Our culture uses the word “love” in all kinds of ways. “Love” is often used to describe our personal feelings towards someone, or something, or some activity. It can be used to describe a feeling that is deep or shallow, lasting or permanent; either way, in our culture, “love” is a word that we use to describe how we feel about this or that. It is an emotive word.
There is a deeper dimension to love that our liturgical and Eucharistic world constantly reminds us of this Sunday. Love is more than a feeling; it is an action. In the biblical world, the word “love” means “to do good”. As St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit, said, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words”. For the disciples of Jesus, love – our doing good – is the measure of our faith. Love isn’t just an emotion that we respond to or have little control over; it is a choice, a decision. We must choose to love.
When Jesus says, “I give a new commandment,” this commandment is new because the choice to love must be a new choice each day. Love is new with each new day. While love is a choice, it is also a response; it is impossible to force ourselves to love. In the Christian sense, we can only speak of love because we have been loved because God makes a choice to love us. And this is not because we are good or because we deserve God’s love or have proved ourselves worthy to be loved, but because God first chooses to love us. We are filled with a love that comes to us from the outside, from beyond us, as a gift. We experience a deep sense of God’s choice for us – even if we don’t always choose to love in return.
We celebrate this eucharistically as the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the gifts of God’s love made real in the person of Christ. It is Jesus’ love that we are drawn to – the new commandment to make a choice for love each new day and to allow our words about love to become our deeds of love. Love is the pattern of how we are to live and the foundation of our relationships.
Jesus’ commandment is not some sentimental and pious ideal; it is the choice we are commanded to make in our real world which is full of complex relationships. It demands that we choose love over hate, life over death, peace over conflict, fruitfulness over destruction. But we make this choice knowing that there is a prior choice made for us: the Divine choice to love us beyond all our tragedies and defeats. Whatever about yesterday and tomorrow, today is a new day, the start of a new week, and a new opportunity to make a new choice for love.