WEEK 14 06
To Love as God Loves
Optional Memorial: St. Henry II
(Gen 49:29-50:26; Ps 105; Mt 10:24-33)
A theologian, when asked how simple he could make the Christian message, responded promptly: “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the bible tells me so.” He then added, “That little song I learned as a child, sums up the gospel quite nicely.”
Today’s readings invite us to believe in and soak up God’s love, trust in that love and then to love as fearlessly as God does through forgiveness.
That theologian was quite correct. God who is love and who loves us unconditionally is the most basic rendering of the message Jesus came to give us. That message occurs consistently throughout the New Testament, and is evident in today’s first reading from the Old Testament as well.
The evangelist John is very direct in his letters: “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them” (1 Jn 4:15). The most radical sign of God’s love for us, of course, is the selfless sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the Cross, forgiving those who were crucifying him.
The importance of being grounded in God’s unconditional love for us cannot be stressed enough. We need to truly believe – and live out of the belief – that there is absolutely nothing we can to do make God love us more than God already does. Today, in the gospel, Jesus tells us we are worth more than any number of sparrows, that even the hair on our heads is counted. That sentence leaves those like me who are pretty well bald, a little envious of those with a full head of hair!
It is no accident that when asked what was the greatest commandment in the scriptures, Jesus replied basically – love: Love God with our whole being; love others as we love ourselves; love one another as he has loved us and love our enemies by forgiving them.
There are two definite patterns in our lives – a love pattern, and a lack-of-love pattern. When we experience unconditional love, when our human needs to be loved, to belong and to be valued are met, we feel a profound human security. That secure feeling leads to a sense of belonging and being at home in our own skin. That feeling in turn leads to a life filled with peace and order, and ultimately, we are able to lead lives that are full of meaning, joy and freedom, loving others as God has loved us, especially through forgiveness. Not only that, today in the gospel Jesus tells his disciples three times not to be afraid. Freedom from fear accompanies the reality of being secure in God’s love for us.
The opposite pattern happens whenever there is a lack of love in our lives, from any number of causes. We begin to feel very insecure – are we loved or not? One cannot build any kind of solid life on that weak foundation. That leads to a sense of loneliness, anger and fear that soon manifests itself in chaos and disorder, as we begin to act out of those painful emotions. The end result will often be an addiction to a false god of possessions, pleasure, prestige, fame, power or control, depending which we chose to medicate our pain instead of going through the pain with faith in God’s love to redeem and heal us.
To be grounded in God’s love for us, and in the love of people in our lives, is what sets us free to love in turn. Jesus, so secure in the Father’s love for him, was able to say “no” to those false gods Satan tempted him with in the desert. Jesus, so secure in the Father’s love for him, was able to take off his outer garments symbolizing status, power, authority, wealth, prestige, etc., and wash the feet of his disciples, the task of a slave. Jesus, so secure in the Father’s love for him, was finally able to freely accept to die on the Cross for us, to reveal to us the depth of the Father’s love for us.
Joseph, in the first reading, is an Old Testament prefiguring of Jesus. He knew he was beloved of the Father, as was Jesus. He was placed into a well and sold for pieces of silver, as was Jesus. He was taken to Egypt, as was Jesus. He was able to turn his trauma into new life, as did Jesus through the resurrection. And finally, so secure in God’s love for him throughout all his sufferings, as did Jesus on the cross, he was able to forgive his brothers who were fearful he would not after their father died.
St. Henry II, whom the church honors today, is a good example for us. He lived from 972 to 1024. Descended on both sides from Charlemagne, he was the son of Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and Gisela of Burgundy. In 995, he succeeded his father as duke and in 1002 was chosen to succeed his cousin Otto III as Holy Roman Emperor. The education he received from St. Wolfgang of Regensburg kindled in Henry a lifelong interest in ecclesiastical affairs, which merged with his secular power. He created the See of Bamberg in 1006, built its cathedral, and supported the reforms initiated by the monks at the great monastery of Cluny in France. Known as Henry the Good, he was renowned as a just and clement ruler, a man of prayer and a humble ascetic. He was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III and is a patron of Benedictine oblates, childless couples, dukes, kings and the physically challenged.
The Eucharist that sustained St. Henry throughout his life, is an experience of God’s unconditional, forgiving and healing love for us as it was for him. May our celebration deepen our faith and trust in that love of God, and empower us to go out to love others as Jesus has loved us, especially through the ability to forgive anyone who has hurt us in any way.