31st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
You have heard it said, “Love is Love.” But I say to you, “Love is Love.” Uh? Yes. Love is love. Hate is hate. 2+2 is 4 is 2+2 is 4. And up is up and down is down. In philosophical terms, we call this a tautology; that is, an instance of unnecessary repetition, conveying no meaning. IOW, a vacuous platitude that pretends to be profound. Looks good on a bumper sticker and gets applause at a rally. But doesn't really capture anything more than a disguised ideological sentiment. The same can be said for “Jesus is Jesus,” “God is God,” Truth is Truth.” Emptied of content, the subject and predicate of the sentence, “Love is Love,” simply means. . .nothing. Nothing at all. The great revelation of Christ Jesus – Son of God and Son of Man – is that Love has content; that is, Love is distinct, content-rich, definable, and Real. Love is not simply a cipher, a meaningless place-holder for whatever meaning we choose to give it. Love is a person, a Way to perfection, the Truth of salvation. Love is the nature and reality of the Divine, a means of being fully human on the road to heaven. Jesus, quoting Det., says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
We don't hear “shall” used much anymore in English. It seems. . . impolite. “Shall” is imperative. It's an order. “You will go to the store” is a prediction. “You shall go to the store” is an command. Jesus says that we shall love God and neighbor. He doesn't ask or suggest or plead. He orders. And in ordering, he tells us plainly that loving God and neighbor is not simply a matter of emotion or passion. Loving God and neighbor is not whatever we choose to feel it is. Loving God and neighbor is about participating in the Divine Nature, which is God Himself, Love Himself. And Love Himself reveals Himself in Scripture. So, we can come to a better but still imperfect understanding of what it is to love by reading Scripture. There we find that Divine Love is creative, diffusive, Other-centered; correcting, redeeming, sacrificial, and rooted firmly in an objective, knowable reality. And b/c this is so, Jesus can order us to love, to participate fully in Divine Love. Such a thing is not only possible but necessary. If love is merely a subjective passion, an emotion, then we'd have no way of knowing objectively if we are following our Lord's commands. He says “you shall love,” and so. . .we love.
Since we are only able to love b/c God, Who is Love, loves us first, we know that love can't mean just whatever we want it to mean. As I've said, Love has knowable content, content that cannot be changed by mere human willing. Love creates all this was, is, and will be. From nothing, Love creates. Since Love creates and holds all created things in being, we say that Love is diffusive. Think of your grandma's Old School perfume, filling the air. Think of NOLA humidity in July, creeping into every crevice. Love is Other-centered. Jesus orders us to love: God, first; neighbor, next; self, last. Genuine Love corrects error and admonishes sin. Think about a toddler headed into traffic. No parent says, “I love the little bugger, so I have to respect her choice to play on I-10!” Love redeems. Love mends, re-establishes, restores. Love sets relationships right and brings Love Himself back into focus. And love sacrifices. It makes holy that which we choose to surrender to God. The greatest act of Divine Love is our redemption on the Cross, the sacrifice made by Christ Jesus to make our perfection in him possible. B/c God, Who is Love, loves us first, we are able to love in all the ways He loves.
We can ask: if we are able to love in the way God loves, why don't we? The easy answer is: sinful will. Disobedience. A disposition toward wanting to be god w/o God. The more difficult answer is: we've been trained by the world and a corrupt culture to confuse genuine love with fickle emotion. We've been trained to think that love is a fleeting feeling, a gut-reaction, a moment of passing infatuation. To “love me” in this world is to tolerate my destructive choices; to celebrate my disordered passions; to ignore my vices and let me go blind in the darkness of sin and death. This sort of love has no telos, no end, no goal. It's self-indulgent. It doesn't create or redeem. It can't sacrifice or correct. To admonish me, to try and save me from myself is an act of hatred. So, instead we choose to call our indifference to eternal things love and congratulate ourselves for our generosity and tolerance. As members of one Body, the Church, created and re-created in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, we owe one another veritas in caritate – the Truth in Love. We owe one another everything we are and have b/c everything we are and have comes first from Love Himself. With all your soul, your mind, your strength, Love as God loves – sacrificially, redemptively, creatively.