Thursday, May 3, 2012

Love Means Being Rooted in Christ

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B

Love is the most misunderstood word in our vocabulary. It has often been used to describe an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. But it would be naïve to believe that love is nothing more than just a feeling. Love has an essence that resists defining in any single way. Love reaches beyond romance and embraces us in all walks of life as we encounter one another and make choices about respecting and caring for each other. When you try to ask someone to define love, it seems almost impossible without having to resort to some example or another. In other words, love expresses itself in actions and decisions or as St. John puts it in today’s second reading: “Our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.”For many people the main trademark of Christianity is the love which it preaches. “Love one another as I have love you.” This is the great commandment of Jesus. However, we are also aware that many non-Christians accuse us Christians of not practicing what we preach. There is some truth in this.

But there is another element that is necessary to complete the definition of love. It not just a missing necessary part of the equation, but perhaps the sum thereof. For us Christians, love can never be understood unless we understand it in relation to God. In the first encyclical issued by Pope Benedict XVI at the start of his pontificate, ‘Deus Caritas Est’ (God is Love), our learned Pope expounded how the love of God serves as the primary foundation for Christian ethos. He begins the encyclical with a passage from 1 Jn (4:16) - “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” According to him these words express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. It is also in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Thus to be a Christian, to be in love, one must be radically rooted to the person of Jesus, Love Incarnate.

There is nothing mediocre about loving. It is fundamentally the most radical decision or act which man is capable of. The word ‘radical’, however, often frighten us as it evokes images of terrorists and violent ideologues and fundamentalists who are incessantly closed to the ideas and worldviews which appear contrary to theirs. Little, do we realise that the word ‘radical’ has a special significance for us Christians. The etymological origin of the word ‘radical’ is the Latin ‘radix’ which means root. Catholics are essentially radical because they are called to be rooted in Christ. The gospel tells us that Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. Jesus tells us: “whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.” Thus Christian love is essentially being rooted in Christ, who is “the Incarnate Love of God.”

Unless we are rooted in Christ, we will bear no fruits. Unless, we are grafted into Christ, we will not have life. It is impossible to attempt loving on our own. Love is only impossible if we are rooted in the love of God. We can only love another person unconditionally if we love him with the love of God. Many people attempt to love others on their own. They think that they can will themselves to love another person. They feel that they do not need God or even if he is considered, God is merely an addendum or a footnote in their lives. Any attempt at loving others in the absence of God will always be a feeble attempt. Many marriages fail and relationships breakdown for this very reason. Most people, even Christians, believe that marriage is just a human contract between two persons. Very few acknowledge that God is part of the bond of the marriage, what more the seal and guarantee of indissolubility and unity.

We may constantly use and flaunt the word “love” without realising that we are trivialising it. Very often, what we take for ‘love is actually another name for self-interest. We express care and concern for the other person, but often expecting to receive something in return. This isn’t love, or at least not in the Christian sense of the word. Love is being able to care for the other person, give everything we have for the other person, without expecting anything in return. Only God is capable of this. Therefore, in order to be able to love as God loves us, we must first be rooted in God.

Our celebration of the Eucharist celebrates this radical relationship between the Christian and Christ himself in the act of life-giving and loving sacrifice. The Eucharist is a memorial, a re-presentation, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, his self-giving. By sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church, Christians, therefore share in this selfless act of giving. Pope Benedict in his encyclical on ‘love’ explains that this mystical union found in Eucharistic communion has a social dimension. “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbour are now truly united…”

The allegory of the vine and branches also introduces another dimension to our reflection on love. Love is dynamic, it is never static. Love is never “finished” and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. Man is often tempted to believe that love never changes; there is an expectation of stability and predictability. And thus, when relationships actually do change, the constant complaint one hears is this,” He has changed. …She has changed.” But the truth of the matter is that love will change, or rather it grows.

Love, however, does not mean the absence of conflict. Love does not mean that everyone has to like us. There are times when we choose to love with God’s love, even though the other person may not appreciate our love. There are times the loving thing to do would make the other person angry with us. In today’s first reading, we hear of how Paul, then known as Saul, went around “preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord”. He preached the gospel of the Lord out of love for the people. He preached the gospel of the Lord because he was rooted in Christ. But not everyone was happy with him. Some even went to the extent of wanting to kill him. Love means doing the right thing, the truthful thing and the loving thing even when it makes us unpopular.

In today’s mass, let us pray for the grace to be more rooted in Christ. But there is no place for mediocrity in Christianity. You must be radical, in your attachment to Christ. Shallow Christians cop out at the slightest hint of danger or difficulty. Therefore, it is not easy to be a Christian or to love as He did. But we must remember the words of Jesus, “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.” In spite of the obstacles and difficulties we will face as Christians, we believe that God is pruning us and making us stronger so that we will be better witnesses of his love to a world that will continually thirsts and hungers for love.

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