The second reading at Mass tomorrow – the first Sunday of Advent – comes from the earliest of the writings of New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.
Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
The two key principles of Christian life are the love of God and the love of neighbour. The reading above touches on both, but especially the second. Love of neighbour, the ‘whole human race’, is to be our way to holiness
Sometimes we focus on love of God and love of neighbour as our obligation, and true enough they are. But here we are reminded that the love of God is first and foremost something we receive, long before we are able to respond to it. Same too, really, with love of neighbour – we benefit from the love and care of so many long before we have the chance to show love and care in our turn.
Paul speaks of his love for the Church and its members (and surely not only the Thessalonians!), and of the Lord’s love.
Soon we will be celebrating the greatest of gifts, the birth of Jesus, the Christ, God with us. First the Church looks to her way of life and takes stock. We count our blessings and we consider afresh how we respond to the Lord’s call to live love.
Mosaic of St Paul arriving in Europe, in Thessalonika. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.