Saint Therese of Lisieux was only a teenager when she entered the convent to dedicate herself to a life of prayer as a religious sister. Like all young girls, she was unsure of her talents and how she should serve God and others. All around her were nuns who had musical talents, who were artists or who were strong leaders and she wondered what her special gift was.
As she prayed and read the Bible she came upon this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all others.... If I have not love, then I am nothing.” (1 Cor 12:31 - 13:3). She came to realize that love was her special calling. By loving God and others she could accomplish more for the Kingdom of Heaven than any gift or special talent could.
In her autobiography, The Diary of a Soul, she writes this about her insight:
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed:
O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my calling is love.
Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave
me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I
will be love....
Love is the supreme calling of all Christians. No matter what our state in life, no matter what resources or talents we have, we are all called to love. Not all of us can preach or teach. Not all of us can feed the poor or visit prisoners. Not all of us can travel to mission countries to convert souls. But all of us can and must love.
Love is the greatest witness of the Christian life. No matter how eloquent our preaching may be, no matter how passionate our defense of the Catholic faith may be, no matter how selfless our service to others may be, it is the love we show in doing all these things that speaks to others about the beauty and truth of the Christian message. It was Jesus’ love more than anything else that drew others to him and it was the love that His first disciples showed for one another that built up the Church after His ascension. In the same way it will be our example of untiring, selfless love that will continue to reform, renew and build up the Church in our day.
When we speak about Christian love we have to be careful. It is something very different from love as it is understood in our world today. Jesus makes that clear in today’s gospel reading. The love that we are called to is not just warm, affectionate feelings for our family members and friends. Rather it is a love that puts the needs of others before our own. It is a love that is willing to sacrifice our own comfort to comfort others. It is a love that is willing to forgive those who hurt us, to give to others even when they take it for granted and to serve those who do not appreciate our efforts.
Jesus tells His disciples and us that He has given us a new commandment, that we should love one another and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life. It is the example of love He showed by dying on the cross for sinners. It is the example of love He shows daily to us by pouring out blessing upon blessing on us even though we so often take it for granted or reject it by our sins.
The love that Jesus calls us to is not something that is natural for us. We tend only to show love to those who we know will love us back. In our everyday decisions, we put our interests and concerns before those of others. Out of politeness or concern about what people may think, we might lend a hand to others but only if we have free time and if it does not put us out too much.
To love as Jesus commands us to, we need His help. We need grace. That is why Saint John tells us in the second reading that love consists in this - not that we have loved God but that He has loved us. When we realize how great God’s unconditional love is for us, we will begin showing that same love to others. When we realize how much He has forgiven us, it will be impossible for us not to forgive those who hurt us. When we realize that everything we have comes from Him, it will be impossible for us not to share with the needy. And as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, it will be impossible for us not to share the good news of that love.
Imagine if all of us who claim to be followers of Christ really lived the commandment of love He left us. Imagine a world in which no one would go hungry or be cold. Imagine a world in which no one would be lonely. Imagine a world free of revenge, hatred and violence. That is the world that God wants to build through us if only we will let His love truly transform us.
However, we cannot begin to change the world until our hearts are changed. That is why we gather here today - not only to hear a message of love but to experience that love in Jesus who is present to us. He gives us His very Body and Blood to teach us how to give ourselves in service to one another. All our hearts are wounded. We have tried to love others but have been hurt. We have given of ourselves but have been let down. Now fear and shame keep us from opening our heart to God and others. We can find healing by bringing all that pain to God who promises never to reject us. He can take our cold, stony hearts and give us hearts that are capable of loving again. Then our transformation and that of our world can begin.