4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we hear talk of love we tend to think first of the love between a man and a woman. The description of love by St Paul is often chosen as a reading at marriages. Love, at least to begin with, is often unplanned, out of our control, something which excites such powerful feelings and promises such pleasure that love has throughout history inspired both suspicion and praise.
Love often begins with that almost uncontrollable desire for pleasure, uncertain, indeterminate. Gradually purified it seeks to become definite – to be love for a particular person, it seeks to become certain – to be love for ever. It moves from being focussed on me and now to being focussed on the other and on eternity. It moves from being concerned primarily with myself and the desire for personal pleasure to an overriding concern for the one who is loved and a desire to give pleasure to the beloved.
This understanding of love is clear in the Bible as the writers inspired by the Holy Spirit gradually come to know God. Through the writers never lose sight of the truth that God is in the end beyond our understanding we see a development in thecway God is described. First a jealous and demanding God, then a God who desires his people with the passion of a bridegroom, then slowly we see a God who loves freely, unconditionally, a love which will forgive even when Israel, the beloved is unfaithful.
At the same time in the Old Testament, the human person, man is understood from the book of Genesis onwards as someone who always longs for a companion. When Adam is created he is incomplete, he needs another to love; Desire, the beginning of love is part of man’s nature and it is in marriage, as man and woman become one, that this desire is fulfilled and love can grow to encompass unity, self giving, forgiveness and new life. And thus in the bible marriage becomes the image of God’s love.
In the New Testament, what is new is Jesus Christ himself. In Jesus, God and Man, the love of God becomes flesh and blood. It takes dramatic form in the parables, the lost sheep, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son above all it is seen on the cross – where God gives himself for the ones he loves. It is here in Jesus that we must look, to know and understand love.
Through the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper, Jesus gives us his body and blood, the Word gives us, in love, himself. He who gives himself on the cross becomes our food, so that the self giving of love of the cross can become part of us.
The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church and the heart of what love is. The Lord, who gives himself encounters us again and again, in the sacraments, in the church’s liturgy, in the scriptures, in the teaching of the Church and in the men and women who over the years have reflected his presence. We learn by this encounter to recognise him, to recognise his presence in our daily lives. And recognising that he loves us first, we become able to love. It is a love story. As we change and mature so must our love. A love never complete on this earth because it leads to communion with God, marriage with God if you like, in the great marriage feast of heaven. But as it grows on this earth it should lead to a communion of wills. What God desires I begin to desire, for no other reason than, I love him so I want what He wants. And obedience to the will of God becomes not an objectionable imposition but in fact a pleasure, it becomes abandonment to what delights my lover. This love, says St. Paul, the love of God, given to us that we may love is that without which we are nothing.