Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Feb. 14.
Love is one of the broadest words in the English language. We use it to describe everything from attachment to a puppy to a soldier’s willingness to die for his country. Greek, the language of the New Testament, doesn’t have a word for love; it has three.
• Eros means the love of romance: infatuation, physical desire.
• Philia means the love of friends: brotherhood, comradeship.
• A third word, agape, means the love of commitment: self-sacrificing benevolence, bonds of loyalty.
Obviously these three kinds of love can and often should overlap, which may be why we use one word to cover all three ideas.
The readings that we have chosen for this Valentine’s Day Mass speak about love. In the first reading we have Tobiah and his bride Sarah praying to God on their wedding night before consummating their marriage — how often do you think that happens? And the prayer ends with the phrase “grant that we may grow old together” — something that all of you couples have experienced! And finally the request, “Bless us with children” — a blessing that most of you have also experienced.
Indeed you have experienced most of the things referred to by Tobiah and Sarah. And even if in your younger years eros, the love of infatuation, romance and physical desire, might have had a role in bringing the two of you together — can you still remember what it was like during your courtship? But it was agape, the love of self-sacrificing commitment that kept you together once the honeymoon was over and caused your love to bear fruit that has lasted all of these many years: in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health all the days of your life.
Half of all marriages today end in divorce, not for lack of romance but rather for lack of the maturity needed to really love with the self-sacrificing commitment that every marriage needs to get through the bad times. The good times, of course, are usually not a problem.
Our other readings today are from John: our second reading from the First Letter of John reminds us that “God is love” and “if we love one another God dwells in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Which dovetails very nicely with our Gospel reading in which Jesus emphasizes his new commandment of love. People often think that the greatest two commandments in the Bible are “love God with all your heart, mind and soul” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” They aren’t: they are the greatest commandments in the Law, meaning the Old Testament.
In the Gospel you chose, Jesus gives us the greatest commandment in the Bible — his commandment, which is greater than the greatest commandments of the Old Testament. And what is it? “Love one another as I have loved you.” And how has Jesus loved us? Sacrificially, to the death. Not just loving others as we love ourselves, which for those who have poor self esteem may not even be very much. But rather loving them as God loves them, meaning more than we love ourselves!
All of you are participating in this Marriage Anniversary Mass, do you realize that was the kind of commitment you made to each other and to God when you made your vows before the altar of the Lord? Love for the bad times as well as the good? To love each other more than you love yourself? Then I invite you to take your partner’s hand and renew your commitment before us today. And then we will pray that God — who is love — will continue to dwell with you in your marriage and thereby bring your love to perfection.
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