MARCH 4, 2004, HOMILY: HOSEA 14:2-10; MARK 12: 28-34

RETURN, O ISRAEL, TO THE LORD, YOUR GOD; I WILL LOVE THEM FREELY(says the Lord) ... YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART. The prophet Hosea in the passage we have just heard, and the Lord in today’s Gospel text proclaim that the main issue in life is love. We need not look far a field to understand why this is so Just look into your own sefl as deeply as you can manage; enter the hidden place of the heart, climb in thought to the heights of your spirit and there you will find, in one form or another, disguised or manifest, the defining issue is love. "Pondus tuum amor tuus" ("Your worth is measured by your love"), wrote St Augustine.

The words of the prophet and those of Jesus, then, raise the hugely fascinating and ever practical topic: What is love? Elsewhere our Lord answers this question and gives norms for us to evaluate our answer to a second one that inevitably follows: What is your understanding of love? There have been and continue to be all kinds of answers to this challenging question. One of our monastic Fathers, William of St Thierry has a particularly helpful insight into this theme that suggests how radically our love influences our way of being in the world: ‘Love is a sense of the soul. Through love it senses whatever it senses, whether it is gratified or whether it is offended. Through it the soul is extended, being profoundly changed by its transformation into what it loves.’

Those who have reflected seriously about love, beginning with the ancient philosophers, and including Jesus himself and the inspired writers of the Old and New Testament, agree on a first point: there are different kinds of love. There is a noble love, worthy of human persons that leads to happiness, and there is an ignoble love that is blameworthy and doomed to frustration. Each of these loves, in turn, manifests itself variously. Love C.S. Lewis describes four kinds of love. Diagnosing these different loves, giving them their true name, discerning the one from the other has proved to be more challenging than we are inclined to expect. For they assume variable forms, some of them highly disguised., then can be a source of

One prominent writer of modern times commented that "there is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations and yet which fails so regularly as love " (E. Fromm) He is speaking of love between man and woman, which so regularly promises more than it can deliver. Perhaps one reason for its failure is precisely that it has not rightly answered the more basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here on earth? If, as another recent author implies in a work published by Yale University Press, you are a mortal being, and death is the end of you, one legitimate style of love between the sexes is a matter of fun; take your enjoyment where you can find it. As crude as this sounds it is the governing concept of love that many of our contemporaries live by. It is not new, however; already in the first century Ovid devoted a widely popular book to this form of love which, as he frankly acknowledges, is basically a game.

The Jews knew better. Hosea, as we heard in today’s first reading, points out where to look and how to obtain life’s goal: RETURN, O ISRAEL, TO THE LORD, YOUR GOD; ‘I WILL LOVE THEM FREELY’ (says the Lord) . Jesus himself was formed in this Jewish teaching of the law and prophets. Here he addresses himself to an expert in that tradition, a scholar who truly seeks to know what to focus on so as to fulfill the purpose of his life. He has already answered the basic question of his identity as made in the image and likeness of God. What he is less sure of is his more precise purpose in life. Jesus clarifies this in no uncertain terms: it is love. We are made for love. And he further clarifies by indicating the kind of love: whole-hearted love of God and selfless love of our fellow creatures. He will later show by his example and declare explicitly by his teaching that this love entails sacrifice and obedience. He further demonstrates that love is indeed the whole of the human’s worth Indeed, by his resurrection he reveals that love is life itself: life in its fullness, life made eternal by being fixed, through love, in God who created us and who redeems us in his love. As St. Maximus puts it: "nothing is more truly Godlike than divine love, nothing more mysterious, nothing more elevates human beings to deification." (Letter 2, PG 91:393B)


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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