I think you might agree with me when I say that the word ‘love’ is the most overused, misused and abused word in the English language. We flip around so easily it has lost its meaning. We say we love this or that when what we really mean is we admire something, desire something, envy something but we really don’t love.
Today the church puts before us all the demanding, challenging, frightening words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we look at our history as Christians we don’t have a very good track record keeping this great commandment. Through the centuries we’ve slaughtered one another in the name of Christ. Nations have been torn apart as Catholics battle Protestants and vice versa and both sides claim the name Christian. In the name of Christ we’ve made crusades against the Moslems and done battle with other religions. A far cry from” love one another as I have loved you.”
We need only look at the crucifix to see the depth of the love of Christ for each of us. The crucified Christ is the love of God made visible. As our second reading tells us “in this is love, not our love for God but God’s love for us when he sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
On one occasion Jesus told us that it’s easy to love those who love us, to do good to people who are good to us but the real test comes when we are faced with the challenge of loving those who do not love us, love those who do us harm. It is good to remember that Jesus loved Judas with the same love with which he loved Peter and James and John. It is good to remember that being loved is a gift and not something we earn. As Jesus reminds us, “ I chose you, you did not choose me.”
The author Ron Rolheiser offers this reflection on the demanding law of love:
“It’s easy to consider ourselves as loving if we only look at one side of things, namely, how we relate to those people who are loving, warm, respectful, and gracious towards us. If we rate ourselves on how we feel about ourselves in our best moments among like-minded friends, we can easily conclude both that we are loving persons and that we are measuring up to Jesus’ command to love as he did.”
He goes on to say:
“But if we begin to look at the skeletons in our relational closets, our naive confidence soon disappears: What about the people who hate us, whom we don’t like? What about the people whom we avoid and who avoid us? What about those people towards whom we feel resentment? What about all those people with whom we are at odds, towards whom we feel suspicion, coldness, anger? What about those people whom we haven’t been able to forgive?”
Let’s face it, Rolheiser asks hard questions and we come to realize love is easier to talk about than to execute.
In the first reading we have Peter sharing with his community his wonderful, God-given insight, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right, is acceptable to God.” Peter didn’t always live by this insight; he had great struggles with the truth that the Gentiles, the non Jews, were blessed with faith in Jesus Christ. Peter and many of the early Christians found it difficult to accept these outsiders into their friendship and community.
Love has little to do with feelings, it has everything to do with our willingness to accept and respect others as they are. Love requires we wish nothing but the best for others no matter how we might feel about them and whether or not they reciprocate the love we offer them.
We may be annoyed, impatient, even angry with the Tamil’s who are demonstrating on behalf of loved ones in their native country, but the great commandment requires of us we love them and pray their families be safe and their nation know peace. We may not have welcomingly feelings to newcomers to our country; we may not have much sympathy for young people gunned down in botched drug deals. We may wonder at the validity of the needs of street people and the homeless but we would do well to remember they are just as precious to Jesus Christ as we are and He died for them no less than He died for us.
To live this commandment, love one another as I have loved you, demands we face our own hard heartedness, our own close mindedness, prejudice and bias in the way we relate to men and women different from ourselves. This commandment is not easy but by God’s grace it is livable.
In this Mass we witness again how loved we are by Jesus Christ as we make present His death on the cross – this is my body, this is my blood, this is my life given for you. We pray for ourselves and for each other for the grace and openness we need to love all others as we’ve been loved, to forgive all others as we’ve been forgiven, to heal all others as we’ve been healed, to embrace all others as we each of us have been embraced by the crucified Christ.