What is love? The answers to this question may be as varied as the people who will read this brief reflection. As Catholic Christians, the most important definitions of love are drawn from our Judeo-Christian tradition.
But before we drill down into this rich source of understanding of love, we need to acknowledge what love is not. Love is not reserved to a feeling or an infatuation, to a temporary experience of euphoria. Although love does include our emotions and our experiences of joy, it cannot be limited to only that. As a theological virtue, it goes even deeper than our ever-important emotional life. Love is deeper than the love of Barney the Dinosaur, Hallmark movies or whatever else Netflix or Spotify might try to convince us is true love.
This Sunday we will hear from Christ himself as he explains love to us: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:9-13).
Christ offers us, at least, four themes in this passage from the Gospel of John. Love is rooted in the Father’s love of us; the Father’s love is rooted in his chesed. Chesed is a Hebrew word, which expresses God’s undying fidelity and love for all people. God cannot not love us. How do we “remain” in this love? We follow the commandments … We allow God’s law and not our own devices to lead us forward in life.
Why should we remain in God’s love by following the commandments? “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” We remain in God’s love so that our joy might be complete. Yet, Christ also tells us that love involves profound sacrifice. For the greatest love is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Most of us will not literally have to give our life so that another might live, but all of us have a more complete life today because Christ died so that we might have life and have it to the fullest. All of us are invited to imitate his ultimate sacrifice with daily acts of sacrificial love.
As you prepare your heart and mind for Mass this Sunday, allow the words of Christ to wash over you as you encounter his deep and abiding love in the Word proclaimed, the body of Christ gathered together and the body, blood, soul and divinity blessed, broken and shared upon his altar. YOU are LOVED!
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.