Is your love pure, is your love truthful, is your love like His?
Who do you love? How do you love?
Every year In May, my film students at Fairfield University would present the films they worked on all year, and they were really “awesome” (a word that they used far too often for the dumbest things, but which truly described their films). So many of them were about relationships and the love within them: two brothers, estranged, who realize their love for one another at the death of their father; a girl in a grocery store who comes to love the elderly woman who shoplifts dog food daily; a young farm hand who painfully says goodbye to the boss he clearly loves as he leaves to pursue his dream to be a musician; a whole bar full of people in Manhattan, who love being with one another on Sundays to cheer and console each other over their love of an English soccer team; a Puerto Rican man who loves his customers, his family, and his son so much that it puts him in financial jeopardy.
In the almost 15 years since we inaugurated the film festival I always had trouble holding back the tears that each film triggered. I cried for what I saw on the screen, but mostly because I loved the students who made those wonderful films, and I was so proud of them.
Who do you love?
The woman who serves you at Dunkin Donuts, who struggles with the pace but always serves you with a smile, and knows how you like your coffee?
Your beautiful little cousin, who dances right in front of you to a tune that comes out of her mother’s iPhone?
Your elderly barber from Italy, who tells you that he doesn’t get too many customers these days, and that it looks like rain for the weekend?
Your bride of 5 years who is your partner, and your lover, and the mother of your child?
The best friend who is always has your back?
Your brother, who is lost right now and is desperately trying to find a way to be happy?
Your son or your daughter, all your children, who you love each one the same amount---but differently?
The guy you work with, whom you can trust, united with you against the bosses?
Your sister, with whom you have shared the burden of your elderly parents?
The crazy guy who is always in Union Square with a cardboard sign about love?
Your husband, who takes out the garbage every day, and works at that place he hates so that you can both give the kids the education they should have?
Your mother, who knows you best of anyone, even if she knows best how to make you feel guilty for every little thing you do wrong?
Who do you love? How do you love?
Most every night before I go to bed, I try to recall the faces of the people I encountered that day. I try to remember what we said to one another, how I acted and reacted towards them. I ask myself, did I love them, and did I act in love towards them? Many nights I realize how much I failed in both regards. Sometimes, the tears come—in gratitude for everything they are, in sorrow for how I have forgotten to be grateful.
Who do you love? How do you love?
Sometimes I wonder about Jesus. Who did he love? How did he love? Was the way in which Jesus loved always universal—did he love his enemies as much as his friends, or did he have favorites, like Mary Magdalene, or John, the ‘most beloved disciple’?
Did his heart leap for joy when he saw someone in particular, did a bigger smile come across his face, were there tears in his eyes for someone who had a special place in his heart?
Did Jesus ‘fall in love’ with another person—or a whole lot of people—like he fell in love with the God and Father who made him?
What about his mama, and his papa? When he got past adolescence, did he realize how much they loved him, did he understand all their sacrifices and the reason for all their discipline?
At the end of a day, did Jesus remember all the people he met along the way, even those who were his enemies, and thank God for them?
To all these questions, I say: Yes, I think so. Yes, he fell in love, yes, he loved them all, yes, he had favorites, yes he had special smiles and tears, yes, he understood and loved his parents for everything they were and did, and yes, he remembered them all every day and every night and thanked God for every last one of them.
How do you love? Like him?
Do you love unconditionally---even those who hate you, even those who have insulted you, who have stolen your joy from you, who taken away what you have had; even those who have gossiped about you, spoken ill of you, lied to you; who have accused you, condemned you, embarrassed you, spit upon you, ambushed you, destroyed your life?
Do you love those who are lost or abandoned; those who are weaker or smaller; those who are less capable, less loveable, less attractive; do you love the ones that no one else can even imagine loving?
Do you love with everything you have? Do you love by giving everything you are? Do you love without any thought of being loved back, or any possibility of a thank you or a grateful gesture, or even a smile? Do you love without thinking about yourself even for a second? Is your love pure, is your love truthful, is your love like His?
To be honest, I fail miserably in my answers to all those questions.
No, no, no, no, no, no no, no, no, I don’t.
To be honest, my own need to be loved, affirmed and to be the center of someone else’s attention often gets in the way of me loving as freely and generously as Jesus did.
And I know exactly why. It’s because I don’t allow myself to truly believe how much I am loved every single moment of my life by the one who created me, sustains me, and who will take me back home when my body is broken and used up.
It’s as simple as that. How about you? How do you love?
I was talking to a former student yesterday, who is going home for mother’s day next weekend. What are you getting her, I asked. Maybe a card, he said, to which I responded, "A card, that's all, a card?" and he looked a little sheepish about it, a little guilty, and then he said, "Well, just my being home is enough, she loves that...", whereupon I further chastised him to get her at least some kind of a flower or something.
But later on, I was thinking, you know, he was right, just going home probably was enough. A mother's love goes much deeper than a card or a flower, and besides, she probably knows as well as anyone the finances or lack thereof of her son who is barely paying his ridiculous Manhattan rent.
Love—with no strings attached—motherly love, that's what we are given by God, each and every one of us.
From the Gospel: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you...It was not you who chose me but I who chose you....and I have loved you.
This is love like a mother's love--given to us without needing to earn it, absolutely unconditional, free love.
And you know what? The whole point of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is not that we love God in return, but that God has loved us freely, and the only real duty we have is to accept such overwhelming love. What could be easier?
And of course once we do accept it—even a little bit—why then we know that we have to pass it on, right?
So, one more time…who do you love? How do you love?