LEARNING HOW TO LOVE
About a week ago, I was able to celebrate a wedding at the parish I had been assigned to for 7 years. And what makes weddings like these even more special was being able to see so many people I had worked with, ministered to, served as a priest for those years. Kids that were altar servers now in college or graduated and working. Young couples who I had helped prepare for marriage sitting in the congregation with 2 or 3 children of their own who I was fortunate to baptize. It was hard for me not to look out and see all their faces and get a little bit choked up. Not that I get overly-sentimental. What hit me is that the Lord really has blessed me. To be a priest, to try to be His presence at those different monumental moments in their lives, sometimes I can forget how fortunate I am to be a priest.
Over the days leading up to the wedding, between the rehearsal and some other random encounters, I kept bumping into people from this time of my life. And a couple in a sense “stayed” with me. After the excitement at seeing them, I asked the customary “How are you guys doing?” And I got the head shake with “Yeah... Fine.... Fine...” The one woman who said that to me I just looked at and said “you’re as good a liar as I am.” She kind of laughed and pulled me aside and just said “Father, it’s nothing... I know it’s me... I’m over reacting... He’s a good guy. But I just don’t know, it’s been 7 years now and I feel like we are going through the motions. We argue over nothing. I don’t want to say I’m not in love with him anymore, because I don’t believe that. But it just doesn’t feel the same anymore and I’m just scared.”
Talking with her, it didn’t seem like there was anything of major concern going on - like a major problem of abuse or infidelity or something. It sounded more like the excitement, the anticipation, the newness that young couples experience, when they first meet, when they get engaged - the planning the wedding – and the afterglow of being newlyweds, buying a new home, having two beautiful new children... nothing seemed “new” anymore. It started to seem like a routine or even somewhat boring. Which can be scary. Because if we judge our relationships, if we judge our commitments based solely on feelings then it can spell trouble. And sometimes we can forget that love is more than just a feeling...
That’s what came to mind looking at these readings. In today’s Gospel we have a flashback to the Upper room, to Holy Thursday’s Last Supper. Jesus is speaking to his apostles before His Passion, His Death and His Resurrection and he gives them a lengthy speech. Throughout it, we hear this recurring theme - if you love me, you will keep my commandment – the greatest of which, the one which encompasses all others - to love one another as I have loved you.
So often we can have this tendency to look at this Gospel reading as poetic words that Jesus was sharing with his closest friends. Yet we can forget he invites us to be his closest friends too. The Gospel is meant for all of us. Jesus is speaking not just spoke in a historic scene one night 2,000 years ago that we’re just recalling, like we’re watching a re-run on television. He’s speaking to all of us - Priest, married people , single people.
And what Jesus is saying is important - He defines love – He’s saying the key to being in relationship with others, is first being in relationship with Him. To know that we have been created out of nothingness, saved from our self-centeredness and sin and are sustained the by love of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Once we know that, we are commanded that the only way to truly experience the fullness of life and love is when we love each other as Jesus loves- by laying down our lives for each other.
That is essential. We can’t walk around that. That is the definition of love. To lay down your life for another. That is where love finds meaning. Sadly there’s so many of us who settle for a very saccharine, quasi-looks-like-feels-like something-nice-that-makes-me-feel-good form of love, that inevitably reveals itself to be fleeting or empty.
This real form of love is meant to be the definition for all of our relationships... not just something we hear and think about at Mass. So to that couple that was feeling a bit “stuck”, laying down their lives might not be as horrific as being nailed to a cross - but maybe, just maybe, she will put up with his being forgetful, he will put up with her nagging, they will forgive each other’s insensitivities not because “I have to”, or to keep the peace, or to avoid another fight... but that’s going to be a way they serve each other – that’s a way they love Jesus Christ. It’s a way they lay down their lives for Him...
That can translate no matter where we are in our lives. At the workplace - imagine loving that annoying coworker by doing them a favor, helping them on a project and realizing we’re doing that for Jesus Christ. Or refraining from gossiping about them, even though we know it’s juicy, probably true and might even make us look better. But refraining from doing that out of love for Christ. There’s probably countless ways we can come up with “laying our lives down” for one another, loving one another that sure doesn’t look “romantic” and most likely isn’t easy, but brings our hearts into alignment with the heart of Christ.
For you and I, who are drawn to this place, drawn to hear His word and receive His Body and Blood at this altar, we’ve already begun to experience His love for us. We know that Jesus has loved us and called us in our baptisms to be His. And so the Gospel calls us to go even deeper in that love. To look for ways, to welcome the opportunities we can serve one another, lay down our lives for one another, knowing that He is the one we’re ultimately doing all that for. Then perhaps we will not only move away from a “feeling” driven notion of love, but begin to experience Jesus’ presence throughout our days, throughout our lives. And then find that far from leaving us orphan, He has remained the constant companion He promised us to be.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern