The Apostle John, traditionally regarded as “the beloved disciple,” in today’s Second Reading gives us the simplest and yet most profound definition of God: “God is love.” The Greek word used here is ἀγάπη (agápē) which is one of four Greek words translated by the English word “love.” This word is translated into Latin as caritas, sometimes spelled charitas. This is an appropriate translation of ἀγάπη if we recognize that this Latin word is actually derived from another Greek word, χάρις (charis) which is the Greek word for “grace.” Grace, of course, is a free gift from God. Even in English we use the Latin word gratis, meaning, “for free.” This is what sets love in the sense of ἀγάπη apart from all other forms of love: it is freely given and is not dependent upon some benefit first received from the object of love. This is how John goes on to describe it in today’s Second Reading: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” God’s love, therefore, is unconditional, selfless and freely given.
In today’s Gospel Jesus twice “commands” his disciples—us—to “love one another.” The verb form of ἀγάπη is used there. Jesus, the God who is love become man, will express his divine nature in human form on the cross: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This gives him the right to command us: “love one another as I love you.” It is the same word used when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:43, Luke 6:27) This love is an unconditional respect for the dignity of someone as a human being, created in God’s image and redeemed by the Son.
As imperfect human beings marred by the effects of original sin or concupiscence—the antithesis of ἀγάπη—it may take a lifetime to become capable of Godly love. We may never attain it perfectly in this world. Nevertheless, God never stops giving us his love, his grace, in the sacraments. We must strive never to be complacent with our failure to love as he has loved us, for our humanity—indeed our salvation—depends upon it: “Whoever is without love (ἀγάπη) does not know God, for God is love.” To love in this way is to fulfill our destiny, for we have been created in the image and likeness of God. (Cf. Genesis 1:26-27) This is what sets us apart from all other creatures in this world. This, ultimately, is heaven.
This great season of grace continues this week as seven second graders from St. Peter Parish and one from St. Charles receive their First Holy Communion during the 9:00 Mass this Sunday. The Church is enriched and renewed by the grace of the sacraments effective in the lives of her members.
Today is Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson made this a national holiday in 1914. Mother’s Day has its origins in Greek springtime pagan celebrations in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. It spread into Europe and with Christianity became a celebration in honor of “Mother Church,” who gives us new life through baptism and protects us from harm through the grace of the sacraments. This eventually combined with an English observance of “Mothering Sunday,” when servants were given the day off to spend with their mothers, and it became a day in honor of natural mothers as well. So the life-giving and nurturing characteristics of motherhood and of the Church complement one another and are appropriately observed during May, the month of Our Lady, Mother of the Church and Queen of Families.
Pray the rosary this week for mothers, living and deceased. Pray for Holy Mother Church, for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and for those from our parishes who have recently received their first communion or confirmation. Pray also for good weather for the spring planting and growing season. As always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.