Stephen E. Robinson once said, “The heart and soul of the gospel is love, and all the rest is commentary. Whatever else we may perceive religion to be, we are wrong—for true religion is love in action—God’s love for us and our love for God and for our neighbors.” (Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News, 125.)
This is the same message Jesus wishes to tell us in the Gospel reading for the day: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30). “And your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27) is the first and most important. The two-fold commandment of love is the resume, condensation and fulfillment of all the laws of Moses and all the teachings of the prophets. In it all the other commandments are included and made one. Indeed, charity expresses all, contains all, and crowns all.
St Jerome hands down a tradition concerning the last years of St John’s life: when he was already a very old man, he used always say the same thing to the faithful: “My children, love one another!” On one occasion, he was asked why he insisted on this: “to which he replied with these words worthy of John: ‘Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if you keep just this commandment, it will suffice”‘ (“Comm. in Gal.”, III, 6, 10).
What are some of the implications of the two-fold commandment of love in our Christian faith and life?
First, it teaches us that the best distinguishing mark of what a Christian should be is charity. Every Christian must be convinced that God has first loved him or her and in return should also love God and His people. “The man without love has known nothing of God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:12).
Charity, therefore, is the sure mark of Christian, the way to recognize the genuine disciple of Jesus. “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).
Second, it teaches us that “Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification” (LG 42)” and the perfection of Christian life consists fundamentally in charity and that the soul of holiness is charity. Why? Because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14, Rom. 13:10), governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification. As St. Paul said: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love you neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm 13:8-10).
Apart from love no sacrifice, no offering, no worship, no conduct are holy, pleasing and acceptable to the Lord because the perfection of the Christian life consists principally and essentially in charity. It is the foundation, center and the summit of Christian life.
Third, it teaches us that charity is the sure route to salvation. “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64). We will be judged on the degree and quality of our love (cf. St. John of the Cross, “Spiritual Sentences and Maxims”, 57).
In the end, what really matters or decisive is how do we answer to the question of Christ: “What did you do to the least brethren of mine? Blessed are you when you “fed the hungry Christ, gave drink to the thirsty Christ, received the homeless Christ, clothed the naked Christ and visited the sick and the imprisoned Christ” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta) for Jesus will say: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brethren of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
In sum, “Charity is the greatest of all gifts, a sure route to holiness and salvation, and the identifying mark of the Christian: “the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of him. […] This is because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14, Rom. 13:10), governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification. Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of his neighbor” (Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, 42).
The man without love is like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1) and has known nothing of God for God is love (see cf. 1 Jn 4:7f). The one who has no love for his brother or sister he has seen cannot love God he has not seen. He is a liar because whoever loves God must also love his brother” (see 1 Jn 4:19-21). As Christ has loved us let us, therefore, love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God.