Sunday, 19 February 2017

What is love?

Love changes everything. It suffuses our lives with joy and tenderness, with hope and happiness. Just look at the joy in the eyes of any bride and groom on their wedding day, or at the tender way a new parent holds his or her baby. In Ed Sheeran's beautiful song "Photograph", he sings: "Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul..." and later, "It's the only thing we take with us when we die."

I love this song, and the message Sheeran shares with us. It's so very true -- love can heal, love can mend, and we do take love with us when we die -- the love of our family, our friends, and most of all the love of our God, who is the source of all love in the world.

Today's Mass readings tell us exactly how we should think about love. They challenge us to move beyond our selfishly human way of loving and into something that reflects God's own grace and love. The first reading, from Leviticus 19, says: 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself...'

In today's gospel reading, from Matthew 5, we are instructed by Jesus as to how we should treat people who wish us harm: "But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them also the second mile." Later in the same reading He says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven..."

Following Jesus' command to love everyone -- no matter who they are, no matter if they have hurt us and will probably continue to hurt us in the future -- is not easy. Sure, we love our kids, and our spouses, our family and our friends. Most of us probably feel a love for our fellow man. But I think it's not a generalization to say that everyone probably has at least one person in their life that they find hard, maybe impossible, to love. Perhaps it is a cruel spouse, or an unloving parent. Maybe it's a boss or co-worker that doesn't ever have anything positive to say to or about you. Maybe it's that bully at school, or that teacher who is always in a bad mood. Maybe it's much deeper and darker than that.

Whatever our circumstances, God calls us all to love the way He loves. In Psalm 103 we hear just how powerful His love for us is: "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us."

Yes, it is God's very love for us that allowed Him to send His only Son into the world to die for us. It's what made Jesus, part of the Holy Trinity that makes up who God is, assume the form of a vulnerable infant and grow up in a dangerous world, in a treacherous time, and to eventually die a cruel death on the cross. It was all for us, to reconcile us to God. Christ did this for us not because we deserved it -- certainly, we did not. Romans 5:8 sums it up exactly: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If God can love us that much, and if we really take time to meditate on this amazing love, it's hard not to want to respond to Him with love. And if what He asks for us is to love all people, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like or what they've done to us, we as His people should respond with a resounding "Yes!" It may be hard at times, but we are not alone. We gather on Sunday and other holy days to have fellowship, to hear God's Word, and to take part in the Eucharist, which strengthens us by bringing Christ's very body and blood into ourselves. We have a powerful tool in the Holy rosary to pray for ourselves and for others. And we have the Word of God, that we can study frequently -- daily -- to inspire us to keep imitating Christ, in His perfect love. And that in itself -- that striving to please God -- is it not an act of love in and of itself? One thing is for sure: it's a good place to start.

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