(With gratitude to Fr. William Bausch for his 60 Seasonal Homilies and Storytelling the Word)
Love, love, love, love, love. It seems that we hear this word over and over. Bill loves Sue, Sue loves Fred, etc. Every sitcom is loaded with people who fall in and out of love. We hear about married people breaking up and we wonder where their love went. Then we come to Church, and again we hear about love.
But it is not all the same. True love is a choice that demands sacrifice. People who fall in and out of love have not made a choice that demands sacrifice, or at least one of them has not.
There is always a lot of talk about love when people are getting married. But, sadly, some of them don’t see the Lord as the center of their love. So they want weddings with beautiful backgrounds, but not necessarily with the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps they are not ready for true love. Perhaps they are not ready for a choice that demands sacrifice. Perhaps they really do not want Christ’s love in their marriage. That costs too much.
The Love of Christ comes with a price. There is sacrifice that we need to make to return the Lord’s love. If we have been chosen to work for the Kingdom, and according to the Gospel, we have, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit,” then our options are limited. If we have put on the baptismal gown of the Lord, we cannot wear the clothes of pagans. This is hard to accept in a society that preaches endless choices, a society that caters to infantile fantasies of no rules and no limits to life. We have to come to the realization that because we have been chosen, we have to have rules for a way of life that is truly Christian. We have to deny our infantile desires for the infinitely greater good of the Kingdom of God.
Some stories and examples may help. A young boy, fourteen years old, gets his first after school job working in his grandfather’s little store. After a few months, his grandfather felt confident that the boy could be left to handle the store alone for brief periods of time. The store was in a quiet neighborhood, and there really were not many people around in the afternoon. But during one of the few times when the boy was alone the store was robbed. And the boy was shot to death. A few days later the robbers were captured. That was the same day as the boy’s funeral. A news reporter interviewed the grandfather and told him that they police caught the murderers. Then he asked him if he wanted the men to receive capital punishment. The grandfather looked shocked at the question. “I cannot wish that,” he said, “I am a Christian, I am not permitted revenge.” Christianity imposes limits.
You are aware that Blessed Mother Theresa was often asked why she spent so much time and energy helping people who were going to die anyway, and most of them not even Christian. Her answer was that she had no choice. She was a Christian, committed to serving Jesus, and Christ identified with the poorest of the poor.
You may not have heard the story of Princess Alice, the second daughter of Queen Victoria of England. The princess married and had a child, a baby boy. When the child was four he came down with a terrible disease at the time called black diphtheria. It was highly contagious. There was no cure and no hope. The doctors and nurses told the princess that she had to stay away from her son. Her own health was frail. One day as she stood at the door of her little boy’s room, she heard him whispering to a nurse, “Why doesn’t my Mommy hold me and kiss me anymore?” That was more than Princess Alice could bear. She then did what any loving mother would do. She ran to her son’s bed, hugged him and kissed him. She had no choice. She had to show her love. He needed her. Within weeks she came down with the sickness. Both were buried together.
The choice of love demands that we accept limitations on our lives and even pain and suffering in order to love as Jesus loved. Parents respond to their baby’s cries in the middle of the night. They have no choice if they really love their child. But that choice takes sacrifice. This is the meaning of true love. Look at your Moms and Dads. Look at the sacrifices each makes for the other. That is how they make love to each other. In a true marriage, marital love is infinitely more than the physical expression of that love.
A teenager listens to a friend’s story of family difficulties. The other teen needs an ear that understands. The first teen would much rather be listening to music, or playing video games, but has no choice but to be present for the suffering friend. Christianity demands it. A retiree spends a few hours each day with an elderly neighbor. He’d rather be fishing or golfing, but he has no choice but to visit Christ’s presence in the homebound. An auto mechanic repairs a traveling family’s car after the garage’s hours so the poor folks can get on the road and get their kids to bed. He would rather be with his own family, but he is a Christian, he has no choice. And on and on. Millions of little routine daily sacrifices make the greatest life there ever was a reality in our world.
Love, the true love of Jesus, imposes limits on us. Love is sacrificial. When we look at the cross, we realize the life that we have been chosen to lead. We have been chosen to make Jesus’ life a reality. And He died for others.
One last story. It is just a story, not in scripture, but it gets the point across. It is the story of how the devil tried to sneak into heaven. The legend goes that just before dawn on Easter Sunday, the devil dressed up as the Risen Lord. He had his fallen angels accompany him, all dressed as angels of light. As he approached the gates of heaven he and his mob cried out the words of Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates of Heaven. Rise up you ancient portals, that the King of Glory might enter.” The real angels looked down at whom they thought was their King returning in triumph from the dead. So they shouted back in joy the next words of that psalm, “Who is the King of Glory?” Then the devil then made a fatal mistake. He opened his arms, spread his palms and declared, “I am the King of Glory.” He did himself in. The angels immediately slammed shut the gates of heaven. They knew this was not the Lord. Do you know how? They saw that there were no marks of the nails in his palms. He had no wounds of love. He was obviously an imposter.
To put it very simply. If we have been chosen by Christ, and we have, then we have to accept His way of life, the way of limits, the way of sacrificial love.