Love, Every Moment — Wisdom from Immaculée Ilibagiza

In the end, as St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, love will be the measure of our lives. Nothing could be simpler than that.

Rwandan immigrant and genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza looks up after taking the oath of American citizenship at a naturalization ceremony on April 17, 2013, in New York City.
Rwandan immigrant and genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza looks up after taking the oath of American citizenship at a naturalization ceremony on April 17, 2013, in New York City. (photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

There is a famous principle developed by the medieval writer William of Ockham which states, in essence, that unnecessary complexity should be avoided. According to “Ockham’s Razor,” as the principle has come to be called, we should strip away whatever is unnecessary in our explanations for things. As a scientific principle, it has been used by such thinkers as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, but I’m interested in what Ockham’s Razor can tell us about how to live.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, a scholar of the law asks Jesus which is the “great commandment in the law.” Jesus’ response distills the law of God into two precepts: “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments depends the whole law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

To me, this is the “Ockham’s Razor” moment of the Gospels. Everything else we may be asked to do in our walk with God can be traced back to these first principles, which are simple but not simplistic.

Love is at the heart of everything we do as Christians. But how often do we hear this and think it’s too basic to be a real response to the challenges we face in our lives and in our world?

I asked Immaculée Ilibagiza this question during my interview with her for our Living the Quest series. Out of her experience of deep suffering during the Rwandan genocide came her profound realization that our world is broken because we fail to love God and one another as we should. And she helped me to understand that while it may be simple to say that loving well can heal the world, it isn’t simplistic.

So if we hear someone tell us that the answer to all the many problems we face in our world and in our lives is to love well and our immediate response is dismissive, it’s worth asking ourselves why.

Why do we wish for complexity when simplicity gives us everything we need to know? And more profoundly, why do we doubt that love has the power to rebuild and to heal?

In his beautiful little treatise, How to Converse with God, St. Alphonsus Liguori says that once we have resolved to love God with all our strength, our “only fear should be to fear God too much and to place too little confidence in him.” I think we doubt the power of love to work all things for good in our broken world because we let fear tell us lies.

If we wonder where this fear comes from, we can flip the pages of Scripture back to the very beginning. When God comes looking for Adam after the Fall, Adam tells God of his fear: “I heard thy voice in paradise, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Fear cuts us off from God and blocks the superabundance of his love and grace which he wants, more than anything, to give to us.

As an antidote to this kind of fear and woundedness, I love to meditate on Jesus’ invitation — which is really more of a directive, if we think about it — to become like little children: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). What does it mean to be like a child? When I think of my own children, especially when they were very young, two things immediately come to mind: their unshakeable trust, and their impulse to pour their little hearts out to me about anything and everything.

How often do we pour out our own hearts to God in this way? Probably not often. But in How to Converse with God, St. Alphonsus encourages us to do exactly this:

Our God delights in stooping down to converse with us, and he rejoices when we make known to him our most trivial everyday affairs. Such is his love and care for you that he seems to have no one else but you of whom to think.

We should never be afraid to approach him and to tell him everything that is in our hearts.

But we can’t do this without trust. Trust is the foundation of love. In his book The Way of Trust and Love: A Retreat Guided by St. Thérèse of Lisieux,” Father Jacques Philippe concludes his meditation in this way:

We must begin with faith and trust. For if we set out with a disposition of faith and trust, we will also have the light to see what conversion we are called to with regard to love.

When I asked Immaculée Ilibagiza how she found the grace to forgive the people who murdered her family (not to mention a million other members of her tribe), she said that it began with faith and trust in God, and then, as she meditated on the words of the “Our Father,” her heart was brought to a conversion of love.

What is the conversion of love that God is asking us to make in our own lives, especially during this holy season of Advent and Christmas? How can we love more deeply, more generously, every moment? Because, in the end, as St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, love will be the measure of our lives, and nothing could be simpler than that.