God created man and woman in His own image and likeness: calling them to existence through love and, at the same time, for love. God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.
The vocation to love, understood as true openness to our fellow human beings and solidarity with them, is the most basic of all vocations. It is the origin of all vocations in life. That is what Jesus was looking for in the young man when He said, “Keep the commandments.”
In other words: Serve God and your neighbor according to all the demands of a true and upright heart. And when the young man indicated that he was already following that path, Jesus invited him to an even greater love: Leave all and come, follow Me; leave everything that concerns only yourself and join Me in the immense task of saving the world. Along the path of each person’s existence, the Lord has something for each one to do.
Jesus asks us to follow him and to imitate Him along the path of love, a love that gives itself completely to others out of love for God: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The word “as” requires imitation of Jesus and of His love, of which the washing of feet is a sign: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for us by our own strength alone. We become capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. As the Lord Jesus receives the love of His Father, so He in turn freely communicates that love to His disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Christ’s gift is His Spirit, whose first “fruit” is charity: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
St. Augustine asks, “Does love bring about the keeping of the commandments or does the keeping of the commandments bring about love?” And he answers, “But who can doubt that love comes first? For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandments.”
Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept because what they demand is beyond our abilities. They are possible only as the result of a gift of God, who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by His grace: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”