What is love? Each of us probably has our own understanding of love, as well as varying experiences of loving or being loved. We need love as much as we need the air we breathe.  So, it’s important to ask ourselves: what is love?  Is it just an emotion, or a virtue?  Is it chemistry or a psychological commitment, or is it a rational decision?  As Catholics we will find the answer by looking to Jesus and his teachings.  And, as you know, Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, so we can look to Sacred Scripture as well.  As I’m sure you are all aware, the Ten Commandments teach us how to love.  The first three tell us how to love God – by recognizing that he is, indeed, God, by speaking his name only with respect and honor, and by keeping holy the Sabbath.  The last seven commandments teach us how to love our neighbor – by honoring our parents and not lying or stealing or killing or committing adultery or being jealous.  Our first reading from the Book of Exodus follows very closely after God presents the Ten Commandments to his people at Mount Sinai.  The reading that we hear today speaks of love in very practical terms in respect to a stranger, a widow or an orphan, or on the occasion of lending money and taking someone’s cloak as collateral.  These are just a few of the 613 commandments that the Israelites had developed to flesh out the Ten Commandments.  Unfortunately, some of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time focused on strict adherence of the temple laws – especially those that dealt with sacrifices – because that would bring them income.  They didn’t care about loving their neighbor; they just loved themselves.

This brings us to Jesus and the Gospel message of today: the greatest commandment.  Quizzed by one of the Pharisees, Jesus does two things. First, he answers their question with an affirmation of the Jewish law.  Jesus knew the significance of this first and most important law – the love of God – taken from Chapter 6 of the Book of Deuteronomy, and known as the Shema, the prayer that is recited even today – twice each day – by faithful Jews (Dt: 6:4-9).  Then, with authority, Jesus links their most important law – love of God – to the love of neighbor.  This challenged the Jews – as it does us – to realize that “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” as we hear explained so well in the First Letter of John.  And, this link that Jesus made between love of God and love of neighbor would rile the Jewish leaders of the day because they were not caring for their people; rather they were taking advantage of them.  Jesus understood that by doing his Father’s will and speaking with authority, he would face opposition from many of the religious leaders of his day.  However, this did not stop him from carrying out the Father’s will because of his great love for God and his great love for us.  As in all things, Jesus gives us an example to follow in love.  Are we ready to love as he taught us?

As you consider how you would answer that question, listen again to the listing of the characteristics of love that St. Paul provides in his first letter to the Corinthians; we’re all familiar with it.  Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7).  This listing of characteristics of love provides us all with a good yardstick to use in our everyday lives as we strive to love as Jesus taught us.

In our daily lives, it is so important for us to live in God’s love.  Everything we have is a gift from God and we should be grateful that God has given them to us without being boastful or arrogant.  And, as we rejoice, we should, with patience, understanding and forgiveness, help others around us to be grateful as well.

As we observe Stewardship Sunday in our parish this weekend, we are all reminded how we live our love, by sharing our time, talent and treasure.  I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who are so generous in offering your time and talents in so many ways for the good of our parish and so many others in our neighborhood and around the world and for your generous financial support of our parish.  It is, after all, what we are called to do once we proclaim, “I believe.”

This is how we, who believe, continue to share God’s love in our world today.  In this morning’s second reading, we hear St. Paul testify to the fact that he and his companions have been able to plant the word of God among them.  This great act of love on their part had led some of the Thessalonians to accept the faith and belief in Jesus.  But, this was not easy.  St. Paul and his companions faced ridicule and strong opposition to their efforts from both the Jewish community there that was not ready to accept this challenge to love everyone and the other inhabitants of the town.  You will recall that Thessalonica was a port city and most of the merchants were interested only in making money for themselves, even if it meant being dishonest.  In spite of the opposition Paul and his companions faced, they persevered.  Their efforts provide an example of true love, that is, when one pours oneself out for others in spite of adversity.  It’s an example we are called to follow in our own lives.

Whether we are at home, at work, at school or in our neighborhoods, we show our love for God by loving one another.  So, what is love?  Jesus gives us the answer as he teaches us to love God and love our neighbor.