Embracing the Love of Christ

This is the text of his homily from the May 12 Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of his 10th anniversary as Archbishop of Chicago:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is a great pleasure to be with you this evening. My heart is very full seeing gathered in the cathedral so many who represent the institutions and parishes of the Archdiocese. It is not just a picture of the people in our two counties; it is a picture of love made visible and, in that picture, all our hearts should be moved.

Jesus talks about love very often. In the Gospel today he talks about it in a conditional way, in a way that almost makes us wonder: What is he really saying? "If you love me, keep my word. Those who love me will keep my word." It's almost as if there is a condition, perhaps a threat, attached to love; yet we all know that love is freely given. It is not commanded or coerced. If someone tells us, "If you don't love me, I'll leave," the relationship is already lost, isn't it? Love is gone and you might just as well go too, for real love is driven not by fear but by desire. But real love needs to be focused, needs to be concentrated, directed to a person who also desires but who also sometimes fears. Before a great love, why are we sometimes afraid? I think we're not so much afraid of losing love but afraid of love itself.

This tenth anniversary celebration has taken me by surprise in many ways, and I am most grateful to Bishop Lyne and to so many others who have organized a series of events around the anniversary. At first I thought it wasn't so important to celebrate, but I am very pleased and grateful and moved that we have celebrated it. It enables us, I hope, to face a certain problematic about our future that we can't face unless we are together in love. Yet that very call to love together also reminds us that there are fears associated with loving one another. We're frequently betrayed — and therefore fear that a husband will turn on his wife or a wife on her husband, that children will not love their parents in return, that a Church might turn on her ordained priests, that a religious community could become a mob. We might be betrayed by others, but we're afraid also of ourselves — that we will betray someone whom we promised to love, to keep forever in our hearts. We are afraid that we ourselves will be unfaithful. The statistics on marriage, on consecrated life, on ordained priesthood, even on the life of disciples of Jesus himself, show that people are afraid to love, for we know that love has to be forever. We have to keep the commitments we make, the words that we say, or our life dissolves. We know that love is constant, but who now is capable of taking his or her entire life in hand and handing it over to someone else so totally? In love, we hand our lives completely to a husband, to a wife, to a child, to the Church, to Christ himself. "Keep my word," he says and he means not just on Tuesday or Wednesday. He means forever, and so we find ourselves wanting to love but afraid to love.

Christ's command to love, even though any command seems extrinsic to love, keeps us focused even when desire seems far from us. There are ups and downs in every love affair. To take the chance to give our life in this way, to dare to love, we need to experience the love of someone else, so that we will have courage to love in turn. Where do we turn to experience love, to get the courage to conquer our fears so that we can truly become loving people?

This weekend we celebrate Mother's Day. A mother is a constant point of reference. When we are children we often take her for granted. When older, we realize how constant her love for us was, what she has done. There are ups and downs in every family's life but the love of a mother supported by her husband and the father of her children, is a constant. Having experienced it we know who we are because of that love. But it also carries with it a number of commands, a number of instructions. Each morning I get up, I say my prayers and then I faithfully double knot my shoelaces because my mother told me to do so over 60 years ago so I wouldn't trip when I ran. I haven't run for many, many decades but I still double knot my shoelaces and I thank my mother in my heart for caring for my safety. There are so many reminders in our daily life of what our mother did for us and most of all how she loved us, how she was there for us.

We turn to our mothers especially on Mother's Day to thank them all, because they taught us how to love; and when we look to experience the love of Jesus Christ himself, we turn to his Church, particularly we turn to the sacraments and most especially we look to the Holy Eucharist. Christ loved us and gave himself up to death for our salvation, and he gave us the Holy Eucharist so that this sacrifice would always be present in the Church, so that he could come to us in Holy Communion and keep us in his Word and in his love. Especially in the Eucharist, we learn that love means to give one's self, not just to give some thing but to give one's very self, even to the point of self-sacrifice. We know that we have reason to be afraid. Even mothers have sometimes betrayed their children, and the Church can be at times something other than a true home. But the love of Jesus Christ is constant because it is the love of God.

How little, perhaps, we reflect upon the uniqueness of our belief about God as disciples of Jesus Christ, as people of Christian faith. There are many religions that tell us that God loves what he created, but our religion tells us that God is love — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus promises his disciples in the Gospel today that he will send them the Spirit of love, the Spirit of the love between Father and Son, the Holy Spirit who will teach them and unite them as he teaches and unites those who make up the Church after the first disciples. The Spirit makes the Church our home with God. God is love, and in the Church formed by the Eucharist we touch that love. We taste that sacrifice. We welcome God's love. In that divine love we find the courage to love forever.

I've been ten years the Archbishop of Chicago, and we are celebrating that anniversary especially in this Eucharist, where we discover again that the Church in her essence, despite our weakness and our sins, is love made visible. The Church is a network of relationships founded on the love of Jesus Christ for each of us. An archbishop is part of many people's lives not because of anything he is, archbishops come and go; rather, a bishop is part of people's lives, as is a priest in a parish, because Christ is the center of all our lives. The great joy of being bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago is that I do meet many for whom Christ is truly the center of their lives. They have touched God's love. They have tasted it. They have reached for it, and they have become holy. There are so many who sacrifice themselves for their family and their friends, who can be counted on because they know how to love, who spend seemingly very diminished lives to great purpose because they give themselves in love. And if we asked many of our faithful, many of you here, perhaps our lives wouldn't always be explained exactly in those terms; but we know God's love unifies the Church because we are here, because today you are here representing many parishes, many institutions, many people who have learned that they can love because God loves them.

With you and to you, I am truly grateful. I'm grateful to Jesus Christ who brings us together, grateful to the Holy Spirit who keeps us together in God's peace. In this month of May and on this Mother's Day, let us recall the Blessed Virgin Mary. We call her Mother of the Church. Jesus, her only son, with no blood brothers and sisters, gave Mary to the care of one of his disciples, his beloved disciple, St. John. We are there with St. John as disciples in our age, in our time, believing that Jesus also gives Mary to us, to our care. In our diocese how many devotions there are, how many churches there are dedicated to Our Lady of Grace, to Our Lady of Czestochowa, to Our Lady of Pompeii, to Our Lady of Guadalupe. All these bear evidence to the way in which Mary, the Mother of the Church in culture after culture, in time after time and age after age remains the mother of all those who call Jesus "Lord." The titles of Mary's litany remind us of who she is for us — Health of the Sick, Help of Christians, Queen of Peace. She creates in the Church a home for us and for all those who love her son. She points not to herself but to Jesus, her Lord and ours. On this Mother's Day let us be grateful to her as we are grateful to our mothers and to all mothers. I am grateful to all of you, and with you I thank God for bringing us together in love made visible. Amen.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

By

Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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