“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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Sacred Scripture teaches us that love for God and neighbor (to be understood not only as our actual neighbors, but as our fellow human beings) can never be separated, and these two are considered the greatest commandments. What exactly is love, and how are the two “loves” – love of God and neighbor – interrelated and inseparable?
Love, simply put, is consistently willing the good of the other. To will and choose our neighbor’s good not only includes goods such as health, happiness, and salvation; we should also desire to give our very selves. “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). This explains the meaning and importance of communion and covenant. Marriage can be understood as a covenant, the combination of both willing the good of another and the total gift of self. Because God loved us so much, Jesus was willing to give up Himself – and die horribly on a Cross – for our salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
To love God – since He is pure goodness itself – therefore means to love what God loves, which is, of course, our neighbor’s good. We also love God through obedience, for Jesus said that whoever loves Him will keep His commandments (John 14:21). In this way, we are giving our very selves to God, and He will have our hearts. Another way to give ourselves to God is to give ourselves to our neighbor. Jesus says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). To love God means to love our neighbors, and to love our neighbors means to love God. Therefore, we have come to a full circle.
Love for our neighbors and love for God are inherently interrelated to each other. This is why, it seems, that the Cross is often called the symbol of love. The horizontal beam represents our love for our neighbors; the vertical represents our love of God and our relationship with Him. The higher we move in our relationships with each other, the higher we move in our relationship with God. The higher we move in our relationship with God, the higher we move in our relationships with each other. This is why Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).