Jesus said the whole law (and there were about 897 of them at that point) and the prophets, too, are summed up in the two great commandments: “to love God with your whole heart and your whole soul and to love your neighbor just as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). It’s almost too simple, and yet as you well know, it’s almost too hard. It’s sadly easier to just obey laws and to live inside of an always defeating reward/punishment system. Somehow a win/win worldview where God wins and the soul wins too—is largely unbelievable…until you experience and allow God’s grace.
True spiritual encounter changes you at a deep and unconscious level. Henceforth, the most important thing is to grow deeper and deeper in love. What spurs you on in that journey into love is actually the constant experience of your own un-love. You can now see your impatience, irritation, or self-centeredness. Paul called these the “thorns in the flesh to keep me from getting too proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7). You will have them until the end of your life. They allow you to love God and others by reason of a Larger Love flowing through you, not because “you” are doing it right or even know how to love!
Francis of Assisi granted all of reality, even elements and animals, an intimate I-Thou relationship. He called all things “sister” and “brother.” This could be a definition of what it means to be a contemplative, which is to look at reality with much wider eyes than mere usability, functionality, or self-interest, but with inherent enjoyment for a thing in itself as itself. Remember, as soon as your loving needs or wants a reward in return, you have backed away from divine love, which is why even our common notion of a “reward in heaven” can keep us from the actual love of God or neighbor! A pure act of love is its own reward, and needs nothing in return. Love is shown precisely in an eagerness to love.
Francis moved beyond the world that most of us inhabit. He rebuilt the spiritual life on “love alone” and let go of the lower-level needs of social esteem, security, self-image, and manufacturing of persona. Remember, when your only goal is love, especially love of God, you really cannot fail.