Essential Words about Love

Pope Francis’ New Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti    

In Jewish traditions . . . we encounter the command not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you . . .  In the first century before Christ, Rabbi Hillel states: “This is the entire Torah. Everything else is commentary.”  The desire to imitate God’s own way of acting gradually replaces the tendency to think only of those nearest us: “The compassion of human beings is for their neighbour, but the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings.”

In the New Testament, Rabbi Hillel’s precept is expressed in positive terms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; this is the law and the prophets.”  This command is universal in scope, embracing everyone on the basis of our shared humanity, since the heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good.”

In the oldest texts of the Bible, we find a reason why our hearts should expand to embrace the foreigner. It derives from the enduring memory of the Jewish people that they themselves had once lived as foreigners in Egypt:

“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not take what is left; it shall be for the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt,”

 

The call to fraternal love echoes throughout the New Testament:

“For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”

“Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness.”
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.”
“Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

 

Yet this call to love could be misunderstood.  Saint Paul, recognizing the temptation of the earliest Christian communities to form closed and isolated groups, urged his disciples to abound in love “for one another and for all.”

In this context, we can better understand the significance of the parable of the Good Samaritan:  love does not care if a brother or sister in need comes from one place or another.  For “love shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate; in their place, it builds bridges.  Love enables us to create one great family, where all of us can feel at home ¼  Love exudes compassion and dignity.”

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Pope Francis’ New Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti can be found on the Vatican web site.

The above text – focusing on love – is edited from paragraphs 59-62 by Lloyd Baugh SJ.