There are many moving parts in today’s readings, each of which points to Christ’s command to love one another. In the first reading, Peter goes into the house of Cornelius to admit the Gentiles into the faith. There, the leader of the apostles demonstrates the great dignity bestowed on both the circumcised and the uncircumcised through baptism. Peter invokes the Holy Spirit on them as a sign of rebirth and renewal. Thus, he communicates love’s inclusive characteristic; where the Holy Spirit of God is, there love is found.
In the second reading, Saint John draws our attention to the divine origin of love. Love is not a product of human creativity but of God. For God’s love, Christ came into this world. St. John, therefore, shows us that as God’s children, our life derives from Christ who is the revelation of God’s love. His death sets us free and initiates us into the mystery of the Trinity. Hence John says, “Whoever is without the love of God does not know God, for God is love.”
Jesus directly communicates the meaning of God’s love to his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so, I also love you. Remain in my love.” I remember Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s response to the question posited by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, “If there is only one God, what does He think about, for if He is an intelligent being He must think of something?” Archbishop Sheen maintains, “The Trinity is the answer to the questions of Plato. He thinks an eternal thought; that is, His Eternal Son. If there is only one God, who does He love? He loves His Son, and that mutual love is the Holy Spirit.” This is the love that Christ has come into the world to introduce us into. The Father loves Jesus so much, which means that Christ also loves us so much. This love is shown in his total self-giving, dying on the cross, laying down his life for his friends.
For Jesus, (1) to love is a command. (2) It is the source of joy and makes joy complete. (3) It is the mark of friendship and (4) It is given to be obeyed, for, by it, we maintain our relationship with the Father. It is a bit ironic to hear Jesus speak about friendship this way, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Is Jesus issuing an order to be obeyed and at the same time saying that we are his friends? Is a friend meant to command the friend? It is like me saying to you now, “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” But that is the message, yes, Jesus is commanding us to something that is noble. Friendship commands what is noble. Love is noble.
For instance, if I say to you, “I command you to register for the Pentecost retreat,” I am offering you something worth the price, something that will be good for your soul. I am offering it to you because I love you to feed your soul.
Love is the best gift and Jesus offers it to us. He gives us the chance to take it but at the same time makes it less an option. To not accept it means death, so, Jesus does not make love something to be chosen out of convenience, if not he would not have died on the cross. Therefore, he commands us to love. Christ wants his followers to imitate him by loving our fellow human beings just as he has loved us.
I wonder how each of us feels when we genuinely practice an act of love. I give you an example. My best moment recently was when I received a short video prepared by some of the orphans in Nigeria for some donation that the Family Apostolate sent to them during the Easter period, something we considered little by our own estimation. The sister (nun) who was taking care of those handicapped kids was smart to do the video with the kids. Even though those kids could not pronounce our names correctly, the gesture was eloquent. They were all chanting, “Fr. Vin, we love you. Ms. Pat, we love you.” I watched that video repeatedly and concluded that the scripture was right when it says, "There is more joy in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) That is one simple way to explain Christ’s statement, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” The fullness of joy is found in loving, in showing those around you that they mean so much and that you value them because of God’s love.
One great expression of God’s love today is in the gift of motherhood. Here in the US, we celebrate Mother’s Day, and Jesus invites us to the great commandment of love. I want you to stop and think about your mom today and thank God for her, even if she wasn’t perfect. None of us would be here without our mother. She was there from the first moment of your conception. She participated in bringing your life from nothingness into existence. The first sound on this earth that you heard was your mother’s heartbeat within her womb. You lived under the safety and security of her heart. Have you ever thought about how much your mother prayed for you over the years? She taught us to make the sign of the cross, even if we didn’t do it so well at first. She taught us to say the Our Father and the fun that goes with that “Our father who art in heaven, Howard be your name.” Our mothers taught us to pray.
Have you ever thought about many times your mother kissed you, kissed your face, your hands, the top of your head, and your scraped knees? She whispered and consoled you as you cried over bumps and bruises. Our moms taught us to apologize. “Say sorry to your brother/sister.” She taught us to forgive. “Honey, let it go. Don’t stay mad over that.” How many times did your mom forgive you? Your mom had sleepless nights when you had a bad dream or a fever. How many times did she take your temperature or make you chicken noodle soup? Have you ever thought about how many times your mom read to you? Green eggs and ham, Where the wild things are, Brown Bear Brown Bear. And as soon as the book ended, we would say, “Read it again.” And again, and again. And mom would read it again.
Moms always give their best, the best that they have. They are not perfect people, but they give all they have. At the moment of your conception, the Holy Spirit overshadowed your mother (not in the sense of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and you were conceived. That is why moms are able to bear the pains of pregnancy and delivery. Thank God in this mass for your mother.
On this Mother’s Day, how can we forget the greatest of all mothers, the Blessed Virgin Mary? One of Archbishop Sheen’s famous books is titled, The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God. In the Dedication page, Archbishop Sheen writes, “The Woman Whom even God dreamed of; Before the world was made; The Woman of Whom I was born; At cost of pain and labor at a Cross; The Woman Who, though no priest, could yet on Calvary's Hill breathe: "This is my Body; This is my Blood" For none save her gave Him human life. The Woman Who guides my pen, which falters so with words in telling of the Word. The Woman Who, in a world of Reds, Shows forth the blue of hope.”
Maybe this weekend, we could tweak the scripture passage to say, “Love your mothers as I have loved you,” to understand the debt of love that we owe mothers and the love that binds us together in Christ. I want to borrow the words of Archbishop Lori while addressing the Knights of Columbus in 2013,
“No one loves us quite so tenderly and persistently as our mothers. Where would we be without them? They are the glue that holds families together. …good mothers desire, more than anything else, good husbands and fathers. They deserve husbands who are loving and faithful. Mothers understand how important a father’s love and example is for their children. And wives know that if they are united with their husbands in faith, values, and their understanding of how to raise their family, their children will more easily grow and develop as God intended.”
That is the command given by Christ today, a command that is meant to be obeyed. Let us love our mothers. Let us show them friendship. Let us appreciate them for being the bearers of life. Let us encourage them by promoting the dignity and value of life that they have given us. Today, let us go home with the message of love for our families and friends. Remember that God loves you. Remember also that you are God’s agent for everyone. Make love louder than anything else in your life and you will surely be friends with Jesus.