In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about “love”. But, what does “love” mean? The word “love” is one of the most commonly used word in our daily communication, but it is also one of the least understood, and most misused word. We use it all the time to express our “love” for things, people, places and God, but are often not clear and conscious of what we mean.
If someone says, “I love chocolate ice-cream”, “I love my dog,” or “I just went for a vacation to Japan, and I love Japan,” and I also love my wife, my children very much, and I love Pope Francis, the Catholic Church and I also love God, Our Lord . . . We can surely see that while the word “love” is used in so many different ways, they all do not have the same meaning and thus, intention and commitment. The challenge for us then, is first to take note of the distinctions and differences in the meaning of the word “love” when we next use it, especially when we use it to refer to our relationship with people closest to us, and to God.
In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus very clearly says, “I give you a new commandment, love on another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another; (so that0 everyone will know that you are My disciple.” More specifically, Jesus is clearly urging us firstly, to focus the attention and our energy of our love on loving one another. This is so that we are not so distracted by our love for the other less important things in our lives.
Secondly, Jesus in today’s Gospel is also reminding us that the love we show to one another, is not any kind of love, but the love that He has shown us, and of which we have been receiving from Him all the years of our lives since God, His Father created us in our mother’s womb. And what kind of love have we been receiving from Jesus? We have been receiving a divine Love that is totally selfless to the point of Jesus, the Son of God dying on the Cross of us, a Love that is always Compassionate and Merciful, and constantly caring and personal, in all situations of our lives especially when we are experiencing much trials in our lives.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very clear in the Gospels that this new commandment of Jesus is not just about His Teachings, but more importantly it is a summary description of His Life that witnessed how God’s Love for us is so deep and unconditional that He willingly suffered and died for the sake of our salvation.
In other words, this means that there is an infinite contrast between how much God is willing to love us and how much we are willing to love God in return. If we reflect on our lives, we will have to humbly admit that regardless of how good and holy we may think we are, our love for God is often side-lined and secondary to what we have reserved for ourselves and our personal needs. For example, we know of people who wants to come to Mass on Sunday, but prefer to sleep in because they say that they deserve to rest as they have been working very hard during the week; we have also heard of parents who tell their children that there is no need to come for Catechism classes because they have PSLE examinations to prepare. There are still others who happily spend thousands and even millions of dollars on material things, and give their loose change for the needs of the poor and the church.
In all of these examples, what is common is that we have developed a false understanding that when we spend our time and money for God, we end up having less for ourselves. No, on the contrary, the real Truth and the “new commandment” that Jesus in today’s Gospel is teaching us is that when we want to love ourselves more deeply, authentically and wholeheartedly, we must first and foremost learn to love God.
And, when we have experienced God’s Love we will be spiritually inspired by the Holy Spirit to show and share this divine love with others. But, if we claim that we love God, but frequently put our personal needs as more important than developing our relationship with God, then such a “narrow and self-centred love” cannot be the Christ-like Love that Jesus has shown us, through His death on the Cross.
Two weeks ago, Arzu, one of our Bangladeshi worker in our Cathedral renovation, received news that his only child; a 1year and 8 month old son is critically ill with cancer of the liver. Arzu has to bring his son to Kolkata for treatment because his own country is too expensive. However, even in Kolkata, the cost of the operation and chemo treatment would be around Sing$10,000 to $12,000. When Arzu’s fellow Bangladeshi workers heard about this tragic news, about 50 of them took up a collection amongst themselves when they received their salary, a few days after the news. They collected about $4,000. Arzu’s close friend, Humayun contributed $300 out of his $500 salary. I remember once asking Humayun, “Why are you hardly eating for your dinner; you need energy and good health for your work?” Humayun, with a smile answered, “Father, I need to save more money for my family.”
On the average, each of the Bangladeshi workers contributed $80 of their hard earned money; which their family badly need. If we ponder more deeply on this incident, should we not be inspired by and the brotherly love each of these Muslim Bangladeshi workers and Humayun have for one another? Is this not the kind of love that Jesus is proclaiming to us in today’s Gospel?
Arzu’s desperate needs is only one of millions and perhaps, billions of other poor and needy in the world. While I was able to assist Arzu as much as I could, each of you here too should ponder on this relevant question. I am not raising funds for Arzu through this homily, but my point is that, it is good that we reflect on the reality that, if Arzu or another poor person were to approach us for help, what would our response be? Would we simply brush him aside as another faceless and nameless poor in the world that we cannot do anything for because there a too many of them? What if we are in Arzu’s situation and are rejected by the world? In other words, “If Arzu were to approach one of you for financial assistance, how many of you would willingly and happily donate generously to Arzu’s needs or would you be spontaneously giving many reasons like, you too need money for your yourself, your family and your future? Remember, Humayun and each of Arzu’s fellow workers too have families who are very poor, yet they each contributed and put Arzu’s needs before their family needs.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Pope Francis says, “He who loves, knows God, but he who does not love has no knowledge of God because God is Love . . . To know God we must walk through life in love, love for our neighbour, love for those who hate us, love for all peoples.”
Mother Teresa said that we have to “do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” It is not how much work we do, but how much love we put into our work and sharing it with others that is important. In our world there is a spiritual hunger for love, just as there is a hunger for faith and for holiness. There is really only one love. That is the love of God, but the love of God must be shown in our love for others, to the same extent that we love ourselves . . . and more importantly, in the way that Jesus has shown and showered upon us.
As I conclude, I like us to remember that, if we reflect on our life, and truly believe that God loves us then, let us listen more attentively to our hearts and be more obedient to the voice of the Spirit within us and learn to share the love we have in our hearts (which is God’s Love) more generously with others.
However, as we know that loving God selflessly and sacrificially may not be very easy, let us then keep our focus on Jesus on the Cross, and then draw strength from Him to love as He has loved for the Greater Glory of His Father. And, if our hearts truly want to love God, then allow God to give us the strength and graces we need to love as Jesus has shown us.When this happens often enough, we will realise and experience that when we want to love God, there are actually NO limits of loving Him . . . even if we are called to die for our neigbours as Jesus has shown us . . . for with God nothing is impossible. And, if this is so, then Jesus’ Words of Wisdom in today’s Gospel that says to us, “I give you a new commandment, love on another. . . Just as I have loved you” will become a reality and will be fulfilled through us.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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