This weekend flowers will be delivered, telephone calls will be made, cards will be sent, brunch will be shared, and coffee and orange juice will be spilt on bedspreads when breakfast is served in bed. All of these gestures are the ways that children tell their mothers, “I love you!” These are traditional and honorable ways of showing our love for our mothers. But we know that Jesus challenged what was traditional and honorable so that human beings could come to a deeper understanding of who we are and who God is.
If we look closely at the different ways Jesus showed his love for people, we can say that he did not start with the premise that he was God. That he had the will power to love or not to love. He did not say, “I will myself to cure the ill. I will myself to feed the hungry. I will myself to forgive sinners. I will myself to raise the dead because I am God and I can do it.” Instead, Jesus started with the belief that all people are sacred. Operating from this belief he responded not from his own need to love but from the need of people, who like you and me, need to be loved. In other words, Jesus did not see himself in control of his love; “It is I who love you.” Rather, he saw people as sacred, as worthy of his love.
I believe there are three kinds of love that come from truly believing that people are sacred. SACRIFICIAL LOVE is love that has no limits. It is a love that goes out to give what is needed and more not matter what the circumstance. No demand put upon it is too great. It never grows tired or indifferent. It is always actively at work.
When I was a deacon in the Archdiocese of Denver, I was asked to assist at the annual Mass for the mentally and physically differently-abled people. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was filled with people in wheelchairs and with walkers. Some people were wearing protective helmets and others were clutching stuffed animals. Some people were very quiet and others were very loud.
In the front pew were a father and mother who had a son whose body was no bigger than a ten year old but whose head was the size of a young adult. The young man was wearing a three piece suit with tie and was strapped into something that looked like a modified baby carriage. To comfort their son during the long celebration, the father carefully stroked his son’s forehead. Every so often the mother would bend over to whisper something into her son’s ear. At Communion time the family came forward and when they reached the Archbishop, the father took one consecrated host. He knelt down so that his son could see it and he broke it into three pieces. He gave one pieces to his son, one piece to his wife, and one piece to himself. The parents could have honored their son by providing competent care givers. They could have loved their son by praying for him. But because their son was sacred to them, they sacrificed.
UNDERSTANDING LOVE is love that never questions. It is the acceptance of our own human weakness and the weakness that belong to others. It is not blind love but open-eyed love. It is a love which sees a person for who he or she is and for whom he or she will become.
I have often sat in a restaurant having dinner with friends. At a nearby table there will be a family with one, two, or maybe three children. It is interesting to watch how parents deal with the unpredictable moodiness and behaviors of their children. Sometimes the parents will become frustrated promising some sort of punishment or reward to encourage their offspring to get their act together. Sometimes the parents will be extremely calm and do the best that can be done under the circumstances. They offer their child a ring of keys, a napkin and crayons, or they pull out a zip-locked bag of fish crackers from a diaper bag. They make no promises they simply are present remembering the boring lectures, department meetings, and long homilies that they have to sit through. The parents could have loved by hiring a competent babysitter. They could have loved by staying home with their children. But because their children are sacred to them, parents understood and did what could be done.
FORGIVING LOVE is love that is always given no matter what happens. Over the years I have met with couples who are preparing for marriage. In the preparation process, I have used different instruments that are designed to help couples lean more about themselves and their unique relationship. In the FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study) instrument there is an “Agree” or “Disagree” question that most couples struggle with. The statement reads, “I could not under any condition remain married to my spouse if he/ she were ever unfaithful to me.” Some couples feel that the statement is encouraging them to accept infidelity. In reality, the statement is asking both partners to explore the many ways a couple can be unfaithful to one another: emotionally, physically, and when it comes to setting priorities. It can open a couple to explore all the variables and signs of what else is going on or going wrong with the marriage to make marital infidelity of any sort to take place. With knowledge, forgiveness becomes possible. I forgive you not because it is God’s commandment that I forgive you. I forgive you because I know and accept the struggle you have gone through and you are sacred to me.
On Mother’s Day we are challenge to understand the reasons we have flowers delivered, we make telephone calls, we send cards, we share brunch, and we serve breakfast in bed. Is it because it is the second of two great commandments or is it because we believe what God believes? You are sacred to me? I can assure that the commandment to love will constantly be broken. But the belief that you are sacred to me will enable us always to sacrifice, to understand, and to forgive one another. Happy Mother’s Day!
Fr. Bob Kelly