In my apartment, I am intentional about what art I display. I want my home to reflect what speaks to my heart as well as be an inviting, warm space to whoever enters. Above the kitchen table hangs a hand-painted blue and white sign that reads, “Love God. Love People.”
The fullness of Jesus’ message is captured in these four words. In the end, it all boils down to love of God and love of neighbor.
In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus completely throws the religious leaders of his day by telling them that fulfillment of Mosaic Law is loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself. (22: 34-38) All of a sudden, the 616 laws for a “right relationship with God” are turned on their head when Jesus throws this curveball at them. Scandalized by such an offensive idea, the Pharisees and Sadducees continue to plot against Jesus and his teachings.
The 2021 world we live in today is wrought with divisiveness, shaming language and a severe lack of respect and kindness. There is a level of tension bubbling in the culture we have never seen before. The religious legalism of Jesus’ time is sadly still found and experienced within Catholicism. For these and other reasons, there is a greater need now more than ever for us as disciples of Jesus to be driven by the theological virtue of love.
Love, a word easily overlooked and forgotten, is the greatest virtue, according to Saint Paul: “But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13) These are some practices I incorporate in my life as a single woman to help me tangibly live out the greatest commandment of Jesus.
Monday: Use peoples’ names
One of the most striking lessons my dad taught me as a little girl was to thank people in service roles by name. We were in the check-out line at Meijer’s one day and my dad thanked the young man who bagged our groceries by his name. As we walked away, I remember what he said: “Always remember to thank these people. They often go unnoticed and are not acknowledged. You do not know the difference that could make in their day.”
To this day, I still thank the people in service roles I encounter: grocery baggers, the teenager working the Arby’s drive-through, restaurant servers, etc. Using a person’s name is a simple way for them to feel seen, known and loved.
Tuesday: A handwritten note
There is something special and loving about receiving a handwritten note or card from a friend. One of the ways I seek to love people in my life is by sending them a special card or note for their birthday.
Look at this current month. Which of your friends, coworkers, or family members is having a birthday? Write out a note, letter or birthday card. Share what you most love, admire and respect about this person. Tell them what they mean to you in your life. Celebrate the gift he or she is in your life.
Wednesday: Loving the difficult people
It would be all sweet and dandy if we only had to love our neighbors we liked, am I right? However, the radical way of Jesus demands that we love our enemies—the people, neighbors, coworkers or family members—we do not love or find it very difficult to love. You know who I mean. The people who vote differently than you. Those who share very different beliefs or ideas. People who have hurt you or you find it difficult to forgive. The list goes on.
Ask Jesus who the people in your life are who you find it too difficult to love. Sit with that knowledge in the stillness—even if it makes you very uncomfortable. How is Jesus inviting you to love them right where they are? Because that is our calling, to love them right where they are, unloveable traits and all.
Thursday: Intention prayer calendar
While my father was dying, he and my mom began a new tradition of picking a different person or situation each day of the month to pray for and offer up his physical suffering. The president, local priests, Archbishop Vigneron, those who are lonely or have no hope, the homeless, my siblings and our futures, people battling addictions, you name it. Kevin and Sheila had it covered until the day my dad died. My parents practiced the virtue of love in a hidden way known only to Jesus through the suffering they walked together.
Make an intention prayer calendar for yourself this month. Pray for each person or situation every day of the month. Consider if there is an additional way you can love this person as you pray for them.
Friday: Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Someone in my life recently taught me this practice as another to love and pray for people and situations in a hidden way. At the point of the Chaplet when you pray, “Have mercy on us and on the whole world,” you instead offer a different petition each time.
I am all about ways I can pray for and love people I may never meet or encounter. It helps remind me there is a much bigger world outside my tiny human realm that needs to experience the grace and compassion of Jesus Christ. We may not be able to tangibly change every situation around the world, but we can always pray. This is one way you and I can do that. Already this practice is helping me more thoughtfully pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, while reminding me of people and situations God wants on my radar.
Saturday: Be neighborly
Growing up, we never really knew the neighbors who lived near us. As I have gotten older and matured in my faith, I’ve become convinced a simple way to be Jesus in the world is by loving those nearest to us, the neighbors around our physical homes.
Do you even know your neighbors? Their names, family or anything about them?
Brainstorm some creative ways to get to know your neighbors. You can start simple by delivering a package of homemade cookies with a thoughtful note. Or maybe you can offer to help with shoveling or grass cutting. Start small and build upon that. Love is expressed in words and actions. Let’s be aware of the importance of both in the different places God has placed us.
Sunday: Weekly Holy Hour
There have been times in my life where this practice was stronger than others. I am working to get back to the practice of having a weekly date with Jesus at Adoration.
Part of the commandment of love Jesus leaves us is to love God above all things, with all our heart, mind and strength. We cannot love Jesus more if we never set aside time to be with him. It is the uncomfortable truth each disciple must acknowledge. We need Jesus in every situation and relationship in our lives.
We need to set aside time each week to be with Jesus. Adding the practice of a weekly holy hour to your life is a powerful way to love Jesus more, but more importantly, to allow him to love you.