“‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’
Jesus replied, ‘The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
At 19 years old, my understanding of and belief in God had been growing. I was going to mass daily, singing in the Catholic Cadet Choir, participating in a weekly bible study, and praying intentionally each day. Something was still missing, however. Even though I was growing, my heart was still partitioned. God was an important, perhaps even the most important, part of my life. But that was just it: God was only a part of my life. I put God in a well defined box and still held on to my goals, relationships, hurts, and weaknesses (and sins). I was still in control, or so I thought, and kept God as an ingredient of my “well balanced life.” I was even proud, to a degree, that God was the steamed broccoli on the plate of my life. My relationship with God contributed to my overall health and well being without being my all in all. God may have even become my first priority, but first among many many things.
That changed one night. I had borrowed my dad’s Bronco to drive some other cadets to a bible study and had just dropped them off at their dorm, Sijan Hall, afterwards. Sitting in the parking lot in the Bronco, it felt like a wave of insight washed over me. Not only did God love me, but God’s love for me could set me free. My fear of rejection, the need to be perfect, great ambitions, hidden weaknesses, hidden strengths, insecurity, and deep wounds were loved by God. He would not abandon me, but wanted to embrace all that I was. God didn’t just want to be a part of my life, but wanted to be part of every aspect of my life, every aspect of who I was. This was powerful and I invited God in. I surrendered and knew I was loved. I cried.
Jesus identifies the first commandment as the Shema, the prayer of love in response to the revelation of God’s unique oneness. In his own innovative development, Jesus connects that first commandment inherently to the second: love your neighbor. These somewhat independent commands from Jewish tradition Jesus unites in a new way that reveals even more to us about God and about ourselves. While it may not sound that earth shattering to us today, removed by two millennia from when these words were spoken, the truth here is no less revolutionary. God is love. Everywhere love is, there is God. The two great commandments are not arbitrary requirements from an all powerful God, as if he is a puppet master. They spring directly from the very nature of all reality, the truth of who God is and who we are. We love God because he first loved us. We love our neighbor because we were made in, for, and to love.
In that Bronco so many years ago, I experienced God’s love. In surrendering to that love, I experienced freedom. It was freedom to be who I was made to be. Freedom to love for real. I wish that had settled it, but I keep taking back parts of my life or excluding God from certain areas. It is not a one and done surrender. We have to do so every day and in every mass we are invited to give our all to God. We struggle and we need practice, but love holds us. We turn away, but love embraces. We are loved and we love because love, in God, is our destiny. Invite him in.