The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is an intriguing phrase Saint Paul uses to describe the Christians at Thessalonica, one we too easily passing over without giving it much attention: “brothers and sisters loved by God” (I Thessalonians 1:4). To say that we are loved by God has become almost something of a cliché, something trite and rather expected. If we think, however, what it means to be loved by God personally, we begin to realize this is no mere cliché, but one of the most profound statements that can be uttered.
The love with which God loves you and me is not the same as the love with which we often love others. With God, “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.” Is this this way of loving that you and I commanded to imitate: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
Love, as Pope Francis has rightly said, “can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors are shown in daily living.” If this is true of love, it must also be true of the love of God. What, then, is the intention, the attitude, and the behavior of the love of God for us?
The intention of God’s love is to restore us to friendship, to communion, with him that our first parents enjoyed in the garden. We know that the friendship and communion we once enjoyed with God has been broken, and not by him. We intuit this in that “we all long for [Eden], and are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” God desires to restore us to his friendship, to Eden, and so the attitude of God’s love is to slowly draw us to himself. The behavior of God’s love is seen most clearly in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
God’s love for you and me, his love for all humanity, “is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” Indeed, “so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.” God’s love for us became renunciation in the fullest sense; it became tangible in a most unexpected way to draw us into communion with him, yet it does not stop there: it also becomes tangible in the Sacraments through which the divine life is given to us.
From the Cross all of the Sacraments draw their salvific power, beginning with Baptism in which we are not simply made members of the Church, but sharers in God’s own life; being made one with Christ Jesus, we are brought into union with God. Here we come to an extraordinary mystery:
Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.
This is why Saint Paul can speak of us as brothers and sisters loved by God. And if each of us loved by God, we must also love each of those who is also loved by God.
If we find our thoughts increasingly gathering around anger or fear, we have not yet understood what it means to be loved by God. There is certainly much to be angry and fearful about in this world, but we cannot let anger or fear consume us. Love must be our chief concern. This is why Saint Augustine said, “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” Amen.