Scripture: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God…The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away.” – CCC #1822 & 1825

Brothers and sisters, we have heard countless times the commandment of the Lord to love our neighbor as ourself, and then again to love others as Jesus loves us. But who exactly is our neighbor? Is it just the person, the family that lives next door to us, whom we already know? The simple answer is: everybody.

Everyone is our neighbor; whether they are standing next to us, or halfway across the world – everyone is our neighbor. Even family are neighbors. Even family members that we may be estranged from; family members that we have argued with forty years ago over who took their parking spot after shoveling a space for their car; or who ate the last of the turkey at Christmas.

As such, we are called – we are commanded to love them. It doesn’t matter how different or alike they are to us; it doesn’t matter if we consider them an enemy or not; and it doesn’t matter if they love us back or not. We are to love them as Jesus loves us – without conditions.
Loving unconditionally means just that – love – no matter what. And St. Paul has written what this unconditional love looks like in his Letter to the Romans (12:9-21): “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. Love one another with mutual affections; anticipate one another in showing honor…Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all…Do not look for revenge…Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus commands us to love our neighbor – to love each other for our own sakes. Not only because it makes our lives more pleasant and bearable, but because love is the key that unlocks the gates of Paradise. It is only love that can open the heavenly gates for each one of us.

During this Lenten season, let us work and pray to strengthen our relationship with our neighbor(s). It may not always be an easy process, but we are assured by the Lord (as He mentioned in the Beatitudes), that is will be worth it: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

In the words of St. Anthony, the Great: “From our neighbor are life and death. If we do good to our neighbor, we do good to God; if we cause our neighbor to stumble, we sin against Christ.”