An unhelpful depiction of the Christian mystical life floats around in the Christian subconscious. The image runs like this: for someone to be truly holy, he or she must slowly become divorced from concern of the world. The paradigmatic example, in this depiction, is the hermit. He has removed himself from most social contact with the world, and he has time to focus on God alone. To some extent, each of us Christians have judged ourselves against what we see as a mystical “high bar.”
Our Gospel passage debunks this depiction of the mystical life. Jesus teaches us that the love of God is the greatest commandment we ought to follow. Giving our whole self in return to God is an act of gratitude to the one who has made creation for us to enjoy. The second greatest commandment is the love of neighbor. These loves are not mutually exclusive. In our Christian vocation, the two grow in us correlatively because we become like the one we love. In the activity of loving, we open ourselves to be concerned with another more than ourselves. When we love God, we become like God. We take on God’s concerns and God’s vision of the other persons in our lives. The apex of Christian mysticism is not other-worldly visions but seeing our world in another way.
The marks of our Lenten season echo the mutual growth of both love of God and neighbor. With our prayers and fasting, we recognize that God is the source of every gift we have received; everything that we are has come to us from God. Almsgiving and service to our sisters and brothers who need assistance develops in us God’s loving gaze. The poor are the most intimate concern for God. We are invited to make a similar commitment. Let us pray that this Lenten season increase in us a love that integrates both the desires of our heart—for God and for one another.
How has your love of God grown during this Lent? Your love for neighbor?