Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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“Teacher, which commandment in the law is greatest? He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

There is no doubt that love is the answer. But love is also the problem. What is love? Love is a many-splendored thing. It has many different meanings. It can mean lust and it can mean self-sacrifice. In marriage it means everything. In tennis love means nothing. In the rest of life it can mean anything. We love oranges, pizza and football. Love is the most misunderstood and misused word in the language.

How can love be commanded? Love has an inner dynamic of its own so why do we need a commandment? These are questions I have struggled with for years.

The answer to these questions is that there are two kinds of commandments. One is a commandment that comes from outside, from the will of someone else. The other is a commandment that comes from within from the very nature of the thing itself. There are two ways we can be lead to do something or not do it, from something intrinsic or from something extrinsic, by restriction or by attraction. The Commandments, lead us from without with the threat of punishment. Love leads us to love from within by an interior impulse, by attraction.

First of all the Commandments do not destroy free will. In the presence of these laws we are still free to obey or refuse to obey. The Commandment gives us an added motivation and incentive. Jesus is the greatest motivational speaker of all times. He knew how to use the carrot as well as the stick.

Secondly, love does not identity the object to be loved. When we are hungry we want bread, when thirsty we look for water. We are attracted by many other things at the same time and there is the danger that we may choose the lesser good. We are supposed to love people and use things but often we reverse that and love things and use people to get the things we love. The commandment identifies for us the object we are to love.

Thirdly, to will once is not to will forever as we see daily in the divorce courts. On the wedding day they said, “I do.” And they mean it. In the divorce court they say, “I won’t” and they really mean it.

Only when love is commanded is love guaranteed without alteration. In marriage for example, the young couple really do love each other at the time of the wedding. But the covenant, vow, insures that this love will last until death. The more we know human nature the more we realize that love is variable, and that making the sacrifices necessary to preserve the love makes the love mature and grow stronger.


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