The love and service of God express themselves in the love and service of one’s neighbor.  St. John is very clear about that.  “Anyone who says, I love God, and hates his brother or sister is a liar, since those who do not love the brother or sister they can see cannot love God whom they have never seen.”  (I Jo. 4: 20)

What does the commandment of love of neighbor require?  Love of neighbor means, in the simplest terms, we must seriously want what is good for our neighbor.  In that sense everyone is lovable as an object of Christian charity.  That is, of course, very different from liking a person.  We certainly meet people who are not likable, persons lacking in qualities that would draw us to them in a positive way.  Yet we can love them in the sense of wanting their good.

Love of neighbor calls for interaction.   A merely verbal profession of love for  God or for all men and women remains empty unless one expresses that love  in action.   The parable of the Last Judgment   clearly illustrates what makes  our love real.

In his gospel St. John quotes Jesus (13: 35): “It is by your love for each other that you will be identified as my disciples.”  What kind of love is it that will identify us as disciples of Jesus?  It is the kind of love Jesus has for us.  He made that clear when he said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Jesus loved his disciples with both a human and a divine love.   Obviously, we cannot love our neighbor with a divine love.   It is the human love Jesus had for his disciples that we are challenged to imitate.

How did Jesus love his disciples?  He loved them selflessly.  He had nothing to gain by loving them.  He loved them sacrificially i.e. at enormous cost to himself.  He loved them understandingly i.e. as they really were with all their faults and weaknesses.  He loved them forgivingly.  He knew they would fail him in his moment of trial.  Yet he forgave them.  There was no failure he would not forgive.  What a daunting challenge, to think we are called upon to love like that!

Like all the challenges Jesus presents to his followers, the challenge to love one’s neighbor can only be met with the help of God’s grace.