As Christians, we are often told to love God. But have we ever seriously reflected on what we are told? We all know what it means to love another person. We want them safe from harm; we wish them good things; we care and hope for their best and certainly, we would like them to acknowledge our love and love us in return. But what does it mean to love God and how, since He is intangible?
In today's First Reading of the Old Testament, God gives instructions to the Israelites of how to behave correctly towards the poor and the needy. Those were practical deeds that should be carried out in their daily lives. In the Gospel, applying the basic principle of the Mosaic Law, Jesus replies the Pharisee's question about the “greatest commandment” by citing Dt 6:5, the Shema-prayer (Hear, O Israel which the Jews recite daily). In addition, He also evokes to the second commandment, equal in importance by citing Lv 19:18 “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. By “neighbour”, Jesus means not just a fellow Israelite anymore, but anyone, especially towards those in need (rf Lk 10:29-33). This second commandment, echoing the Old Testament's command of being charitable, is in fact the epitome of how to love God as St John in his letter stated very clearly, “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercise, makes two points. Firstly, true love is accompanied by deeds rather than just words, that is, true love proves its words in actions. Secondly, lovers show their love by giving gifts to each other. Perhaps we can employ these two principles to what we have been told about loving God. First and foremost, if we are to love God, we should show that love by fulfilling our words with deeds. Then, our love for God should be demonstrated by the gifts we return to Him, that is, all that He has given us.
Upon a closer look, these two principles are in fact one in essence and can be carried out as one at the same time just like what Jesus had summed up for the Pharisees with the two commandments. In his first letter, St. Peter says, “As generous distributors of God's manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received” (1 Peter 4:10). So if we have been given wealth, give generously to those who are less fortunate; if we have received good health, render care to those who are sick; if we have time, share it with those who need our attention and if we are gifted with talents, use them well for the benefits of others. What those gifts are, we return to God through helping others. In this case, we not only “fulfilled the law” , but give glory to our Father in heaven by our good works and thus accomplishing what we are told to love God (rf Rom 13:8; Mt 5:16).