Sunday, November 4, 2012
Heaven Runs On Love
In the course of the conversation, one young man asked, “If God loves us and wants us to be with Him in heaven, why didn’t He just put us there already instead of making us live on earth?”
The pastor explained it by comparing the situation to a child who was about to inherit his family business. Would it make any sense, he asked them, for the father to give his child the business before he had learned to read and write or before he knew how to add or subtract? No matter how much he may love his son, would it make any sense to let him run the business before he understood the product they were manufacturing and what went into bringing it to market? If he were to give it to his son before he was ready to run it, both his son and the company would suffer.
He went on to explain that it is the same with heaven. It is not just a place but an activity, the activity of loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. To be ready for eternal life in God’s presence, we must learn first to love Him above all things. Just as a son is not ready to inherit his father’s business until he can learn how to add and subtract, so we cannot enter into Paradise until we learn how to love.
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that the greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is a commandment that we have heard often and, like the scribe, we can wholeheartedly agree with Jesus that there is nothing more important than love. But what does it mean to love God above all things? How can we know that we have reached such a love?
Jesus answers that question for us by linking our love of God to our love of neighbor. We know that we love God if we also love others. As Saint John tells us, we cannot love the God we do not see if we hate the neighbor we do see. Therefore, our love of God is not measured by those we love the most - our families and friends. They are easy to love. As Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Pagans and tax collectors do the same.” Rather, our love for God is measured by those we love the least. It is measured by the concern we have for the poor who cannot repay us. It is measured by the attention we give to the sick who are pushed aside and forgotten. It is measured by our willingness to forgive those who hate and hurt us. If we want to know how much we love God, it is there that we must look.
Like faith, such love is a gift from God. Loving those who do not love us does not come naturally to us. It is difficult for us to look past our own interests to the needs of others. It can only come as a gift of grace. Nonetheless, it is absolutely necessary if we are to reach our eternal destiny of everlasting life with God.
How can we receive this gift? First of all, it comes to us through prayer. When we reflect on how much God has loved us, when we consider that He sent His only Son to die for us, when we consider all the blessings He gives us, we cannot help but love Him in return. As Saint John says, love consists not in that we have loved God but that He has loved us. We also grow in love by reflecting on how each person is made in the image and likeness of God and on how He loves all people without distinction. As that reality sinks into our minds and hearts, we also find it easier to love others no matter their race, religion, social status or political beliefs. Out of love for God, we can even find it possible to love and forgive those who do not love us in return.
We also grow in love by keeping the commandments. Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Though love of God and neighbor are the greatest commandments, they do not mean that the others are not important. All of God’s laws, and in turn, all of the Church’s rules, are meant to teach us what it means to love. As Moses tells the Israelites in today’s first reading, by observing God’s law we grow and prosper in the land He has given us. We can measure our love of God, then, in our willingness to keep His word. If Jesus founded the Church, then we can also say that we can measure our love of God in our willingness to follow what the Church teaches us is necessary to believe. They are all given to us not to limit our freedom or take away our pleasure, but to instruct us in what it means to love so that we will be prepared not only to flourish in this life but to enjoy eternal life with our loving Father.
Heaven runs on love. When we love others from our heart, we bring a bit of heaven to this hurting world. As we grow in our ability to love, we also prepare ourselves for our eternal destiny. The Eucharist we are about to receive is also all about love. It is the Body and Blood of Jesus given to us out of love. He died for all people - both those who would come to love Him in return and those who would reject His offer of salvation. Through this Sacrament, we are strengthened to do the same - to love all persons without distinction and without limits - until we reach our destiny where love reigns supreme.