Once upon a time the archbishop asked a newly-ordained priest to preach at his Cathedral Mass, and everyone fell asleep. Afterwards, the archbishop said to him: “you need to begin your homilies with a story—wake people up, get their attention. Come to my Mass next Sunday and I’ll show you how it’s done.” So the next Sunday the archbishop begins his homily like this: “I have something to tell all of you: I’m in love with a beautiful woman.” He pauses as several people gasp, and then continues: “Her name is the Blessed Virgin Mary.” So the young priest goes back to his parish and gets up to preach the following Sunday. To his horror, he catches sight of the archbishop himself standing in the back. “The archbishop,” he begins in a flustered paroxysm, “is in love with a married woman, … but I can’t remember her name.”
Mary, our Mother
Her name is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we are so joyful to be in the middle of her month of May. Mother’s Day anchors this month because May is Mary’s month. The best gift you can give your mother today is to pray a rosary for her, or even better, with her. I’m going to do that by phone with my mother later today.
The One Thing Necessary
We love our mothers so much because our mothers teach us the one thing necessary, which is how to love and be loved. Jesus defines real love in today’s Gospel: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” Human love—even a mother’s love—is good, but not enough. We need the enduring, unconditional love of God: “love one another as I love you.” Love is of God, says St. John in the second reading: we can’t fabricate real love or force it—it’s a gift of God, and comes only to those who know Him and obey his laws. The so-called sexual revolution attempted to reinvent love, and it has led only to empty hearts, broken marriages, and dysfunctional societies. The enduring love that satisfies must come from God, and must return to God. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you,” says Jesus, and John echoes that: “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.”
Notice how Jesus links love to obedience in today’s reading; He uses the word “commandment” four times in his brief description of love. Real love obeys. It submits in trust to the beloved, just as Jesus obeys His Father: “Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” When we step outside of God’s commandments, we make real love impossible. Real love defers to each other, out of reverence for Christ (the secret of a happy marriage, as described in Ephesians 5).
Far beyond a feeling, authentic love is a decision, a commitment to sacrifice for the good of the one I love. To love me is to keep my commandments, Jesus insists. If you don’t keep my commandments, as I keep my Father’s commandments, you don’t love me. Recently our archbishop has come under severe criticism for speaking precisely this Gospel truth. He is calling us to love Jesus by keeping his commandments, and not just those doctrines which are socially acceptable at the moment. Authentic love for a friend sacrifices my personal feelings and preferences for his good. Authentic love for God submits my personal feelings and preferences to his laws and his will.
A Mother’s Love
I can’t think of a more beautiful picture of this authentic, self-sacrificing love than a mother. She gives her blood during a pregnancy. She gives her milk after the child is born. She sacrifices a good night’s sleep for many months following the birth of each child; and finally, she corrects her children, often at significant personal cost, when they rebel against God’s perfect laws. Authentic love does not look much like what you see on television. It looks a lot more like what you see in your mother, and hopefully your father too.
Which is why we love our mothers. We all know real love is to be found naturally in the heart of a mother. You, our dearest mothers, have given us the love you received from God, and have taught us to share it with others. May we honor you by giving to others the love you have given us, even until it hurts. May we honor our Blessed Mother, who first received Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, by giving God’s love to all the world.