Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul,
and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
If you have read the lives of the saints, you will notice a common theme. Oftentimes they meet some stranger, a mysterious person who is usually poor and in need, and in this meeting, they somehow encounter Jesus Christ and because of this, they are moved to sell off all their worldly possessions and follow Christ in a radical way.
Just as in folk tales, where the story begins, “Once upon a time…,” so nearly half of the biographies of saints typically begin with, “He first sold his estates and gave everything to the poor.” For an example, examine the conversion story of St. Martin of Tours. He started out his adult life as an imperial soldier of the Roman Empire. In 334 AD he crossed paths with a naked beggar, who was standing in the middle of the street, shivering and freezing cold.
Martin had a compassionate heart, so he took his cloak, cut it in half with his sword, and gave the man half of his cloak, keeping half for himself. This showed his charity and his prudence. Later, in a dream, Martin saw Christ wearing his half cloak and telling the angels that it was Martin who gave it to him. And with that awesome dream, Martin’s heart was set ablaze with love for Christ and for the poor.
There were many other saints who loved their neighbor as themselves. Dorothy Day, a friend of Mother Theresa, once wrote:
“In all bad times of luxury and corruption in the Church, there was always a St. Francis, a St. Anthony, a St. Benedict, a St. Vincent de Paul, a St. Theresa or a Therese on the scene.”
If we consider St. Theresa of Calcutta, we know that Our Blessed Savior gave Mother Theresa a mission of charity to serve the poorest of the poor. Mother Theresa has often been compared to St. Francis, but she is more like a St. Lawrence. Remember St. Lawrence? He was roasted alive in 258 A.D. for his impertinence before the Roman Emperor. After killing the Pope and the other Deacons of Rome the Emperor of Rome commanded the last Deacon of Rome, St. Lawrence to turn over the vast treasury, retinue and wealth of the Church. He came back three days later with the poorest of the poor and told the Emperor,
“These are the treasure of the Church.”
Mother Theresa desired that we could see in the poor the richness of Christ. When visitors would come to Calcutta she would take them to the sick and the dying and say,
“Behold Jesus in his distressing disguise.”
Mother Theresa’s devotion to the poor was greatly fostered by her devotion to her patron, St. Therese the Little Flower. We know St. Therese had deep devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus – that image of Jesus, crowned with thorns, bruised and battered. When Mother Theresa saw the face of a poor dying person in the street, she tried to see the Holy Face of Christ. And in this way, she would love her neighbor as herself. Centuries before the great doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom put it this way:
“Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore Him when He is naked. Do not pay Him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect Him outside where He suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is My Body’ is the same One who said… ‘Whatever you did to the least of My brothers you did also to Me.’”
Mother Theresa knew this same wisdom. She once said,
“In Holy Communion we have [the true presence of] Christ under the appearance of bread; in our work we find Him under the appearance of flesh and blood.”
Thus, in the greatest commandment, Christ commands:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’