It is tempting to jump into action after hearing the great Gospel command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But we cannot overlook the simile of this command: as yourself. We cannot give what we don’t have. We cannot love if we have not experienced love. St. Ignatius recognized this in the format of his Spiritual Exercises. Before we contemplate the life of Christ in week two (of the Spiritual Exercises), and how to best respond to the gift of God’s love in weeks three and four, we have to experience healing from our own guilt and shame during week one.

God’s love abounds for us and is the same love that extends from us toward others. But, until we recognize and truly experience that mercy, we won’t be able to fully share it with others. In this Year of Mercy, how can you live out the Gospel commandment to better love yourself?

Sarah Otto received her M.Div from Boston College. She currently serves as director of the Newman Catholic Center in Chico, CA.