Today we celebrate the patronal feast of our parish, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Simply put, what we celebrate is the love of God symbolized by the heart of Jesus. You can read more about the devotion and solemnity by following the link on the front page of our parish website.
Think about it…if we are celebrating the love of God – and especially symbolized by the heart of Jesus – we are celebrating God’s love for us; a pretty awesome thing to contemplate. Of course, your contemplation will be shaped by what you already think of love. You know… in English we can say “I love you” and… not a lot more without adding modifiers or descriptors. For example, “I really, really love you” – which sounds more like trying to convince someone than an intimate moment. “I like you” or “I am fond of you” does not carry the same gravitas or conviction. Love and the English language is road that does carry you too far. Kiswahili is a different road with lots of choices. There are as many as 21 different verbs for love. In addition to the love a parent has for a child (different that which a child has for the parent) and such other familial loves, Kiswahili acknowledges that the love shared by newlyweds is different from the love shared between a couple who forged their love in the cauldron of marriage over a 50 year different.
Biblical Greek has at least four words used for love: eros, philos, storgē, (rarely used), and ágape. There are some biblical scholars who hold that they are just synonyms without much differentiation, but most see in the usage of the words that there are indeed differences.
- Eros (from which we get the English, “erotic”) is the passion that goes with love.
- Philos (from which we get the English, “Philadelphia,” the city of brotherly love) is the love within the family bond or between equals.
- Storgē means “love” especially of parents and children – It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations (maybe that is the love of parents and teenage children)
- Àgape is the love that is seen in self-sacrificing service. Agape is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children.
I can go on, but I think you get the point. If we accepted these distinctions, maybe a place to begin our contemplation is about the way in which we love. It seems to me newlyweds love with passion and over time work to love with self-sacrifice as they pass through the cauldron of married life. Fifty years later, hopefully with self-sacrificing love well-practiced, there is still the passion. But how about us? Can we love with all four senses of love on full throttle? Now that would be love to the nth degree.
It would be the love seen in our first reading. The prophet Hosea’s wife Gomer (whose Hebrew root means “unfaithful”) pleads her love with passion one day, but then leaves when someone else comes along. Yet, Hosea continues to love with passion, is committed to the marriage bonds, and loves in a way that is self-sacrificing beyond all reason – ever waiting with open arms for Gomer’s return. The book of Hosea has always been seen as an extended metaphor for God’s love for Israel – wayward, not always faithful, and ever in need of forgiveness. A bit like all of us, yes?
It is the love for which St. Paul prays: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
It is the love on display in the Gospel – Jesus’ love for us was so passionate, so deep, so unrelenting that He loved us even unto death – the ultimate self-sacrifice.
This is how God loves. This is how Christ loves us. Wow. Because, if that is the ultimate measure of love, I have to tell you, I fall short – way short. Maybe I need more passion or to be more apparent in that passion. Maybe “being pastor” leaves me too often “in charge” and I need to focus on being a fraternal equal to everyone. Maybe there are situations which I just accept or are indifferent about – perhaps I need to especially love in those circumstances. And what love is there in this world for which I would truly be willing to love unto death? In just asking the questions of myself, the expression “falling short” is understatement at best.
Even acknowledging my short fall, I am hoping love is like prayer. In Romans 8, St. Paul writes: “…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27) Maybe the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with love as He does with prayer, filling out and perfecting that which our love lacks. I sure hope so.
Love on full throttle – this is at the core of the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is what we celebrate. It is our model of love. I fall short today, but tomorrow I will arise and read the same note at my bedside: “Therefore hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, so that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally.” (St. Francis of Assisi).
Maybe tomorrow I will love better and be just that much closer to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.