Is God really present and active in the world?  It’s a question that lies on the minds of so many people today.  And I think that the answer is a resounding, unquestionable YES.  But it all depends on our understanding of who God is.  We have the key in our readings today.

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”[1]This is what makes Christians radically different—the idea that God is love.

The Jews believe that God is Almighty, that he is just, that he is the Creator of the universe.  He has given them the commandments—lots of them—and they are to be followed if God’s people are to remain in his favor and enjoy a prosperous life.  But to the Jews, God is not love.

The Muslims believe that God is radically one, and that his will is supreme.  This version of God requires only submission to him.  The idea that God would love his people or that we can please God by loving one another is a foreign concept.

The Hindus have many gods and many idols.  Physical love is an aspect of their religion, but the idea that God is love is, again, a foreign concept.

The Buddhists believe that life is suffering and pain, and we must detach ourselves from our desires completely in order to enter a state of bliss.  Is there a God?  Maybe, but if he exists, he’s really not that interested in us.

Pagans also believe in many gods, but again, they are disinterested in us.  We’re basically just here for their entertainment, and they may interact with us, but not because they love us. Even the so-called goddess of love wouldn’t dream of becoming a human in order to sacrifice herself for humanity.

Only our God, the Christian God, the Most Holy Trinity, is a God who identifies himself as love.  He created the earth and the heavens, from the tiniest quark to the most massive galaxy, not because he needed to, but out of the superabundance of his love.  But God didn’t stop there.  He created mankind, a species so special and so like himself that we are able to create things too.  We are able to bring forth life, goodness, and beauty.  We naturally seek the truth, and we desire to live forever.  And we are free.  We have the ability to choose the right or the wrong, to build up or destroy, to heal or to kill.  We are free.  We are not slaves.  And because we are free, we have the capacity to love.

Now, a few weeks ago, I just did what many of you have done—one of those two inescapable realities of life—I paid my taxes.  And this year was a doozy!  Have you ever considered, what is the difference between taxes and charity?  Easy—we are obligated to pay our taxes, under pain of the law.  But giving money to charity?  It’s totally up to us.  No one will punish you for not giving to this charity or that one.  You could call it a free-will offering.  And that’s the key!  Charity, whether in the form of money or an act of charity, is something we choose to do, not something we are forced to do.  If we are forced or required to give money to some organization, that is not charity.  That is a tax.

I wonder if we treat Jesus’ commandment to love as if it is “the Christian tax.”  When mom asks me to wash the dishes, do I begrudgingly heave myself over to the sink and make it obvious how much I hate washing the dishes?  When I see that annoying colleague at work, do I try to avoid her so that I don’t have to pretend to listen to her problems?  When father reads the bishop’s Annual Diocesan Appeal letter every year, do I groan inside as I pull out my checkbook?  No, it’s not this week, by the way.  But it’s coming.  This is how we can tell if we are truly motivated by charity.  It’s a practiced disposition that says, “How can I help?  How can I serve you in my neighbor today, Jesus?”

True charity, i.e. true love is a choice.  It is not only a feeling, although feelings are an important part of love.  Love, in its very essence, is to do the good for another, regardless of the cost to myself.  We know this because this God who is love has given us an example of the greatest form of love—to accept death, even death on a cross, to save you and me.

It is this self-sacrificing love that Christ calls us to today.  This is his commandment: “Love one another as I love you.”  I think it’s easy to just focus on the first half of this commandment, “love one another.”  But the more important aspect of this commandment is the second part: “as I love you.”  And how has he loved us?  By laying down his life for his friends.  This is not merely a sentimental kind of love, the kind expressed in a greeting card.  It is not a pleasure-seeking love.  This is a love that is backed up by action.  It is to go all the way to the end of selflessness.

Contrast this love with the way our culture understands love.  Our culture tells us that love is romantic.  Now, romance is a beautiful part of love.  Being starry-eyed and smitten by a beautiful woman, or a strong and handsome man, is one aspect of love.  But we all know that beauty and strength fade with time.  We know that our health can fail.  Men and women tend to value different things in life, and these desires inevitably cause tension and strain in a relationship.  This is why the truest and most lasting sense of love is not just that starry-eyed feeling we get—it is to do the good for the beloved,whatever the cost.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, I’ve already heard this homily.  Is father coming up short on material, or what?”  Well, yes, you have heard a very similar homily, and no, not short on material.  I am harping on this point because our society so desperately needs to hear it.  Our society has lost the true meaning of love, and now the word “love” is used to justify the most reprehensible acts.

Our politicians and judges certainly need to hear what true love is.  Our co-workers need to hear it.  Even our own family members need to hear it.  And who will tell them?   We will.  We will tell them both in word and in action. This is a Catholic’s role in society—to show the world what true love is.

This is why I believe that, in our daily prayers, every Christian ought to look upon the crucifix.  It is a reminder of the love that we must carry within us as we begin each day.  It’s a reminder not to hold anything back.  It reminds us to do not just what I feel like doing, but what will be beneficial for the people God has placed in my life, even when they don’t appreciate it.

After all, this is how Jesus loved us.  He washed the feet of those who denied Him and he shared the Last Supper with those who betrayed Him.  He forgave those who crucified him and healed those who were arresting him.  He cared for the needs of others even as he was dying.  He loved people regardless of whether they appreciated it, regardless of whether they loved him in return.

This is the challenge for every disciple of Jesus Christ—not just to love those who love us back, but to love even those who don’t.  When we love in this way, we know that we are truly friends of Jesus, we understand the depth of the love that Jesus poured out for us on the cross, and we remain very near to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

God has commanded his friends to love one another. If we want to know whether God is present and active in this world, look at the actions of those God calls his friends. It begins by looking deep within our very selves.  How will I love others today?

 

[1] 1 John 4:8