May 3, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

God’s gift to us: pure, unconditional love

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The Sixth Sunday of Easter offers us an opportunity to reflect on love, not as the world defines love, but as Christ makes love known to us.

In the second reading, St. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), but the word “love” has different meanings. What kind of love do we see when we look at Jesus who is the face of God?

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

(Jn 15:13), Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Divine love is what the English writer C.S. Lewis called “gift-love.” It’s generous, selfless and totally consumed with the good of others.

The very act of creation was an expression of God’s loving nature. God created the world as an act of generous self-giving, and even now God’s Holy Spirit breathes life into every living thing, including every man, woman and child, out of pure, unconditional love.

We Christians believe that God’s free decision to become one of us in the man Jesus of Nazareth, was an act of gift-love. As we read in this Sunday’s second reading, rather than allow humanity to remain lost and helpless as a result of sin—the deliberate turning away from God’s love—God the Father sent his only Son, Jesus, to us “as an expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

The word “expiation” means an act of atonement or compensation for wrongdoing. It is “payback” for sin, and we believe that no human power by itself is strong enough to compensate for the sins humanity has committed against God. Only a love stronger than death, the self-sacrificing love of God himself, is powerful enough to atone for our sins.

C.S. Lewis identifies a second category of love that he calls “need-love.” All of us need love, including the attention that children require from their parents and the friendship that we all seek. We know that it is not good for anyone to be utterly alone, without the fellowship or communion that we experience among spouses, family members, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. That’s one reason why eros (romantic love) is built into us—to help us get outside of ourselves and become united with another person in accordance with God’s will for us.

Need-love is important. Without it, we would wither and fade into loneliness and despair. But need-love taken too far can be destructive. Most of us have experienced, to some degree, the “love” that is greedy, demanding or excessive. Unchecked, need-love turns into its opposite, which is not love at all. That’s why self-mastery and discipline are so important in personal relationships, especially in the area of human sexuality.

God’s love, which we see so clearly in Jesus, his mother and all the saints, transforms ordinary need-love into something much more powerful and life-giving.

St. John’s Gospel quotes our Lord saying to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:9-10). Then, Jesus gives us his commandment: “Love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12).

The love that Jesus has for us is gift-love. It is kind, generous, selfless and willing to sacrifice life itself for the sake of our happiness and well-being.

Jesus knows that we can never achieve the kind of perfect gift-love that he has for us. Only Mary, who by the grace of God was conceived without sin, was able to live without experiencing the destructive effects of original sin. The rest of us, including all the saints, have to overcome the tendency to allow need-love to take over our lives.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete” (Jn 15:11), Jesus tells us. Gift-love is the source of authentic satisfaction and joy. When, with the help of God’s grace, we can set aside our own needs and wants, as necessary as these often are, in order to give ourselves completely to others, we can experience the fullness of joy.

We all need love, but paradoxically we find the love we need by giving it away. Gift-love is God’s love. It is the most powerful gift that God has given us, and we can experience it directly in the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.

Jesus has taught us what true love is: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). We are Jesus’ friends if we do what he commanded: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). †

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