A missionary was heading home to England after serving in China for ten years in the 1940’s. The first leg of the trip ended in India, where he would have to wait several days for the boat to Liverpool. While there, he came upon a group of refugees living in a warehouse.
He visited the group and was moved with compassion at their plight. When he was about to leave, he asked some of them, “What do you want for Christmas?”
“We are not Christians; we do not believe in Christmas,” they replied.
The missionary said, “I know, but what do you want for Christmas?”
They described some German pastries that they had seen in a nearby shop. So the missionary went and sold his boat ticket, found the pastries and purchased baskets of them. On Christmas morning, he went to the warehouse and delivered his gift.
The missionary eventually made his way home to England. As a teacher several years later, he recounted the story of the refugees. Puzzled, one of his students asked, “Why did you buy them those pastries? They weren’t Christians. They didn’t even believe in Jesus.”
“I know,” he responded, “but I do.”
The faith of that missionary moved him to love. He saw a group of people in a difficult situation – one that called for love – and he responded by loving. It was a seemingly simple act, but one that was actually quite profound: he loved.
We have been hearing from Acts of the Apostles as the first reading at Mass since Easter. The spread of the Gospel, inspired and animated by the Spirit, was motivated by love. The faith of the apostles and the disciples of Jesus moved them to hand on the Gospel in love.
Earlier in Acts, we heard that the disciples were known for their love for one another and for the poor. This love is strengthened and fortified by a deep awareness that they have been loved first, by God. The second reading for today’s liturgy, taken from the First Letter of John, puts it this way: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”
Jesus speaks of love: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” He continues by teaching us what that love entails. He says that we remain in his love by keeping his commandments.
Then he speaks of the greatest commandment – the commandment to love. He says, “Love one another as I love you.” He continues by clarifying just what that love is. It is as if he is saying, “Let me be clear about this.” And so Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
That command is the command of love. Jesus not only teaches about love, he is love. He is the One who lays down his life for his friends.
Jesus calls us to love. Every day we are invited to live the life of love. From the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we have plenty of opportunities to love — with our families, at work or school, with our friends. All those interactions, and the ones that happen in between, provide opportunities for love. As we think in these terms, it is important to remember that underlying all this is the ever-present reality that we have been loved and are being loved by God.
The missionary mentioned above returned home after proclaiming the Gospel in China for ten years. Yet that proclamation never really stopped. He was a man of faith, a man of love. The compassion and kindness he showed to the refugees he encountered continued his proclamation of the Gospel.
The apostles and early Christians were keenly aware of God’s love perfectly manifest in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. They proclaimed and lived this love. The proclamation continues today in the lives of all those who recognize, and live, God’s love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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