Fr. Charles Irvin
Hosea 2: 16, 17, 21-22; 2 Corinthians 3:1-6; Mark 2:18-22
In today’s first reading we hear God declaring to us: “Thus says the LORD: I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.” The woman God is speaking about is us. God sees us and loves us as His beloved bride.
God reveals Himself to us using many themes. He is king, He is shepherd, He is savior… and He is bridegroom. God hates the distance between us and wants be as close to us as He can. Nothing reveals that more powerfully than His giving Himself to us in love. He has fallen in love with us and, as our Tremendous Lover, seeks us out. Today’s Gospel reading carries on that theme. Jesus presents Himself to us as our bridegroom, the one who marries Himself to us.
In his epistles, St. John tells us that God is love and if we do not know love we cannot know God. St. John speaks of love dozens and dozens of times in his Gospel and in his letters. All that St. John teaches is centered on the fact that God is love.
Talking about love is both easy and difficult. It’s easy because we all have thoughts and feelings associated with love. We all have some experience with it. But it is difficult because we attach our own meanings to the word love – we all have our own sets of thoughts and feelings about it. Can we ever have a shared understanding of it?
Philosophers stretching back through thousands of years of human history have talked about love. Unfortunately we haven’t the time here and now to go into what they have taught, so please allow me to summarize a bit.
Basically there are three kinds of love: erotic love, brotherly love, and self-giving love. Erotic loves is constantly presented to us in today’s movies, magazines, and television shows. Erotic love seeks only pleasure, sensual pleasure. It leads us into the isolation of nothing but self-centered love.
Brotherly love is higher – it seeks the good of the other. In its nature it is caring, protecting, and sharing. Brotherly love leads us into living together as a community.
The third form, self-giving love, is God-like. It is self-emptying without loss of one’s own self. It is self-sacrificing, seeking only the good of the other and does not look for any sort of “pay back” in return. The primary concern is the happiness and fulfillment of the beloved.
There is danger is this third kind of love, this self-giving love. The danger is that in loving someone with this kind of love we can easily lose our very selves in the giving. We can step over the boundaries that define our selves and lose our very selves in the giving of our selves away to another. The result is that we end up empty and have nothing left to love with, nothing left of a self to give to another in love. We can lose our own identity because we have given it away.
It takes an “I” to love a “Thou.” When you say to another “I love you,” you want to have a self that is worth something to give. To give the gift of love, one must have something to give, something that is strong, beautiful, attractive – a self that is admirable, a self that has substance, a self that another would want to be with. Who wants to be loved by a nothing? Who wants to be loved by a nobody that is nothing more than an empty shell?
You women and girls out there – don’t you want to be loved by a man who is strong, loving, and wise? Oh, I know that girls like boys that are funny and fun to be with. But life isn’t fun and games. You need to marry a man, not a playboy. A playboy is, after all, just a boy. Life is challenging, frightening — filled with storms and terrible things that can threaten and destroy our happiness and security. Don’t you want a partner that can face them in strength and courage?
You men out there – don’t you want to be loved by a woman who has her own inner strengths, her own intelligence, her own sense of self? Don’t you want to be loved by a woman who knows how to take care of herself and consequently knows how to take care of others, particularly those she is close to and loves?
God loves us as a lover without losing Himself in the giving. God’s love is self-emptying while remaining self-sharing. The more He loves the more He has with which to love.
It’s interesting to observe that the Bible speaks of the Lord’s Supper as “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” We celebrate that wedding in each and every Mass. “This is my body,”
God tells us, “take it and make it one with yours.” “This is my blood,” He tells us, “take it an mingle it with yours.” God is marrying us here! He renews His marriage with us each and every time we receive Him when we celebrate Mass with Him. It is here that He fills us with His inexhaustible, ever-present, and ever-renewing love.
That idea was unheard of in the time before Jesus Christ. That idea was unthinkable in the minds of the children of Abraham. What God the Son did, what Christ Jesus gave us, was truly radical, so much so that He asked us to completely change our understanding of what kind of a God God is. That’s why Jesus declared: “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
To love with the self-giving love of God is a challenging, even daring, thing to do. We need the strength and power of God to love like that. We need to be nourished with and strengthened by the Bread of Life. With His love within us and joined into ours we can love the way He created us to love – we can love like He does.