What It Means to Love
Friday May 18, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 15:22-31) Gospel (St. John 15:12-17)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear one of the most famous passages of the Gospel: our Lord telling us that we must love one another, and that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. What a wonderful thing that He calls us no longer servants, but He calls us friends and He lays down His life for each one of us. He tells us at the same time that we will be truly His friends if we do what He commands us. It is not just an easy sort of thing that we can take in a flippant way, but rather it has a demand on our side as well. We have to do what He commands us to do, and He has commanded us above all to love. That is the point we have seen over the last several days. We have to love God; we have to love our neighbor. Then He tells us how to do it is to lay down our life.
Now when we look at the crucifix, of course, there we see the greatest act of love that humanity has ever known. God is not necessarily asking that we will go to the Cross - physically, that is; spiritually, we must. For those who are married, you have made a vow and that vow is to lay down your life for the person to whom you have given yourself. It is to lay down your life not once for a couple of hours on the Cross, but every single day and every single moment of every single day. We are to pour ourselves out. We are to learn how to love perfectly. I always tell the couples at their weddings that the idea is that every single day your love must grow more and more. Love never is static. It either grows or it goes backwards. If we are not loving more then we are loving less. Loving more is two people who are in love with one another giving themselves totally, completely, and as perfectly as they can to the other person. They are seeking the good of the other, trying to build up the other, and helping the other one to become a saint. That is what true love is really all about.
The goal of married life, as it is for Christian life in general, is to become saints so that on the day that you die the Lord will be able to look at you and see a perfect reflection of Himself (One who is Love.) He will see one who has loved so perfectly what he or she has vowed that they will reflect the Lord completely. That is the goal of what this life is all about. As Christians who are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are called to the love of Christ Himself. No matter what our state in life, we are called to love; we are called to give. That is what love is all about. It is not a question of what am I going to get; it is a question of what am I giving. For married couples, you have given yourself entirely. It is not a partial gift. It is not something you can look at and say that you gave fifty percent or eighty percent. You gave one hundred percent. There is nothing left to take back. You have given it all. On a day to day, minute by minute, hour by hour basis, it is a matter of giving all constantly, continually. It is not an easy way, but it is the way of love. That is what our Lord has commanded us.
We see even from the first reading what the early Church recognized. They said to the early converts, "We do not want to burden you with anything beyond what is absolutely necessary." That is exactly what our Lord is doing for us. He says to only do what is necessary; we do not want to burden you with anything else. And what is absolutely necessary is to love: to love God, to love neighbor, to pour ourselves out completely as Jesus did on the Cross. We must continually come before Him in prayer, because that is the only way that we can do it. On a natural level it is not possible, but with God's Grace, all things are possible. With the Lord, through the Lord, and in the Lord, we can love and we have been loved. We can pour ourselves out and we can die for the person who is with us, not physically always, but spiritually to die to self so that we can live for another. In pouring ourselves out, we can give life to the other person. In giving life to the person, that individual recognizes what it means to be loved, and then will be able to love in return in a more perfect manner. That is the way God works with us. He pours His love into us and we are to be able to love Him in return. On a human level for married couples, for children, and so on, it is the same thing. We give to one another, and on receiving that gift from another, we learn what it means to be loved. It opens our hearts and we can respond in love. We can give of ourselves and we can lay down our life in that way, pour it out entirely, and there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.