Perfect Love
Perfect Love

Perfect Love

Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Fr Benedict Jonak considers how we can possibly be worthy followers of Christ.

What is it that makes us worthy of following Christ?

The short answer is that it is only the Lord himself who can make us worthy of following him. We acknowledge this at the beginning of each Holy Mass when we pray Kyrie eleison: no matter how good we are, it is not enough to make us worthy of seeing God face to face, it is only his loving mercy and grace that make us worthy of following him.

It is through his incarnation, that is, through becoming one of us, that God has created a level playing-field as it were, so that we can relate to God not through fear but through friendship and love. St John says: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because God first loved us.’ God’s love for us was expressed then through his incarnation. His decision not to abandon the creation but to share his life with us is possible through his incarnation. Having received his love, which makes us worthy of him, we can and ought to love him in return.

It is with this in mind, that we need to read today’s Gospel. It is not that loving our parents or children per se makes us unworthy of Christ, rather we need to be constantly mindful of the order of love.

It is not without a reason that Jesus identifies the commandment of love as the great commandment of the law: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ There is no conflict, no competition between loving God and loving your family. However, the ties that bind us to Jesus are stronger than family ties. This is what St Paul reminds us of. The newness of the life received in baptism goes beyond earthly love, deeper even than parental love. As a matter of fact, those who love their families know that there is no love without sacrifice. Parents sacrifice their time and resources to bring up their children and protect their children in times of trouble. We can see in this an image of the divine love itself: of Christ, who has sacrificed not just his divine status, time and resources to save us, but even his very own life.

This passage from St Matthew should influence the way we pray. When you pray do not just ask for favours for yourself and others, when you pray, go beyond giving thanks for what you received. Rather when you pray make sure to express your longing, your love and friendship with God.

It is only when you love him that you can deepen your love for others. It is only when you long for him that you can chose well your goals in life. It is only when your friendship with the Lord is strong, that you can overcome any difficulties thrown your way and can carry your cross. That cross was not given to you in order to upset you or destroy you. It was also not given to you as a test, in order that you become worthy of Christ. You cross has been given you so that through it the power of God can be manifested in your weakness. The same power, the same love, that has changed the fate of the human race by giving us the possibility of sharing in God’s own life. The same love that is stronger than death, and is able ‘to transform our lowly bodies after the pattern of Christ’s own glorious body.’

Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-11,13-16 | Romans 6:3-4,8-11 | Matthew 10:37-42

Image: Christ Carrying the Cross from a fresco in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP






fr Benedict Jonak lives at Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, where he is Catholic chaplain to the city's two universities.

Comments (2)

  • Sergio Cunha

    Thank you brother for your comments. But I actually always had difficult to understand this passage in Matthew. It seems that it puts the love we have for our family in conflict with the love for God. But most of us learnt to love God because of the love we received from our family. I have never read or heard an interpretation that be generalised for all situations and would fully satifies me, as a rule. However, I read and heard interpretations that put the passage in context and would make more sense. The most common is to think that Jesus is talking when He is sending people as missionaries. In fact along the history many missionaries left all behind, including family, to preach and to live in distant and/or dangerous environments. In this context, it seems to me that the passage is not in conflict with the love we have for our family, because they needed to leave them behind to follow the call. But it is not a general rule as something that will happen all the time of more ordinary people. I dont know, I was just wondering.

  • Alejandro Clausse

    I have the same problem that Sergio mentions. Actually, Fr. Benedict homily seems struggling to balance the apparent distinction between the love to God and the love to our neighbors. To be sure, there are cases where God’s matters clearly oppose to family matters; for example, if the family business involves criminal activities. Also, this passage is often used in relation to young vocations, when the family try to convince a daughter or a son not to enter a religious order. That being clarified, I am not so sure that it is correct to apply the analogy to conclude that the love to our neighbors is good only if it is rooted in the love to God. Of course this is the case, but the question is where any true love can be rooted if not in God, which is the source of all love. As the Holy Father says in Gaudete et Exultate (N.42): “Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mystery that a gnostic mentality cannot accept, since it is beyond its control.”
    The immense majority of human beings is touched by God not in explicit representations of the divine, but through little and simple acts of love to their neighbors. They love Christ even if they do not realize it, or even if they deny it because they do not understand it. Because Christ is hidden in every neighbor’s heart.
    I think that this interpretation is in agreement with Fr. Benedict homily, although the formal realization of the divine link of any true love with God’s love might sometimes be absent, and even so the act of love is still mysteriously rooted in God. One can concede this, adding that if the explicit knowledge of the link to the divine love is not present, then the act of love is imperfect. But then, what is really perfect in this life? The devil is always percolating selfish second intentions on every one of our acts, especially those that entail sacrifices on our part, as C.S. Lewis narrates in The Screwtape Letters. On this regard, Fr. Benedict advice regarding praying is marvelous to me; paraphrasing Herber McCabe, praying it is the way God rectify the opinion we have about Him/Her.


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