LOVE COMES FROM GOD AND THE CAPACITY TO LOVE COMES FROM CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JOHN 4:7-10; MARK 6:34-44 ]
We are all called to love. No man can live without love. We are created for love. Right from the outset in the Book of Genesis, we read that no suitable helpmate was found among animals and the rest of creation. Hence, God created a woman to be his helpmate. (Cf Gn 2:20f) In a similar vein, St Paul wrote, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. ” (1 Cor 13:2f) Indeed, success and wealth without love or someone to share our joys, is totally meaningless.
However, all of us want to love but we do not know what is love and, most of all, we are so inadequate in love. Most of us today are so confused about love because love, in our modern world, is not based on truth. And even if we know that true love is to give ourselves to others completely, most of us are not capable of loving selflessly. Our love of self is disguised and masked as love of others. Instead of loving others unconditionally, we often make use of them to fulfill our affective needs. In many relationships, couples tend to manipulate each other for one’s pleasure or personal needs. That was how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to feed the hungry crowd. They wanted to save themselves from the inconvenience of love by sending the crowd away. But Jesus was insistent, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” Again, their selfishness showed in their reluctance to part with their money. They answered, “Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?” Like them, we do not have the capacity to love even our loved ones, not to say our friends, fellow Church members, colleagues, much less strangers and the poor. Those of us who are active in Church ministry often experience burn-out and end up giving up completely serving the Church and the poor. We feel that we have only five loaves and two fish. We feel frustrated, resentful and angry because we feel so helpless and hopeless at times.
Hence, St John says “love comes from God.” This is beautifully illustrated in the gospel. We read of the compassion of God in Jesus. “As Jesus stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.” Instead of being uninvolved, He wanted to satisfy the hunger of the crowd Himself. This explains why His heavenly Father helped Jesus to perform the miracle to feed the 5000 because God is like that. He wants to be involved in love and in our lives. Love is not mere words and nice feelings and great ideas.
But more importantly, the multiplication of loaves is but the anticipation of the Eucharist which is a celebration of His passion, death and resurrection. In other words, this miracle is more than just a material miracle but it expresses the total, unconditional, absolute and unreserved giving of Christ the Son of God to us. He wants to satisfy our needs even at His personal expense. He is always thoughtful and desires to give us complete happiness in life. He does not shy from the sacrifices of love. So He tries to find ways and means to feed us. He asked for the five loaves and two fish. He prayed to the heavenly Father to bless and multiply the food. And the end result was that not only were all fed but “they collected twelve basketfuls of scraps of bread and pieces of fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.”
So when St John invites us to love one another, he is not asking us to love from our own capacity but from Him. “Let us love one another since love comes from God.” But how is this love of God coming to us? “God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” For St John, therefore, the understanding that “God is love” is not a philosophical idea or a beautiful thought but a concrete act of God in the giving up of His only Son at Christmas and at the passion. It is this love that empowers us to love likewise. Our capacity to love must come from Christ alone.
From this basis, we can appreciate why St John wrote, “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.” Love, therefore, is the sure criterion that we love God and we know Him. If we do not know God or that we have been begotten by Him, then the capacity to love will be limited. But then some might say, what about those who do not know God and yet love much? Indeed, we see that there are many non-Christians, even freethinkers and atheists who are involved in humanitarian works. Many of them are even more compassionate and self-giving than many of our Catholics. In fact, they put us to shame in their generosity and outreach to the poor and the suffering. Yet, they do not know God! Well, the truth is that they do know Him implicitly because they are created in His image and likeness. They might not know Him personally, but they know Him deep in their hearts. This explains why in every human person, our shared humanity makes us feel with and for each other. However, if they were to know Jesus, they could do even much more than the five loaves and two fish they have. When they give these to Jesus, He can empower them to do what humanly speaking we cannot do.
Hence, to know Jesus is critical in love, service and ministry. But let us be clear that the knowledge of God in St John’s understanding is not merely intellectual cognition. When he says “everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” or “anyone who fails to love can never have known God”, he is speaking of an intimacy of mind and heart. It is not so much intellectual knowledge of God but a union with God. To be begotten by God is to share His life and love. So if we love deeply it is because His love is in us. Conversely, those who have no capacity to love imply that they do not really know God or His love for them. If we have known the love of God for us, our hearts will also be filled with His love because His Spirit will dwell in us.
Indeed, this is what the Eucharist is supposed to do for us. In the Eucharistic celebration, we have two parts, the liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist. Both are essential to the Eucharistic meal. The Word of God prepares our minds and the Eucharist touches our hearts. This is in imitation of Jesus who always preached before He healed or fed the people, as we read in today’s gospel. Unless they have heard the Word of God, the miracle would not have happened, whether literally as narrated or symbolically, as some scripture scholars suggest, namely, that the people were so inspired by the act of Jesus’ sharing that few loaves and fish that they too came out to openly share what they had in their baskets with others. Whichever way we read it, the point is that a miracle truly happened. The greatest miracle at the end of the day was not the miracle itself but what the miracle did, transforming people’s lives, touching their hearts, enlightening their minds, and making them loving, caring and generous like Jesus in His compassion.
So let our celebration of Christmas, made concrete in the Eucharistic celebration, be not a mere ritual, not a superstition, but truly be a transforming encounter of God’s love. This explains why it is so important for all in active ministry, leaders and parents to stay connected with the Lord in prayer through daily meditation on the Word of God, contemplation of His love, especially in the Eucharist, and find healing and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we have sinned or when we are weak. Begotten in His love, we too will be able to love others with the love that He has given us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.