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One of my favorite songs, the ''Theme from Love Story,'' begins with the question, "Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be?" Often when I listen to love songs, I reflect on the greatest love of all, God's love for us, especially as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each night during Night Prayer I pray from the First Letter of John (4:10), "Love, then, consists in this, not that we have loved God but that God has loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins." I am staking my life of over a half-century on this planet and staking my privileged experience of over a quarter-century of priesthood on this fact: God is love!
The word "love" appears over 250 times in the New Testament. In the Synoptic Gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the primary use of "love" is in regard to the great commandment to love God and to love your neighbor (Mk 12:28-34; Mt 22:34-40; Lk 20:39-40). In John's Gospel and Letters, love is central to the Evangelist's understanding of the Divine ("God is love" 1 Jn 4:16) and in the ethical dimension of love ("a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another" Jn 13:34). Saint Paul often links love with faith and hope (1 Cor: 13) and this love is clearly the result of faith both for the individual believer and the community in Christ. Throughout the New Testament, love is the central reality of the incarnation and the ministry of Jesus, expressed most fully in Our Lord's self-giving passion, death and resurrection. If ever you wonder about or doubt God's love for you, look to the manger and look to the cross. In Jesus Christ, God's infinite and unconditional love for us is made visible.
This Sunday's lessons from Scripture confront us with the demands of love (see Mt 5: 38-48). Most of the Sunday Gospel readings this year (Year A in the Lectionary) come from Saint Matthew, who wrote his Gospel for a primarily Jewish Christian community in the latter third of the 1st century. The Jewish character of Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as the New Moses whose Sermon on the Mount is the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments. In this context Jesus situates the old Law ("you have heard it said...") within the new ("but I say to you..."). The Law of Moses, articulated in the first reading of Leviticus, finds its deepest meaning in the person of Jesus. Jesus is calling his disciples to a higher law: the law of love. Thus, he can say: "offer no resistance...turn the other cheek...hand over your cloak...love your enemies...pray for those who persecute you." All of these challenging ethical commands of Jesus make sense only from the perspective of love. God has loved us so much--"The Lord is kind and merciful" (Psalm 103)--and so we must love one another with the radical love of Jesus!
As we pray so beautifully and so profoundly in a Preface for the Eucharist, "God sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ." The challenge for all of us who follow Christ is to see and love in others what God sees and loves in them. If we truly accept the person of Jesus and his unconditional love into our hearts, then that love must flow from our thoughts, words and deeds to everyone. There are no exceptions to God's love and there should be no exceptions to our love.
We are to be instruments of God's love in our world. The more deeply we know God's unconditional love for us, the more generously we can share that love in the complex and sometimes complicated circumstances of our lives. As we experience God's great love for us in the manger of Jesus and in the cross of Christ, so others must experience the love of Christ in and through us. So, where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be? I begin with Jesus and you.
Father Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.