"Seeking Union with God" Online Spiritual Formation Program
Lesson #1: Discovering Our Ultimate Purpose
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Lesson #2: Our Ultimate Decision
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Lesson #3: An Introduction to Prayer
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Lesson #4: Meditation
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Lesson #5: Problems and Progress in Prayer
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Lesson #6: Growing in Holiness and Virtue
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Lesson #7: Renewing Our Mind
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Lesson #8: Your Own Spiritual Rule of Life
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Lesson #9: Stages of the Spiritual Life
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Lesson #10: The Mass and Sacraments
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Lesson #11: Loving God and Neighbor
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Lesson #12: Discernment
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End of Course

"Seeking Union with God"
Personal Spiritual Formation Program

Lesson #11:
How to Love God and Our Neighbor


"Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, Nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the Lord is their joy; God's law they study day and night. They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers."
Psalm 1:1-3

The Goal of the Spiritual Life is Love of God and Neighbor

We've taken some time to reflect on the first commandment in lesson #1 of this course. Now we're going to cover a general overview of how to love God and our neighbor based on the 10 commandments and the teachings of Scripture. In the New Testament Jesus talked about how the two greatest commandments are to love God above all things, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) Jesus said if we do this, we will be fulfilling the law and the prophets.

"The Ten Commandments state what is required in the love of God and love of neighbor. The first three concern love of God, and the other seven love of neighbor..." CCC #2067

Reading Assignment: Below are the 10 commandments with links to comments and teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I encourage you to click on each link and read the whole section for each commandment. (If you don't have time to read through the entire section for each commandment, at least read the "In Brief" section at the end of each commandment.) You might want to take notes if you see some ways to improve on loving God or your fellow human beings (i.e. your neighbor).

The first 3 commandments tell us how to we are to love God:

First Commandment:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength"
Deut 6:5.
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them."
Ex 20:2-5; cf. Deut 5:6-9. Click here.

Second Commandment:
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."
Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11. Click here

Third Commandment:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work."
Ex 20:8-10; cf. Deut 5:12-15. Click here

The 4th-10th commandments tell us how to love our neighbor:

Fourth Commandment:
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you."
Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16. Click here

Fifth Commandment:
"You shall not kill."
Ex 20:13; Cf. Deut 5:17. Click here

Sixth Commandment:
"You shall not commit adultery."
Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18. Click here

Seventh Commandment:
"You shall not steal."
Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19. Click here

Eighth Commandment:
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
Ex 20:16; cf. Deut 5:20. Click here

Ninth Commandment:
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."
Ex 20:17. Click here

Tenth Commandment:
"You shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor's. . . . You shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."
Ex 20:17; Deut 5:21. Click here

The Psalms tell us some of the blessings of keeping God's laws:

Psalms 119:1-2: "Happy those whose way is blameless, who walk by the teaching of the LORD. Happy those who observe God's decrees, who seek the LORD with all their heart."

Psalm 119: 10-19: "With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commands. In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your laws. With my lips I recite all the edicts you have spoken. I find joy in the way of your decrees more than in all riches. I will ponder your precepts and consider your paths. In your laws I take delight; I will never forget your word.Be kind to your servant that I may live, that I may keep your word. Open my eyes to see clearly the wonders of your teachings. I am a sojourner in the land; do not hide your commands from me."

Psalm 119:24, 27: "Your decrees are my delight; they are my counselors...Make me understand the way of your precepts; I will ponder your wondrous deeds."

Psalm 119:33-35: "LORD, teach me the way of your laws; I shall observe them with care. Give me insight to observe your teaching, to keep it with all my heart. Lead me in the path of your commands, for that is my delight."

Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path."

We've talked a lot about loving God in this course and how ultimately that means doing God's will. How does loving our neighbor fit in? The more we love God, the more we will love our neighbor. They go hand in hand. The Bible says that if we do not love our neighbor who we can see, then we are not loving God either. Love of neighbor is a litmus test of how much we actually do love God.

What it means to love our neighbor

While we to seek to please God in all we do as part of loving God, this doesn't necessarily apply in the same way to loving people. Loving our neighbor isn't the same as "pleasing" our neighbor (as in being a "people-pleaser"). It isn't the same as being "nice", even though we can try to be as nice and pleasant as we can. It does mean doing what is really good for others and not just focusing on ourselves. The second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. Love is not just a feeling. It means really caring about others as we care about ourselves.

Sometimes loving our neighbor means doing what is good for our neighbor whether they like it (or realize it yet) or not. For example, in parenting our children sometimes we need to do something our child doesn't like in order to be a good parent and to do what is best for our child. The same thing can apply to a spouse, friend or co-worker. It might mean correcting someone in love and with a gentle spirit. "Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted." Galations 6:1

In loving our neighbor, we seek to do what is right and to please God, whether or not people will be happy about it or not. Loving our neighbor doesn't necessarily mean making them happy. We can explain things in as loving a way possible and pray for others, but we don't let others determine what we will do if it is not in accord with what God wants us to do.

We have a lot of pressure in our society to not follow God's ways. We need to ask for God's grace to be able to do what is right given all the temptations to do what is wrong. We need to ask God's grace not to give into peer pressure and instead to seek to please God first and foremost.

Even if some of the people in our life are not happy with us, and even if they threaten to leave us because of God, God will never abandon us. God will send people into our lives to help us and to love us, but it might not always be the people we hoped would do so. Even Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. We also might be surprised that some of the people in our life who we thought might ridicule us or desert us for deciding to follow Jesus, might end up respecting us and being drawn to God and us even more than they were before.

Even when we feel that certain people won't like us to follow Jesus and the teachings of our faith, when we do what is right, we may find we end up bringing some of these people to Christ and the Church by our love, good example, and prayers. The Saints lives are a testimony to this. They brought many people to Christ. Even some of those who persecuted them came around in the end as a result of their love and steadfastness.

Focusing too much on ourselves

Some of us have the opposite problem. Instead of focusing on pleasing others above pleasing God, some of us focus on ourselves and pleasing ourselves. If this is the case, then moving a little in the other direction would be good for us in order to love our neighbor AS we love ourselves. If we focus too much on ourselves, we should try to develop compassion and empathy and seek to do what we can to improve the lives of those around us. This isn't the same as seeking to please others and doing what others want. We are to love others as Christ loves them and do things that are really good for them. To develolp more empathy we can ask ourselves how we would feel if we were going through what someone else is going through and ask how we might help. We can pray and ask Jesus to show us how to love others in action as He would if He were here. We can begin by making little sacrifices for others. Calling to mind Jesus words might help us to see how important it is to treat others with love. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” Matthew 25:40

Optional reading assignment: Speech of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC, February 3, 1994

We are to treat others with love even when we are not loved in return

1 Peter 3:8-17, "Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. For: 'Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit, must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and follow after it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears turned to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against evildoers.' Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil."

Ephesians 4:29-32, "No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ."

"Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7

The Corporal Works of Mercy
1 Feed the Hungry
2 Give drink to the thirsty
3 Clothe the naked
4 Shelter the homeless
5 Comfort the imprisoned
6 Visit the sick
7 Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy
1 Admonish sinners
2 Instruct the uninformed
3 Counsel the doubtful
4 Comfort the sorrowful
5 Be patient with those in error
6 Forgive offenses
7 Pray for the living and the dead

Jesus "new commandment" goes beyond the "Golden Rule"

Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you." John 13:14

We know that Jesus gave His life for us. Even though we might not be asked to die for someone as Jesus did, He wants us to love others with this same type of sacrificial love that He has for us.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15: 12-13

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it." Ephesians 5:25

"But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:44 -48

St. Therese of Lisieux (also known as the Little Flower) as she neared her own death, summed up the most important thing in life when she said,
"It is Love alone that counts."

Summary: We seek to love and please God above all things, and we love our neighbor by doing what is right for our neighbor for God's sake without needing people to be happy with us or love us in return. This doesn't mean we don't want people to be happy with us or love us. It just means we don't allow ourselves to make their approval more important than God's approval. When we need people to approve of us that need will control us, and we'll end up losing our focus of pleasing God alone and doing what is right. We are to love our neighbor as Jesus loved us with a sacrificial love. Scripture teaches us how we are to love God and our neighbor. The 10 commandments give us some specifics on how to do this.

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©2010 Kathryn Marcellino. Please do not forward these lessons to others.
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