By Rev. Fr. Mark Mkandawire
1st May, 2017

When, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment of
the Law, he responds by giving not one but two commandments: to love God with all our
heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  It is
clear therefore that love is the absolute foundation of Christian life and morality.  Yet it is
true that 'love' is a word that is frequently misunderstood.  It is sometimes used as a
synonym for sex but this is doubly wrong: for there is sex that is not loving and there is
love that is not sexual. Love can take many forms. There is the love between parent and
child, the love between brothers or sisters, the love between relatives, the love of home or
country. Social friendships and good relations with colleagues are important in life, though
we would not usually describe these as love.  There is, however, a friendship that is
profound and that we can have with only a few people who are very close to us. Here it is
possible to talk of love. The love of true friendship may be between members of the same
sex or between members of the opposite sex.  Friendship of this sort is a great value and
is always to be honoured and respected.

Love shows itself most characteristically when someone is suffering or in need. The
Gospel according to John tells us that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. When he
heard that Lazarus had died, Jesus wept.  He returned to Judaea and raised Lazarus
back to life even though he knew that by doing this he would attract further attention from
the authorities and place his own life in great danger (John 11:1-53). Jesus called his
disciples his friends and taught them that there is no greater love than to lay down your
life for your friends (John 15:13).

In order to love another person it is necessary to have that security that comes from
having been loved. This is why the love of parents is so important for a child's personal
development and growth. There is a wrong kind of self-love, a selfishness that is both
harmful to others and self-destructive, but there is also a right kind of self-love, a
self-respect that enables us to love others. It is from our first carers that we learn how to
love ourselves and how to love others in the right way. True self-love is not arrogant or
greedy but is honest and open hearted.

The scriptural phrase 'love tenderly' could also be translated 'love kindness' or 'love
steadfast love'.  This refers to the steadfast and generous love that God has for human
beings and that we all, as human beings, are called to show to one another. Through the
Gospel we are set free to love others, knowing that we ourselves are loved by God.  'In
this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to us' (1 John
4:10). Loving tenderly follows walking humbly because we must first be able to accept
love if we are truly to love others. Human love is thus both a gift of God and a sign of
God's presence.  It reflects the way that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are with and for each
other, three persons distinguished and united by mutual and equal relationships.  It is for
this reason that Scripture says, 'God is love and anyone who lives in love, lives in God' (1
John 4:16). As images of this divine reality, our noblest act is to give ourselves to another
person in love.  As Paul wrote, 'faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of
these is love' (1 Corinthians 13:13).