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Why Is It Important to Love God First?

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus’ statement about the greatest commandment: “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” (Mt 22:37-39).

Why is it important to love God first? Is it not enough to love our neighbor?

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical DeusCaritas est [God is love] focused on this topic. It is a great reflection about love in its divine and human dimensions. He goes even deeper in his questioning, “Can love be commanded?” (DCE 18).

His answer can be illustrated with the following image. Love is like water that flows from the spring and fills the riverbed. If there is no spring, the river is a dry ditch and life will not flourish around it. This spring is not the human heart, but God’s love offered as a gift enabling us to love. “Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (DCE 1).

Love, therefore, begins in God’s love for us. If love is not “theological”, then is not fitting with the dignity of the human person as an image and likeness of God. Who I am is at stake in the way I love or do not love. This is why Benedict can also say: “God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives, and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are” (DCE 2).

As in the logic of Stewardship, love is first a gift. Love begins with the joyful experience of being loved. God loves me: I am worthy to be loved. God loves my neighbor: my neighbor deserves love. “Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first” (DCE 18).

Love of God has the primacy, and only God can ask us to love him with “all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). And as a consequence of this “theological” love, love of neighbor is possible. “It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God” (DCE 18).

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