Sunday, May 12, 2013

Who Defines Love For You?

The "definer of love" for many contemporary Americans.

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 12, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 13: 31-35; 17: 20-26.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of Easter 2013]


Who defines love for you?

Another way to phrase that question would be: Who is the major contributor to your understanding of what love really is?

That’s a crucial issue for each of us to address, because I would contend that whoever defines love for you, defines to a great extent how you love other people!

As human beings, we tend to love as we have been loved, and according to our ideas about love.  Now that’s not so bad if you’ve experienced true love in your life and have learned what real love is all about, but it can be disastrous if you’ve experienced and been influenced by some counterfeit version of love.

This is why people who abuse others emotionally, physically or sexually, very often come from abusive backgrounds themselves.  Love was defined for these abusers by the person or the persons who abused them—and that experience of false love now directly influences how they treat the people they live and associate with.

I would say that in our society at the present time love is being defined for many people by none other than Mr. Hugh Hefner, of Playboy fame.  It’s been that way for decades.

And that’s a real problem.  For these men and women, love ends up becoming little more than a synonym for sex.  And that direct association of love with sex has a number of very practical consequences:  It’s what leads many couples to live together before marriage, and to contracept within marriage.  It also leads some people to be unfaithful in their marriages; and it’s one of the biggest reasons why the divorce rate is so high.

You see, according to Hugh Hefner’s understanding of love, pleasure is the operative principle, so once the pleasure is gone so is the relationship!

And, of course, if marriage is about love, and love is almost exclusively about sex and pleasure, then why shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to marry?  Don’t they deserve some pleasure—some “love”—in their lives?

That’s the twisted logic of many supporters of so-called “gay marriage.” (And if you don’t believe me, just ask our “brilliant” legislators here in the “Catholic” state of Rhode Island who voted for it two weeks ago!).

This skewed logic makes perfect sense in their minds, ultimately because they’ve unknowingly allowed a man like Hugh Hefner to define love for them.

I remember seeing an interview with Hefner once on TV, and someone asked him, “Don’t you feel any regrets about using these young women, and allowing them to use you?” and in his response Hefner basically said, “No—if we’re all aware of the fact that we’re using each other, but we all derive pleasure from the experience, what does it matter?”

And you want to know why so many people today feel alone, and unloved and abused—even though they’re having lots and lots of sex?!

This is one of the major reasons why.  They’re using each other for pleasure through sex, and they think it’s love!

As Catholic Christians our ultimate “definer of love” is supposed to be Jesus Christ—and only Jesus Christ!  In today’s gospel text from John 17, Jesus prays that his love—rooted in the Father—will be present in us.  He said this at the Last Supper, on the night before he died.  He had said something similar earlier in the meal, which is recorded for us in John, chapter 13.  There he said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” 

Notice the qualifying phrase there: “As I have loved you.”  Had Jesus said, “Love one another” and then left it at that, it would be perfectly acceptable to have someone like Hugh Hefner define love for us.  We would even be able to define love for ourselves.

But because Jesus added those five short words “as I have loved you,” all those other options are off the table, so to speak.  This means that our personal view of love is to be formed, first and foremost, based on the words and deeds of our Lord and Savior, who has revealed to us the love of the heavenly Father.

So what exactly was the love of Jesus Christ like?  What were the primary qualities of the love that Jesus showed to other people when he walked the face of this earth?

Well, first of all, the love of Jesus was selfless.  Our Lord never thought of himself first; he always thought of others and the needs of others before he thought of himself and his own needs.  In fact, that’s the reason he came to this earth in the first place: it was to save us from sin and eternal death.  We are the ones who have benefitted from the Incarnation and salvific activity of Jesus.  When all was said and done, the only things our Lord got out of the experience of becoming man were a bloody sweat, a heavy cross and five holes in his body!

The love of Jesus was also patient.  That patience was shown in a special way toward his apostles, who definitely were not among ‘the best’ and ‘the brightest’ when our Lord first called them.  It took them a long time to grow and mature in their faith, but through all those growing pains Jesus showed them incredible patience.  He was patient with Peter at Caesarea-Philippi when Peter put his foot in his mouth and said the wrong thing; he was patient with Peter after his 3 denials; he was patient with Thomas in his doubts; he was patient with Matthew in his worldliness and materialism.

That’s because real love is patient—as St. Paul tells us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 13.

The love of Jesus was also a forgiving love. 

Forgiveness needs to a part of every interpersonal relationship, because every interpersonal relationship involves people who are sinners, and who consequently hurt one another!

If forgiveness is not present in a relationship, the relationship does not survive.

It’s that simple.

Well, not surprisingly, Jesus is our great role model for forgiveness, since he forgave the people who hated him and who murdered him WHILE THEY WERE IN THE PROCESS OF MURDERING HIM!

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

It takes a special kind of strength to forgive others from the heart—especially when the people who have offended us are not sorry, like the murderers of Jesus were not sorry. 

Think of the people who were wounded and who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack in Boston on Patriots’ Day.  How hard must it be—and will it be—for them to forgive?

Forgiveness is not easy—but it is possible by the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ, the greatest forgiver of them all!

Finally, the love of Jesus was self-sacrificial.

“Greater love no one has,” Jesus said, “than to lay down his life for his friends.”  Real, genuine love always finds its greatest and most perfect expression in sacrifice.  Weren’t you moved and inspired the other day when you watched the news footage of the police and medical personnel—and the ordinary, private citizens—rushing to the aid of those injured by the explosions at the Marathon?  I sure was!  What was moving and inspiring was the fact that these men and women were putting their lives on the line as they were helping those in need!  For all these rescuers knew, there were more bombs in Copley Square that were about to go off!  But they sacrificed themselves anyway.  That’s the love of Jesus Christ in action.

And that’s why the greatest “visual definition” of love is—and always will be—the cross of Jesus, in the form of the crucifix.

In closing I should also add the point that many of us in this church right now have been blessed to experience real love—that is to say we’ve been blessed to experience the selfless, patient, forgiving, self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ—through our earthly mothers.  And for that, we say a special thank you on this Mother’s Day to God—and to them.

So—who defines love for you?  Who is the major contributor to your understanding of what love really is?

For each of us, and for every Catholic Christian, may it always be Jesus, Jesus—and only Jesus!