Tuesday January 8, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:7-10) Gospel (St. Mark 6:34-44)
In the first reading today, Saint John tells us that we have to love one another because love is of God. Then he goes on to tell us that God is love. Now the importance of this, of course, is that each one of us is created in the image and likeness of God. God is love; that means we are created in the image and likeness of love. We are made to love and be loved.
Love is something that we cannot initiate, however. Saint John makes that very clear at the end of the reading when he tells us, "Love consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and that He has sent His Son as the expiation for our sins." Love comes from God, and He puts the love into our hearts. Then, with the love that God gives to each one of us, we are able to love one another. Our love for one another is really an overflow of the love for God.
So if we want to be able to love one another more, we have to love God more. It is just that simple. There is that hierarchy of love that I have many times mentioned. For those with marriage and a family: if you want, first, to love your children more, you need to love your spouse more because your love for your children flows from your love for your spouse. But if you want to love your spouse more, you must love God more because your love for your spouse will flow from your love for God. If you want to be able to love anybody, you have to be able to love God. God loves all of us so He puts the love into all of us so that we can love.
But for most of us, love is a selfish thing - in many ways, at least; it is not perfected. We love other people in a couple of different ways. First of all, we think we are in love when we have gushy feelings. That is not what love is all about. It is not an emotion; it is a virtue. Love seeks the good of the other always and in all things. This is why Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies. If we love our enemies, we are probably not going to have gushy feelings toward them or romantic ideas. That is not what love is about. But we are to do what is best, even for our enemies. That is what He is requiring of us.
He calls us to love, but if we want to love perfectly we need to overcome the emotional part, and we also need to overcome the other element, that is, the selfishness. We will do something good for someone else because we want something in return. Everything that we do is usually calculated out a little bit. "How is this person going to think of me? What am I going to get in return for this? What is it that I am going to get from this?" Everything is about the self. Until we are perfect, every single thing that we do has something of the self in it. But we need to be striving for perfect love. We may start out with a good intention to simply do something good for another person without seeking any kind of recognition or accolades of any variety. But we know our humanness well enough. And it takes about 30 seconds to a minute (if we are really getting good at it) before we start thinking: "Well, this person better notice what I'm doing for them!" or "What am I going to get from this?" or "Maybe they'll do this for me." We see how quickly even our best intentions turn selfish. Love is selflessness. But most of us are so filled with selfishness that we do not know how to love. It is there; we have the capacity to do it; we just do not know how.
That is why Jesus, in the Gospel reading, would look at His disciples when they come with the suggestion to feed these people - of course, it is exactly what He had been doing, not in their bellies but in their minds. (He had compassion on them so He taught them at length, Saint Mark tells us) - and say, "Give them something yourselves." In other words, "Give yourselves." They did not understand. "Are we to spend 200 days' wages to be able to feed these people?" they asked. Jesus then works the miracle to be able to feed them, to be able to show by the twelve baskets that are gathered up that He is the Messiah for the twelve tribes of Israel. They are to recognize that this is similar to the manna in the desert that fed the twelve tribes for all those days, but that it is much more than that. It is He who feeds them, and He feeds them with Himself. But they do not understand that. There is the second miracle of the loaves and fishes in which they gather seven baskets to be able to show that He is the Messiah for the whole world, for the Gentiles, the seven that makes up the fullness of the whole thing. But they missed that one too; they did not understand.
What about us? Jesus continues to feed us. He feeds us with His teaching. Much more importantly, He feeds us with Himself; He gives Himself entirely. Then He commands us to love. In other words, "Give yourself entirely. Do for others what I have done for you." That is exactly what He tells us: to love one another as He has loved us. And so that means to be an example, to teach, to feed, to give ourselves - not to have gushy, romantic feelings but to give. And that hurts; it does not feel good most of the time. But He did not ask us to have good feelings about other people; He commanded us to love them.
So we need to look at the people that we do not like very well. We even need to look mostly at the people that we love the most. How do we treat them? Are we truly seeking their good? Are we pouring ourselves out? Are we giving of ourselves? Are we doing for them what Our Lord does for us? We come every morning and Jesus gives Himself entirely to us. He feeds us, and then He asks that we would go out into the world and do the same. After receiving Jesus today in Holy Communion, ask yourself if you are doing for others what the Lord has just done for you. Then ask Him how you can do it more perfectly so that each day we can continue to grow in love until it is perfected, until there is nothing selfish remaining, and our whole life, then, is offered as a sacrifice for others the way that Jesus' life is offered for us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.