Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9)

The doctor worked in the hospital caring for the youngest patients. He made his rounds every day and was ever vigilant of the care he gave to them. Each morning the doctor would go through the ward examining his patients. He was mindful of their family life. He would find out where they were from and how they lived. He would meet with their parents or guardians. He would speak with the children. He would examine, evaluate and prescribe.

The doctor’s instructions for the nursing staff were written (pre-computer days) and placed on a chart that hung from the foot of the bed. Every few weeks he would come upon a patient needing special care. He would take out a red pen and write in large letters across the front page of the chart: “THIS CHILD NEEDS LOVE.”

Love is central to human existence. In a certain sense it is necessary for life. Without love life becomes empty, and that void tends to get filled with unhealthy things. With love, life becomes vibrant, meaningful and filled with joy.

Love does not eliminate suffering or hardship but with love those things are viewed in their proper place. Love gives one the power to endure difficult moments in life and to rise above them moving toward a brighter horizon. The doctor in the story knew the importance of love. He did not just treat a body; he cared for the person.

In some of the patristic writings of the early church, God is referred to as the “Divine Physician.” He is the healer of body and soul. He has the ultimate care for each and every human being. He is the best doctor. He has a claim that no other physician can make, even if they were educated in the finest and most prestigious universities in the world, and his claim is this that he created every person, in all times, and loved them into being.

Love entails a relationship. Love involves a giver and receiver; a receiver and a giver. Love is a dynamic force of giving oneself and receiving another. We see this tangibly in friendship.

Jesus often speaks of love. He shows us how to love through his actions. His words not only express his love but also call us to love. Love is rooted and powered by God himself for, as the First Letter of John says, “God is love.” This love is not an idea but real. Jesus makes this love manifest. Sometime after he says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he does just what he says. He empties himself, in love, for his Father and for us.

In him, we know the love that the Father has for us. Jesus says: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” St. John writes: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

God’s love is so concrete and complete that Jesus says: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

God shares his life — divine life — with us through his Son. This life is love. Hence, Jesus calls us to love. The gift we have received is to be given. Recognizing, receiving and acknowledging (giving thanks for) God’s love empowers us to love others. Jesus gives us the command to love, as he has loved, because it is life-giving. Elsewhere, while he is speaking of his mission, Jesus says: “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Abundance of life comes through love. Love is the medicine for life. It heals, strengthens and empowers us to live good, healthy and joy-filled lives. The Divine Physician gives us this gift. Today we give thanks for the gift of divine love and ask for the grace to share this gift with others.

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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.