True Love

Since not long after Christmas the aisles of our cities’ stores have been adorned with hearts and cupids proclaiming “True Love” and “Be Mine.”  It is part of our nature to desire to celebrate, and what better cause for celebration than love? After all, at the root of our greatest feasts, Christmas and Easter especially, is that Love which became flesh and dwelt among us.  It is that same Love, the heart of the Holy Trinity, which called each one of us into being and has designed us to give of ourselves in love.  It is little wonder that our society has grasped onto St. Valentine’s Day as an expression, however poorly understood, of this mystery.  We must go deeper than candy hearts if we are seeking a true love that will change our lives. 

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  (Jn 15:13)

When we are seeking a pattern of “True Love,” we need look no farther than the Cross.  At once simple and humanly impossible, this invitation to sacrifice is a true test of our declarations of love and fidelity.  Do we only love when it is easy or pleasant or when we are affirmed and received by the other?  Do we continue to love when we are wronged or misunderstood?  Do we really seek the good of the other or can we fall into using or manipulating?  Perhaps we have not always been perfect examples of this kind of love, but is this not how we long to be loved and how we long to live ourselves? 

If we have not yet attained to perfect love, we should not lose hope!  While we have this awesome call to love, we also have the model to follow and the promise of God’s grace to live it out!  It is such a gift to be spurred on by examples of this self-sacrificing love, especially within our mission of serving vulnerable pregnant women and their families.  We are often amazed and challenged by the forgiveness and sacrifice shown by mothers whose hearts have expanded through receiving God’s gift of new life.  It may be the mother who guards the fragile life of an unborn child who has an adverse prenatal diagnosis.  It can be a daily battle for her to insist that she will care for this life as long as God allows and reject the pressures to end her pregnancy.  It is often a poor and abandoned mother who resolves with this pregnancy to live her life choosing the good for herself and her new baby, continuing her education and turning from harmful relationships.  It is also the young woman who discerns that she is called to make a plan of adoption for her baby.  Each of these situations presents dramatic choices to the women and to all of us.  How can we best love God and our neighbor? 

We love because He first loved us.  (1 Jn 4: 19)

Jesus not only shows us how to love, but He gives us the love we are to share.  In His self-emptying in the Incarnation, in His ministry of preaching and healing, in His enduring gift of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Love, in His Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus pours out His love and invites us to respond in love.  We are empowered to lay down our lives in love because He has first loved us.  We can be channels of what we have received from Him.  Therefore, it is worth our effort to learn how to be open to this love in prayer, to see His hand guiding and providing in our daily lives, to accept our lives as a gift from Him. It is when we learn to be filled with His love that we can share that love with others.  It can be a risk for all of us who are trying to live the Gospel and to serve others to think that we can do it alone.  However, if we do not live in the love of God, we are not offering what the other most needs.  The Lord loves each one of us and longs for us to receive Him and to respond to Him in love. 

Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.  (Jn 14: 13)

Prayer is an essential way of expressing our love to the Lord.  The Mass is the most perfect prayer, in which we can receive Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist, communing with the One who loves us more than we can imagine. Another treasured devotion is the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a beautiful collection of titles for our Lord in which we call on Him in praise and to tell Him our needs.  The heart is such a vivid symbol of love, and it is powerful to know that Our Lord loved with a human heart, which still beats for us in Heaven. “We can contemplate and honor the Heart of the divine Redeemer as a symbolic image of His love and a witness of our redemption and, at the same time, as a sort of mystical ladder by which we mount to the embrace of ‘God our Savior.’” (Haurietis Aquas, Pius XII)

In the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in particular, we are calling up on the love and mercy of Jesus.  Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity, have mercy on us; Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts, have mercy on us; Heart of Jesus, delight of all the saints, have mercy on us.  When we love someone we do not tire of telling them.  This litany is a treasured means of expressing and deepening our love for the Lord.  In it, we are also placing our trust in Him, calling Him by name. 

Filled with His love, inspired by His example, and fueled by His grace, we move forward into a world that often misunderstands love, settling for counterfeits. Every one of us seeks to give and receive love, and the world is thirsting for true witnesses of this great gift.  May we give ever-greater testimony to the One who first loved us and who alone can satisfy the longings of our hearts.   In this way, we will be building the Civilization of Love and the Culture of Life.