The only rule to be considered for human actions is that of love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God above all things, and thy neighbor as thyself”; magnificent law that recognizes three principles of human actions:

—the infinite love of God, immense, without limits;

—the love of the neighbor, approaching the love of God;

—finally, love for oneself, subordinate to the other two (and note well that the law has not prescribed love for oneself, because it is so innate that it needs neither to be clarified, nor to be modeled, nor to be ordered and commanded).

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Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Auguste Materne, April 19, 1831.

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Reflection:

  1. Just days before his 18th birthday, Frederic writes to his close friend Auguste Materne. Frederic is a young man in search of something, who wants to serve God faithfully, who only 3 years ago underwent a strong crisis of faith from which he came out reinvigorated. On the other hand, his brother Alphonse — with whom he always maintained closeness and intimacy — has just been ordained a priest (February 25). At this time Frederic is working as a trainee in a notary’s office in Lyon, although in just six months he will be on his way to Paris to begin his university studies.
  2. Frederic’s religious background is very good. He counted on the help of his mother Marie and his late sister Elisabeth (who died in 1820), as well as with Abbe Noirot, his philosophy professor at the College, to become a young believer — perhaps impetuous — but with a good heart. Materne, on the other hand, had doubts of faith; this, and his different political positions, were little by little moving him away from Frederic.
  3. Frederic reminds Materne of the foundation of our faith, which comes to us from Jesus: the account is in Matthew 22:34-40: the Pharisees, wanting to test Jesus, ask him which is the main commandment of the law. We already know the answer: Ozanam recalls it to Materne in this letter. And Jesus ends by saying, “These two commandments uphold the whole Law and the prophets.” No other rule is more important than love, and without love nothing else makes sense.
  4. Frederic adds a third implicit law: to love oneself. Because, in order to love our neighbor, we must love ourselves. Jesus does not say, you will love your neighbor instead of loving yourself, but as yourself! That is why love means seeking the good of the other.
  5. We must not forget, however, that Jesus went much further, when he spoke privately to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34 and also John 15:12). The measure of love is no longer “me”, it is Jesus: we must love as He loved. Difficult, no doubt, but that is the challenge.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Do I love myself, with all my faults and virtues, when I am standing and also when I fall?
  2. Is love the rule of my life, my faith, my following of Jesus Christ, my service to the needy?

Javier F. Chento
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