In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to His apostles and us, “I give you a new commandment, love on another, just as I have loved you.”
We have heard this teaching of Jesus many times before because Jesus never gets tired of telling us how much He loves us and how He wants each of us to love one another, so that all of us will one day enjoy the happiness of eternal life together in heaven.
When it comes to the theme of love, we have first to recognise that there is such a thing as “conditional love and unconditional love.” When “conditional love” becomes excessive, it becomes “selfish love.” And “selfish love” is not love because we are loving ourselves more than the person we are called to love.
However, unconditional love is the “selfless love” that Jesus has shown and taught us, and in turn wants us to show to one another.
There is a story of two brothers, Mark and Steve. Steve was 12 years old and was lame from polio. Mark was ten. Though they fought a lot as boys, deep down, they loved each other. Steve was often envious of his brother who had two good legs. One night, Steve had a dream and found himself crawling into a cave and exploring it. When he came to an open space of the cave, he was amazed at its breath taking beauty. As he was admiring its beauty, an old man wearing a long white robe suddenly appeared and walked up to him and asked him, “Steve, what are you doing here, how did you get in?” Steve said, “O, it was an accident. I was playing outside, and when I discovered a hole amongst the bushes, I was curious and so, I just crawled in to explore what was inside. The old man then said, “Okay, you may now make a wish and it will be granted.” Without having to think much, Steve immediately replied, “Well, Sir, I wish I had two good legs.”
With that, the old man threw his cloak around Steve, and before he knew it, Steve found himself back in his bed. He looked around his bedroom and saw his younger brother Mark sleeping soundly in the next bed. The old man then lifted Mark’s blanket to expose his legs and got down to work.
“What are you doing?” Steve asked.
“I’m beginning the operation,” he replied.
“The transference, of course. When I healed you, somebody has to take your place.”
“What? I didn’t know that it was going to be like this?!
The old man then said, “Why? Do you expect me to pluck a pair of good legs from the air? Of course, I have to get it from someone?!”
Steve was silent . . . he just could not see his younger brother suffering in his place . . .
So, he told the old man, “Sir, I can’t let this happen to my brother . . . let me have my own legs back.”
The old man smiled at Steve and said, “you are a good brother,” and disappeared.
Remembering his dream, from that day onwards, Steve never felt envious of his little brother again and he loved him more than ever.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Steve like all of us, wanted the best for himself; a pair of good legs. However, he could not buy that happiness at the expense of his little brother. The true love that Jesus teaches is a “sacrificial love” that always shown for the sake and good and salvation of others. Jesus showed such total and selfless love by willingly dying on the Cross for each of us. So, when He tells us in today’s Gospel, “Love on another just as I have loved you,” He wants our love for one another to be totally selfless and sacrificial, like Steve for his brother.
Let us take another illustration of “selfless love.” One of our parishioner, let us call her, Roselyn, not her real name told me, “Father, I am actually involved in different ministries in our parish. I am in the RCIA ministry, I am in the Ignatian Spirituality Service Team, I bring Holy Communion to the sick, I am in the morning prayer group, Bereavement ministry, I attend daily Mass and I also have a full family to take care of, including my two grandchildren. So, when you launched ‘NCC’, I told myself, I think I have enough on my plate.
However, from your presentations about “NCCs” I began to realise that in NCCs we are actually building parish communities in our neighbourhood and mutually supporting each other in our faith and also witnessing our faith to our neighbours, which is thus, very different from the ministries that I am involved in, I went all out to encourage others to join NCCs.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, just in case you may be thinking that Roselyn is neglecting her family and grandchildren and getting too involved in parish work, let me assure you that this is not the case. She said, “I believe our love for God must not only be shown and shared with our own family. There is so much needs in the world; many are sick, aged, suffering and dying, and there so much needs in the parish too . . .
So, I allocate my time very clearly and carefully between my family needs and the church’s needs. Roselyn assured me, “Father, I am able to do so many things because I have very clear in her priorities and I set aside time for family and parish pastoral work differently. Roselyn is clearly a model parishioner who is full of joy, peace and happiness in life. Note too that she is not lacking in the usual challenges of family life, but blessed with a big and Christ-like heart who will always find time if someone is in need in the parish. In her zeal, Roselyn had encouraged eight parishioners to join her NCC zone, just over the last three weeks.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, please to not fall into the temptation of thinking that Roselyn has more time and less responsibilities than me, and brush aside Jesus’ challenges in today’s Gospel. While we may each tell ourselves that we live a hectic life and have very little time for parish activities and services, let us also remind ourselves, that Jesus in today’s Gospel is preaching about a “selfless love” that is at the same time willing to make the needed sacrifices. It is common to hear the phrase, “I have NO time,” yet when it certain options that interests us and benefits us present themselves, do we not suddenly “create time” for them?
Another dimension of the “selfless love” that Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel is to be forgiving; the “forgiving love” that is selfless and humble. I know of a case of a parishioner, let’s call hear Tracy, whose husband had hurt her deeply through his infidelity. The saving grace of Tracy was that even as she was devastated by what happened, she continued to believe that God would somehow give her the strength to forgive and the hope that one day her husband would repent and return to her and her children.
Throughout her trauma, she hung on to God; her only true hope in her life; even as she wanted to give up many times, she continued to create a space within her heart to accept her husband, if he is to repent and return home one day. To make a long story short, one day Tracy’s husband accepted to join our parish RCIA journey. Today, he is back with his family and have found that if we truly love our family, we must first open our hearts to allow the love of God to challenge us to repent and through God’s strength live the “selfless and forgiving love” that Jesus has shown us.
To conclude, let us remind ourselves that when Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us, “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He is challenging each of us to love unconditionally and selflessly as He has shown us through His Cross. This “selfless love” of Jesus demands that it is also sacrificial for the good and sake of people we love; as shown by Steve, in our story for his brother Mark.
This “selfless love” must also go beyond our family needs and our usual reason that we don’t have time as Roselyn has shown us through her commitment to her family and yet, reaching out to the aged, sick, needy and participation parish ministries and joining “NCC” of our parish family.
Finally, this “selfless love” is also a forgiving love that finds strength and true hope in the Lord, when faced with the many challenges and trials of life that Tracy faced in her marriage vocation.
My sisters and brother in Christ, Jesus is also asking you and I today to respond to the challenges to love one another as He has loved us. Steve, Roselyn and Tracy have shown us that this is possible with God’s graces. What is our response to Jesus?
(homily story adapted from, Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, year C, Flor McCarthy, S.D.B., Dominican publications: 1994; pp 84-87.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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