At first glance it seems that the words of Jesus in the Gospel are a contradiction of St. Paul’s words "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law". Jesus talks about the need of turning one’s back on parents, spouse & children, brothers and sisters. Yet Jesus is using a typical Semitic way of making a point by exaggeration: He wants to emphasize that nothing and no one can stand in the way of our Christian duty to love one another.
And yet sometimes, we stand in the way! Part of St. Paul’s statement today is cited by Jesus in the Gospels, and is based on the Book of Leviticus: "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…" Perhaps some of us have difficulty with that statement, "as yourself" — for we often zero in on the first part about loving our neighbor and forget the last two words! Indeed, true love as witnessed by Jesus includes a genuine love of self. If we look down on ourselves (a false humility?), we will likely find it impossible to reach out to others with a gracious and sincere love, or to relate to God in a mature way.
The month of November encourages us to look to the lives of those who have gone before us: "official" saints, and those "everyday" saints. Each in their own way witnesses to the fact that a life of love as a disciple of Jesus includes loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves – no dimension can be downplayed or skipped!
Today, as you seek to follow Jesus Crucified, why not "do" one specific act of love for yourself? Treat yourself to something you really enjoy: a walk amongst the autumn leaves, a quiet time after supper, your favorite meal or drink, a phone call to a family member / friend, etc. Your Christian love will grow, freed from personal limitations.
"Jesus, help us live all the words of your commandment of love."
Fr. John Schork, C.P. is the local leader of the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky.