Love — God’s ultimate gift

What is love? Today the word “love” is used and overused, to the extent that one can wonder about its sincerity and true meaning. Yet this weekend’s Gospel speaks of love, a love so intense that it was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save us. We are reminded of how much love God has for us, and His willingness to demonstrate that love through Jesus Christ.

One may wonder why? Why would God love us that much? And does He love everyone? When Jesus came to be among us, He sought out the less fortunate — the sinners, and the outcasts, those whom society had deemed unworthy. Here was Christ reaching out to the very people whom no one else wanted or cared for. He did not seek out the devout and faithful, He knew they understood and if they kept the Father’s Commandments and showed compassion for their fellow man, they too would inherit the Kingdom. 

However, He reminds us that we must not become so wrapped up in our faith and devotion, as to become blind to the plight of others. We need to learn to see with the eyes of love, a love that came to fill the world with hope, acceptance and forgiveness. 

St. Paul reminds us that “God, Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us ... brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). This is agapé love, the ultimate form of love, one that is willing to put others first, to compromise, suffer and even die for another. In our own lives we have experienced this form of love and caring. For those of you who are parents, you fully understand this type of love, the willingness to put all else aside for your child. Sleepless nights sitting by a sick child’s beside, putting them first, and doing whatever is necessary to ensure that they are safe and healthy. The familial love that is willing to put differences aside for the sake of helping a brother or sister in need. That love that is willing to accept and bear all for the sake of another. 

Recently someone shared a story with me that speaks of the love that forgets all hurts and past indiscretions, recognizing the person in need. A father had spent very little time with his children, walking out on them and their mother when they were still very young. As the years went by, his children (now adults) knew who their father was, saw him occasionally, but he remained distant and uninvolved in their lives. One day he became ill and the very children he had abandoned took him in and cared for him until his death. Many would have chosen to turn away, ignore this man who had ignored them. Yet these individuals, saw this man through the eyes of love, and recognized that regardless of who we are and how we have treated others, we deserve to be loved and cared for. It was not simply an act of obligation, but of putting another first, of acknowledging the human need, and responding as Christ would want us to respond. 

So we must ask ourselves, can we move beyond our shortcomings, can we forgive, can we allow the grace of God to fill us with His love? St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread” (1989). Yet, God gives freely of His love, not because we have done anything to deserve it, but because He loves us totally and completely. Yet as St. Teresa pointed out, we remain hungry and unsatisfied. Why? The Gospel clearly tells us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” 

We have all heard the expression “it is in giving that we receive,” so it is with love — God gives it to us freely, what we do with this love is all up to us. We can choose to hide it away from those we love and the world, or we can share it completely. Yes, it may hurt at times, it may seem unfair and unjust, and it may seem as if we are the only ones who care enough, or are willing to express our love.

Jesus was willing to give His love so completely that He stretched out His arms for us on the cross, to show us just how much His love for us meant. In the words of Father Walter Burghardt, S.J., “If God offers you crucified love, offers God’s Son on a cross for you, the least you can do is accept it. Welcome the mystery and move on from there” (“Dare to Be Christ”). 

Are you willing to accept God’s love and all that it can represent in your life? Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the ways God’s love has been present in our lives, and how it continues to bless us. It is an opportune time to consider how you will choose to live your life knowing that “by grace you have been saved.” 

Be open to all God has planned for you, and let His love fill you beyond measure. 

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva is Events Coordinator and Bereavement Ministry for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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