I will never forget the short passage in the New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism that described how God will judge us after we die: “… he will do it in a simple way. He will look in our hearts to find one thing — love.”
The catechism also states that those who die with very selfish hearts will be damned. Now, to be selfish doesn’t mean that we do not love at all. It means that we love our selves, our possessions and those we favour, but we do not really care about God or anyone else, especially those who displease us.
Jesus commands us to love everyone, and that includes people we don’t like. This is very difficult because most people are not easy to love. They are often pig-headed, unfriendly, ignorant, self-centered, crude, unappreciative, etc. We are all born selfish, states the catechism, and therefore the battle to achieve holiness is almost wholly a battle to overcome our inordinate self love — and this cannot done without God’s grace.
The devil knows all this. Therefore, he does everything in his power to keep us “acting in our own interest,” that is, acting selfishly. If a godless sinner becomes religious and gives up the sins of the flesh, the devil immediately appeals to that person’s self love. He is quite content to allow a person to attend church, pray, fast, etc., as long as that person remains prideful and self-centered. The devil usually succeeds because, as a rule, it is much more difficult for us to see the sins of the spirit than it is for us to see the sins of the flesh. We know when we’ve committed adultery, stolen something, lied, used foul language or physically assaulted someone (sins of the flesh). But we are usually blind to the fact that we are unloving, vindictive, prideful, hypocritical, unjustly critical, etc. (sins of the spirit). These latter sins, the sins of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, are rooted in inordinate self-love.
When people say that they love someone, they usually mean that they are fond of them. That is not a bad thing but that is not the kind of love that salvation requires. God wants us to love others in spite of how they may treat us and not just because they treat us well. That doesn’t mean we must become doormats or give others whatever they demand. Jesus didn’t allow Himself to be used and He knew how to stand up for Himself.
To love others means that we genuinely care about them. It is very easy to deceive our selves in this regard. Most people think that they are good, fair and giving, but remain essentially selfish. A popular song from the rock group Foreigner went like this, “I want to know what love is. I want you to show me…” If that writer of that song were a devout Christian, he would have known that God is love and that Jesus showed us His love on the cross. May His sacrifice be our constant inspiration.