Did you know that more songs have been written about love than any other topic? This should not be surprising. For, in looking around, we can see the many ways that love is shared between husbands and wives, families, friends, and across our parish communities.
As a son, husband, father, and deacon who presides at numerous baptisms, I marvel at the life-giving love that mothers provide. After their initial cooperation with God in bringing new saints into existence, they settle into a lifelong journey of caring for them. To paraphrase the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs (31), “a woman’s work is never done.” Forever giving, a mother’s love is an eternal gift of love that never ends.
On May 16, 2004, Saint John Paul II canonized such a mother. For those of you unfamiliar with St. Gianna Beretta Molla, she was an Italian pediatrician who, during the second month of her pregnancy, developed a fibroma on her uterus. After examination, the doctors gave her three choices: an abortion, a complete hysterectomy, or removal of only the fibroma.
Gianna opted for the removal of the fibroma, wanting to preserve her child’s life. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy, but she was quite clear about her wishes: “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other — I want them to save my baby.”
On April 21, 1962, Good Friday of that year, Gianna went to the hospital, where her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, was successfully delivered via Caesarean section. However, Gianna continued to have severe pain, and died of septic peritonitis 7 days after the birth.
At her Mass of Canonization, the pope read a letter that St. Gianna Beretta Molla had written to her husband just days before their marriage. Of love, she wrote:
Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.
A great saint and Father of the Church, St. Augustine, once said: To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; To seek Him, the greatest adventure; To find Him, the greatest human achievement.
After declaring that God has loved each of us into existence (1:4-5; 17-19), the prophet Jeremiah also noted that we have been given a mission: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I dedicated you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
Through the prophet’s words, it is clear that each of us has been included in God’s Divine plan since before time began because—He loves us! And it is only because He loved us first that we are able to love. (1 Jn 4:19)
In light of this, may we also recognize that love is both a noun and verb; that God is love and God loves us. In the New Testament, St. Paul encountered Love on the road to Damascus. Having heard the voice of Jesus, Paul was transformed and forever changed. Having been seized by Love, this prophet to the Gentiles, preached, practiced, and wrote about love until his dying day. In his Letter to the Corinthians (12:31-13:13), he reminds us that:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…Love never fails.
In the Gospel of Luke (4:21-30), Love showed up in His own hometown and the crowds were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But they also asked: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” To which Jesus responded: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted is his own native place.” Now infuriated and unable to accept that Love was standing before them, they rejected Him and attempted to throw Jesus off a hill.
Today, that event continues to lead us to the “really-big” questions. Do we truly believe that God has loved us into existence and sent His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us? Do we truly believe that He continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist and sacraments in order to nourish, heal, and build us up? Do we truly believe that we are sent to be prophets and live out this vocation within our own circles of living?