FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 9, 2021:
I had two weddings yesterday, which is always wonderful, but was a little extra wonderful given that we haven’t had weddings really for the last year of the pandemic. It was a day of joy. One of the things I shared with the happy couples yesterday was a survey of 4-8 year-old kids who were asked the question, “What does love mean?” You can’t go wrong with advice from toddlers. Here’s what some of them said: Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Chrissy, age 6, said, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Danny, age 7, said, “Love is when mommy makes coffee for daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” And my favorite one from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Love is certainly the theme of our readings this weekend. Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.
But how would we answer our toddler’s question, what is love? Language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends (think “Philadelphia” – the city of brotherly love); and agape, which is love in its highest form; a love that is the complete gift of self. Agape is the word used most often in the New Testament and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.
John today paints for us a picture of God’s love that tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. John tells us, “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, that it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. Do you ever wonder if you’re living your Christian life correctly or well? The way we love is the measure of that success. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.
For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.
Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, like feeling good in someone’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes the ultimate sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.
Finally, John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.
We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As the hymn reminds us, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” So, how are we loving in our lives? Will they know you and I are Christians because of the way we love?
May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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