The following is a reconstruction of my sermon today in Oeynhausen, where I celebrated a so-called “Children’s Mass” (the parish priest being sick).
Dear children, in the Gospel that we just heard Our Lord Jesus tells us the two most important things for us to do: to love God, and to love each-other. And he tells us how we ought to love each-other. Perhaps one of you noticed, He says: “love thy neighbor as _____” As what? Did any of you catch it?
[Children make thinking faces. One little boy pips up: As yourself!]
Yes, exactly! As yourself. You should love other people the way you love yourself. But what does that mean? I remember when I was little boy— a little younger than you, I think— I was fighting with my sister, and I pulled her hair and made her cry, and my mother scolded me and said: “You should love your sister as yourself.” I wondered what that meant, and my mother explained that it meant I should treat my sister the way I would want her to treat me. “Ah,” said I, “then I will play football with her, because I would want her to play football with me.” But my sister did not want to play football.
What does it really mean to love other people the way you love yourself? There are two kinds of love. One kind of love is the love that I have for chocolate. I love chocolate. But this does not mean that I want to make chocolate happy, to give it joy, to give it good things. No, it means I want the chocolate to give me joy; I want to eat the chocolate and taste its sweetness. To love other people the way I love chocolate would not be enough. If I love other people by wanting them to give me good things, give me joy, make me happy, then I do not love them in the right way. But there is a second kind of love. It is the kind of love that I have for myself. I love myself, and this means that I want myself to have joy and happiness and good things. We all love ourselves in this way. All of us want to ourselves to happy and have joy and good things. Or, does one of you want yourself to be sad, and have nothing good? [a shaking of heads]. So this is what it means to love yourself. And so, to love your neighbor as yourself, means to love the other people that you know (your brothers and sisters, your parents, the other children in your school) in this way: to want to make them happy and give them joy and every good thing. Not to make them frown cry, but to make them smile and laugh.
This is the way that God loves you: He wants to give you joy and happiness, and He gives you every good thing that you have. Let us pray to God today, and ask Him to help us to love Him with our whole hearts, and to love each-other the way we love ourselves.