Jesus commanded us to love one another as he has loved us. Yet he loved us enough to suffer a horrific death for our salvation. How can we possibility love like that, especially with people we don’t even like?
Fr. John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, Michigan, whose Ave Maria radio program Christ is the Answer focuses on Catholic teachings, addressed this quandary in his May 10 homily.
Reflecting on his recent trip to Italy, Fr. John shared that during a holy hour just prior to leaving for the one-hour plane trip from Rome to Turin, he was positively giddy in anticipation of seeing the Shroud of Turin.
The Shroud has only been on display 5 times in the last 100 years. It is believed by many experts to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Although carbon testing had once determined it was a fraud, further studies have called those results into question. The cloth depicts a man who has gone through everything Jesus went through—scourging, beatings, crowning with thorns, and nails through wrist and feet. No one has been able to explain how the 3-dimensional image was imprinted as if from a burst of radiation, and no one has been able to replicate it.
While praying the psalms and reflecting on the our Lord’s face, Fr. John prayed, “I’m never going to be this close to your face again!”
He then heard God rebuke him: “You see my face every day, all day long. Don’t you recognize me?
Fr. John recalled a daily reminder he has set on his phone. It asks the question from Jesus: “Do you see what I see, as I see it, or are you just going through the motions?”
The Gospel reading for that Sunday had spelled it out clearly. “He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love.” Fr. John explained. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation—or actually more literally, the instrument for our sins. Jesus in the Gospel just said to us, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I love you. NO one has greater love than to lay down ones life for one’s friends.”
The title of the exhibition of the Shroud was “The Greatest Love.” Father John explained that when standing in front of the Shroud, “…you see the face quite literally of the image of love; a man who has laid down his life in horrific fashion for you and for me.” He pointed out that love moves and acts or else it is just an illusion.
The challenge, according to Fr. John, is to show love even for those we don’t like. Otherwise, we fail to follow God’s command to love one another as he has loved us.
Fr. John said that Jesus wants to give us a new heart in order to love the way he does and he does this through Holy Communion. “Our heart must be crushed and replaced with his heart,” he said. “It is through receiving the precious blood of Jesus, it’s as if God wants to give us a transfusion. He is putting his blood into our heart so it will look like his, because that is what he expects of us.” He added that until that happens, we will never have real joy because real joy come from being overwhelmed by the love that God has for us, then in turn overwhelming others with the love that we have received.
For those struggling to love certain people, Fr. John offered two suggestions.
1) Going forward for Communion, keep your eyes on the crucifix. “The heart that moved him to do that is at our disposal,” Fr. John said. “It is being given to us so that we in turn will show it to others especially those we find difficult to love.”
2) Place those whom we struggle to love on the altar and offer the Mass for them. Fr. John explained that there is no prayer greater than the Mass because it is the representation–sacramentally speaking– of the gift of self, which Jesus made upon the cross. “If we will join our prayers to his, especially for those we find hard to love, then we look a lot like Jesus,” he said.
At the end of our lives Fr. John stated that all the saints have said, you and I will be judged on one thing: did you love? He said we will be asked: “Did you let me transform you heart and make it more like mine so that you would bring my love into the world which is longing for it?”
Several years ago, I got to know Fr. John Riccardo when he shared his call to the priesthood story in the AG book. With his permission, I will occasionally access the podcasts of his Sunday homilies to share as articles.
Copyright 2015 Patti Maguire Armstrong
Photo from Morguefile, by Kymme