Happy Mother's Day today to all those Mothers who continue to show us in their maternal love the selfless and tireless love which God has for us, His children.
God is love. That simple statement from 1 John 4:8 is a comfort to many. In fact, for many the one thing they may know about the Christian view of God is that God is love. It's a short statement, and easy to remember. But most people know it not because of its simplicity but because of the sense of comfort it brings. We all love love, after all. Who can say anything bad about love? So the thought of God being love is nice. It is comforting.
But if you really consider that statement in its profundity, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit uncomfortable. The thought of God being love is paradoxically comforting and overwhelming at the same time, if we correctly understand love. And therein lies the problem. Most of us cannot say we truly understand love. We glimpse it, and grasp at it, but we cannot comprehend it fully. It is too much for us. This is why God sent His Son into the world; to reveal to us the true face of Love, for we could not know it on our own.
Jesus tells us who would be His disciples, "As the Father loves me, so I also love you... If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love" (Jn 15:9-10). Jesus shows us something important about love -- it is active. Love is more than just a passive feeling. It is more than an emotion. To love someone means so much more than simply having generally positive feelings about that person. Jesus says that to love Him we must do something, namely to follow His commandments. He tells us: "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:12-13). We are to love one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus gave His life for us. This is His model of love. It is a love without boundaries, without conditions, without reservation. It is a love that holds nothing back.
This is our commandment: to love like Christ, without counting the cost. Are you feeling a little uncomfortable now? It is a love that leaves no room for selfishness, no room for big egos, no room for pride. It is a love that is all consuming. We may fear that if we abandon ourselves to love so completely we may lose ourselves. Yet God is love, so the more we love the more we become like God. This is what Christ means when He says "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal" (Jn 12:25). His words only make sense in the context of a total self-giving love. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a disciple of love.
As Christians, our task is to grow in love, yet we fail in love all the time. One excellent definition of sin is "a failure of love." But God gives us many opportunities to grow in love in this world, and so grow closer to Himself. This is why Christ commands us to love the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the home bound, the widows and orphans, the lepers and the outcasts. We are even commanded to love our enemies. (G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the reason why God commands us to love our neighbors and our enemies is because they are frequently the same people).
The Church even gives us sacraments to call us into greater love. Truly all the sacraments are manifestations of God's love for us, but there are two in particular that call us to become special icons of love. I am speaking of the sacraments of vocation.
The Sacrament of Matrimony bonds husband and wife together in a life-long union of love. When man and wife marry, they promise to love one another all the days of their lives, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, better or worse. In other words, it is a love without condition. St. Paul, in his great passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 speaks of the marital relationship as being like the relationship between Christ and the Church. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). And the Church, in kind, loves Christ with an equally self-giving love as witnessed by the martyrs. This is our model for marital love. It is not for the faint hearted!
Marriage is the vocation that builds families and families are the primary school of love. Fathers and mothers must learn self-giving when they raise their children. Selfishness stands in the way of parenthood, which should reflect the love of our Heavenly Father to our children. We honor mothers especially today, on Mother's Day, because of the selfless nature of maternal love. Mothers show us, in their very bodies, something of God's love. Carrying a child in the womb, and then nursing that infant at her breast, a mother gives of herself in a quite literal, physical sense to nourish the life of another. Newborns are the most helpless, most innocent, and most dependent of all and so rely entirely upon the love of others for their lives. Mothers give that love, which does not end with infancy but continues to be with their children all of their lives. Is it any wonder that God, who came into the world in order to show us the depths of His love, would choose to come into the world through a mother?
The other sacrament of vocation is that of Holy Orders, to which certain men are called to grow in love by giving themselves fully not to one woman as a bride, but to the Bride of Christ, the Church. It is worth noting that there are three orders in this sacrament; deacon, priest and bishop. It is a hierarchical order, meaning one cannot be ordained to a higher order without having been ordained to the ones preceding. This means that every cleric in the Church, from your parish priest to the Pope himself is first ordained to the order of deacon, so named from the Greek diakonos which means "servant." To be ordained into Holy Orders in the Catholic Church you must dedicate your life to serve others in love. Religious life, as well, is a powerful means of growing in love by accepting a vocation of total devotion to God in prayer and work. There are many different religious orders, each with specific charisms. Some are devoted to preaching, others to poverty, others to care for the sick, etc. But each of these charisms are for a single purpose -- to manifest more fully God's love in the world.
Matrimony, Holy Orders, and religious life are specific modes of life meant to be icons of love, to show the world what it means to live for others. But the call to love is for all of us, without exception. The unmarried benefit from the example of marital love, just as the laity benefit from the devout service of those in holy orders. God is Love. Therefore love is the universal vocation of all who would have God as their end.