Most Sacred Heart
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory
John uses the word “love” eighteen times in this morning's selection from his first letter. We might conclude from the frequency of its occurrence and the confidence John shows in its use, that love is a word that picks out a clearly formed idea, a concept sharply distinguished from similar but imprecise notions. This means that we should be able to read John's letter and answer with a great deal of confidence the question, “What is love?” But this is exactly the wrong question to ask. Asked this way, the question leads us to a woefully impoverished answer. The better answer comes with the question, “Who is love?” And to this question, John answers, “God is love.” Lest we think that this too is an imprecise definition, hear what our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has to say about what it means to acknowledge and accept this fundamental truth, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Love is an event, a person. Still too sterile, maybe too abstract? I believe Yeats can help us here. Following the Magi in his imagination, Yeats goes to Bethlehem and finds “the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.” In the flesh and bone of a child, the uncontrollable mystery of love wiggles and cries. Meeting this child, loving this child is to know, to love God.
When did we start to think of love as a concept rather than a person? When did we start to define love in terms of pure emotion, or describe it with the language of biology? When did love become a game piece in the battles of politics and economics? Love has become a libertine passion, a criminal excuse, a political talking-point, an ideological hot-button. It's a reason to demolish, to fight, to build, to save, to heal. In the name of love, we feed thousands and slaughter just as many; for love, we marry and destroy marriage; we rescue and condemn. Is this what Yeats means when he describes the child Jesus as an “uncontrollable mystery”? Released into the world, divine love is untamed and untamable—a mystery to be met, to be accepted or rejected but never properly trained. If God is love, then Love is uncontrollable; at the very least, Love is uncontrollable by those who claim to love.
We do not tame divine love. Rather we are tamed by Him who is Love. Jesus tells us to take on his yoke and take direction. Put on his harness and be driven. The “uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor” dares us to risk life and limb in his care, to place ourselves ahead of him in the field but yoked to a task—the work of giving his Father's love hands and feet, minds and voices. This is not only what he dares us to do, it is what we have vowed to do. If love has become so plastic, so malleable as to mean anything, to be anything, then those of us who claim to love must demonstrate—unambiguously demonstrate—that Love is a person, and that He abides with those who abide with Him. His yoke is our witness. And the work we do in his name must bear the fruit of His love for all.
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