Tuesday January 4, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:7-10) Gospel (St. Mark 6:34-44)
Saint John, in the first reading today, looks at the question of “Who is God?” and the point that if we are made in the image and likeness of God that we have to do exactly what God does. God is love. Therefore, if we are to do exactly what God does, we are to love. He tells us that we have to love one another, because love is of God – anyone who loves is begotten of God, and anyone who does not love is not of God. Now, of course, he is not talking about having gushy, romantic feelings; but rather what he is talking about is self-sacrificing love, to give of oneself.
We even see the same basic principle in the Gospel reading. When the apostles come to Our Lord out of charity for the people and say to Him, Dismiss them so they can go and buy something for themselves to eat, the Lord calls them to an even greater charity and says, Give them something to eat yourselves. Of course, they do not understand what that even means or how it is possible for them to give to all of these people even a mouthful of food. Then the Lord shows them. And in this feeding of the five thousand, there is the prefiguration of the Eucharist, where literally the Lord is going to feed us Himself. Not just simply that He is going to give us something to eat, but He is going to give Himself to us to eat. So when we look at what He has done for us, we realize simply that there is no greater act of love than what Our Lord has done, not only in sacrificing Himself for us but in giving Himself to us.
We see then, again, exactly what Saint John is talking about in the first reading. The way we know love is that God sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through Him. It is not about how much we love God; it is about how much God has loved us. Remember, we can never initiate love; we can only respond. Once we have been loved, then we have the capacity to love in return with the love that was given to us. So what we have to be able to do is open our hearts to be able to receive the love of God so that in return we will be able to love Him even more with a heart that is open and filled with love.
But if the way we come to know love is by this gift of God, then, once again, it means that it is not merely a matter of going through the motions. It is not merely a matter of saying, “Well, I went to Mass and I received Communion.” It is a matter of making sure that we are opening our hearts to receive the love of God into ourselves; not just simply to receive Communion and then walk away, but to receive the love because that is Who Jesus is – He is love. If all we do is keep Him at an arm’s distance, we do not accept His love. We accept the gift He is giving to us, but we do not accept Him and we do not accept His love. Consequently, we walk away sometimes quite untouched because our hearts have not been open. We did not receive in like manner the way the gift was being given. The gift is love. If we do not receive in love, then, while we have received Him, we have in essence rejected the fullness of what the gift is. And then, of course, once we have recognized what is done for us, we in turn have to do the same. We have to love. We have to give ourselves in self-sacrifice for the good of others.
These are not easy things for us to do, but it is precisely what the Lord is asking of us. When He looks at His apostles and says, Give them something to eat yourselves, He is calling them to a higher kind of love. He is calling us to a higher kind of love, as well. We are to live what we receive. We are not merely to imitate what we receive, but we are to live it because He is the source of love. If we truly receive Him as we ought, then the love of God will be in us, and then we will be able to live out the love that we celebrate at Mass, to live the love that we receive in Holy Communion. That is what God is asking of each one of us: to truly love. That is exactly what Saint John tells us. It is the new commandment that has been given to us and it is something which is incumbent upon us by our very nature, to love one another because love is of God. Anyone who loves is begotten by God; anyone who does not, does not know God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.