Taking the Risk to Love
January 7, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Wednesday After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:11-18) Gospel (St. Mark 6:45-52)
In the first reading today, Saint John talks about love and tells us that God has loved us so, meaning that God has sent His Son into the world to take away our sins, that while we were at enmity with God – in fact, as Saint Paul says: while we were yet His enemies – God sent His Son. We see the love that God has. It is not a matter of doing something nice for somebody who has done charitable things for you; rather it is doing exactly what Jesus told us, to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors. We had been enemies of God and we had persecuted God Himself, yet, even with that and even knowing what we were going to do to His Son, God sent His Son out of love for us. And Our Lord, out of love for us, was willing to not only become human but to go to the Cross and die for us because He loved us. That is the example He gives to us. For people who hate us, for people who treat us badly, for whatever the circumstances might be, He is calling us to do exactly what He did. And so Saint John says, If God has so loved us in this manner then we also must love one another, in the same kind of way, in a self-sacrificing manner, in a way which is pouring ourselves out for the good of another, in a way which seeks only the good of the other. Again, we are not just talking about the people whom you like and are close to you, but we are talking about the people who do not like you and whom you may not like very well, the people that one might consider one’s own enemies. God is calling us to love.
Now we consider this and we hear what Saint John tells us about perfect love, that perfect love casts out all fear because fear has to do with judgment. We are afraid that somebody is going to make a judgment about us, they are going to reject us, they are going to abandon us, they are going to make fun of us, or whatever the case might be, and so we are afraid. We are afraid of what people’s reactions are going to be. We are afraid of what they are going to do or what they are going to say or what they are going to think or whatever it might be. If we really think about it, a great portion of our lives is propelled by fear. We are so much afraid of what everybody else is going to do or think or say that we start to actually direct what we are doing according to what we fear the other person might do. We are trying to head them off at the pass so that we do not get hurt, so that we are not vulnerable. That is not love; it has nothing in common with love.
What we see in the Gospel reading is exactly what happens when one’s love is not perfect. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they are terrified. We are told that their hearts were hardened and they did not understand. That is imperfect love. They certainly had an affection for the Lord Himself. They liked Jesus, they even loved Him on one level, but yet they had hard hearts and, consequently, they did not understand. As we look at our own selves and we see how much fear is present within us, we have to recognize that, at least in those areas, our hearts are hardened and our understanding is lacking.
What the Lord is asking of us is that we would open our hearts, that we would be vulnerable, which means we have to take the risk that we might be hurt. We have to take the risk that the very thing we do not want to happen just might happen. At the same time, the very thing that we want to happen more than anything in the world just might. That is, we might actually love and be loved. That is what Our Lord wants from us. We cannot love if we do not take the risk, and the risk is that we might get hurt; on the other side, the risk is that we might be loved. That is what He wants from us.
Look at the Cross and ask yourself if Jesus was willing to be vulnerable. If He was willing to take a risk then He might be rejected, but He also took the risk that He might be loved. In that one act there has never been a greater act of love in human history, and that one act of love has brought more rejection and it has brought more love than anything else in human history. The pattern is there and we have to recognize it. But even the ones who reject Him, He continues to love, and so we must as well. That is the pattern. If God has loved us so, so we must love one another.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.