In the Gospel of St. Matthew Chapter 22 Jesus is asked, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He replies, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” 

Do you know that you are loved? It’s true! God loves you so much that He sent His Son to be crucified for our sins.

This may seem like a very elementary catechism, but how many of us fail in both loving God and ourselves? How many of us truly put God first? How many of us love ourselves enough that we convey that to our brothers and sisters in Christ? We are made in the likeness of God and are therefore inherently good.

It is our sin that separates us from God and knowing His true, unconditional love for us. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money focusing on how to change ourselves to appear more attractive to others, and we lose sight of who we should be focused on, our creator.

When our relationship with God weakens from our sin, we risk moving further away from remembering His absolute love. We may begin to concern ourselves with what our friends, family, coworkers and even strangers think of us. We may allow their influence to decide for us whether we are worthy. God doesn’t care how pretty or rich you are or how many followers or likes you have on social media.

If we forget that we are made in the likeness of God and allow ourselves to believe that we are not loved, how can we then expect to love others and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve? Our dignity as humans comes directly from God. It does not come from possessions or accomplishments. Understanding that we are loved and embracing being made in God’s image help us to fully grasp our dignity as human beings. Once we accept this and value our worth in Christ and the gifts He has offered to us, then we can treat others with the same respect.

God speaks to us through scripture, He speaks to us through the Mass and asks us to unite ourselves with the body, blood, soul and divinity of His Son, Jesus Christ. Attending Mass weekly strengthens our commitment to love God more fully. Our bond with Him is reinforced as we take in the Word of God while listening to scripture, when we join as a Holy Catholic Church to pray the Our Father, give the Sign of Peace to one another and together walk forward to receive Jesus Christ’s body.

As we receive Him, we are fed by Him and He changes us, and we know that we truly are His sons and daughters. We cannot transform ourselves by our own power. Just as simple bread and wine are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too is our soul transformed into the image of Christ. The food we eat nourishes our body, receiving Jesus at Mass feeds the depths of our soul and increases the grace we received at our baptism.

This increase in grace is not only our defense against sin but our link to the Body of Christ — to His people, our brothers and sisters. Remaining close to God helps us to engage in humanity on a deeper level than identifying worth in accomplishments, looks or money.

It is not always easy to do this. But our loving Father has given us grace that works within us and has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that when we fail to love Him completely, to love ourselves or to love our neighbor we can repent and reconcile with Him.

Remember to be kind and show mercy to yourself as God does to each of us. When we love ourselves as God’s beloved children, we can’t help but follow the two greatest commandments — to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself.

— Valerie Parzyck is director of religious education and youth ministry at St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington.

—Originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.