Love your Neighbor(Your Family)
“The first is... you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:29-31
When I was in the first stages of my deeper conversion, I was on fire for the Lord. If you remember my earlier post in this study about perfectionism, however, I was also obsessive compulsive about following all of His rules and making sure everyone else did too. Which didn’t allow me to love my neighbor very much.
Like most of you, I have a mixed family when it comes to religion. Most of my immediate family members are your average Catholics, going to Mass every Sunday but not necessarily living out a wild, passionate relationship with Christ. To them, I was overzealous in my faith and needed to take it down a few notches. Other family members, including most of my extended family, are non- practicing and to them I had simply gone off the deep end.
How do you love your neighbor, most of all your family members, when they don’t appear to love God? To be honest, I failed miserably at it for a while. I judged those closest to me hardcore, criticizing them for not coming to Mass or not being “holy” enough. I labeled my sister without stopping to see the immense wounds in her heart that blocked her from a deeper relationship with Christ. And even though I didn’t judge my extended family outwardly, I definitely did inwardly and knew they could tell by my demeanor that I didn’t approve of their lifestyles. Family gatherings became awkward. I am not proud of this moment in my life, when I thought I was doing so much for God and His Kingdom but instead was only causing damage.
Over time, life and grace hit me and I realized the error of my ways. Life is messy and wounded and all shades of gray. When Christ said to love our neighbor, specifically our family members, he didn’t mean to convert them by judging looks. In so many scenes in the Gospel, Christ loved and accepted someone for who they were in that moment, before He even started to call them on to holiness. Take the woman caught in adultery. His eyes of love and compassion are what moved her, before He even uttered the words “Go, sin no more.” He saw what was good in her before she even saw it herself.
This is the key, sisters. If you have difficult family members or those who are away from the Church, always look upon them with this same look of love. This is what it means to love our neighbor, to see the good in them and call it forth by your presence. I no longer look on my family members with judgement. They still know where I stand, and what I believe. But this approach has borne so much more fruit. As Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we attract others to the faith with our own joy and peace, sometimes without even uttering a word.
If you’re married and/or have children, loving them as your neighbor also takes on a much more active role. We are called to love them through our little (and big) sacrifices throughout the day, in our daily chores, and in bringing them up in the faith. We also love them by holding our tongue, compromising, and dying to ourselves. In this way we can love God through them, combining these two commandments in a wholesome way.
My husband and I love this particular Scripture verse, because it depicts our relationship so truthfully. As you can tell, I gravitate much more to the first part of the Commandment. I spend so much time trying to love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength that sometimes I don’t have any room or energy left to love those around me. My husband, on the other hand, feels God the most when he’s encountering and loving other people. We realized that together it forms a cross - vertical and horizontal.
Reflect: We need each other to call us out of our preferred ways of encountering God, to help us grow in the opposite direction too. You can’t have one without the other, otherwise you are out of balance.
Act: Which direction do you need to grow more in this Lent?
Prayer for Holiness
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love only what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy. Amen.
Saint Francis Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen