Christian faith. ‘Love one another,’ Jesus instructed his disciples. ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’
(John 13:34).

And he wasn’t just talking about the nice people. He is including that annoying woman at work and the weird relatives. He even wants us to feel love for people who are violent – those who rape and abuse and kill. We must love them all: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also’ (Luke 6:27-29).

According to science, we can all learn to love to this degree. Last year, a U.S. study found that people who thought kindly of others (including someone they find difficult) for half an hour each day for two weeks gradually became more caring. Compassionate thinking, it seems, is like a muscle we can train.

A lot of blood has been (and continues to be) shed in the misunderstood name of religion. As we move deeper into the 21st century we must focus on what we have in common, instead of our differences.

The primary thing all religions share is a focus on love. ‘All major world religions have the same message as far as love and compassion are concerned, although their expression may be different,’ says the Dalai Lama.

In the Jewish faith, for example, doing a kind deed for another (a ‘Mitzvah’) is considered highly sacred and Sikhs strive to be kind to everyone, believing that God’s light dwells within each person.
In the Dalai Lama’s faith, Buddhism, cultivating love for others is made into an art form. Despite the torture and killing of the Chinese occupation, the exiled Buddhist people of Tibet respond to the Chinese regime with compassion!

The Islamic mystics (known as ‘Sufis’) share the Christian mystics’ romantic adoration of God. This is a bond with the divine that is so intimate, it is akin to a marriage; in fact the great mystic poets (such as St Teresa of Avila and the author of The Song of Solomon) often speak of Christ as if referring to a lover.

And what of earthly romantic love? The medieval Saint Valentine so ardently believed in the sanctity of romance that he was imprisoned for marrying couples at a time when wedlock was forbidden. Anyone who has fallen head over heels knows full well that romantic love is something only God could create, it being so unfathomable and joyful.

But it is not only marriage that gives us the opportunity to love others – we can experience dear bonds with children, pets and friends.

Some even go one step further and, as Christ instructed, manage to cultivate a romance with the whole world, loving everyone no matter who they are. What could be more heroic, more beautiful or more holy than such a love?

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