June is a popular month for weddings. The sun is out, the birds are singing, and church bells are ringing. What is it about weddings that stirs our hearts, takes our breath away, and brings tears of joy to our eyes? Love has captured the minds and hearts of young and old throughout time and across cultures. Could it be that the desire for love has been placed in our hearts by Love Himself?
What is Love?
The Bible tells us that God is love. (see Jn 4:16) If you’re Catholic, you’ve probably heard this phrase dozens of times, if not more. The words “God is love” are so familiar as to roll in one ear and out the other often times without registering. When we stop to ponder these words, one might ask “How is it that God is love?”
Our Christian faith informs us that God is a communion of three distinct persons in a relationship of love. (CCC n.253-257) The fact that there are three persons in one God is a mystery, one that we will only fully understand in heaven. Yet we can learn about love by looking at the Trinity. Drawing from St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism teaches, “To love is to will the good of another” (CCC, n. 1766).
The Second Vatican Council, under the influence of Karol Wojtyla, enriched this definition by linking the willing of another’s good to gift of self. To will and choose another’s good requires that, among the other various goods we desire for them (like health, happiness, salvation), we also desire to give them our very selves.
St. John Paul II repeats the theme of self-gift throughout his writings, perhaps most prominently in his theology of the body. Self-gift, he says, is how we fulfill the very meaning for our existence. Drawing from the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, the Pope affirms, “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self” (Gadium et Spes, n.22).
Later, in his first encyclical, St. John Paul II further asserts, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (Redemptor Hominis, n. 10).
Thus, we can see how that giddy sensation associated with weddings is rooted in something far more than a feeling. Love is what we are created for.
Love in the Liturgy
During this month of weddings, the Church celebrates several feast days illuminating God’s glorious plan for love, four of which are Solemnities: Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What can we learn about love from these feasts?
Last week, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost reveals the Holy Trinity and the utterly astounding fact that we are invited to share in the divine life. St. John Paul II explains “The Spirit is the gift of the Father, who makes us his adoptive children, giving us a share in the very life of the divine family” (May 31,2002).
The revelation of God’s invitation for us to share in his eternal love is so important, the Catechism regards it as God’s innermost secret. “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he has destined us to share in this exchange” (CCC, n. 221).
This past Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity—the central mystery of our faith. (CCC, n. 234) It is the mystery of God in Himself. God is a life of love among three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC, n. 257)
While it is difficult to comprehend, here is one way to think about this foundational doctrine of our faith: God himself is a communion of Persons, a Trinity in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit pour themselves out in an eternal exchange of self-giving love. The Father pours himself out in Gift to the Son, the Son pours himself out in Gift to the Father, and the Holy Spirit bursts forth from their mutual, self-giving love.
In a word, the Triune God in himself is a community of persons in an eternal relationship of love. “How…” you may ask. “Does this relate to me?” Created in God’s image, you also are made for relationship, exchange, sharing and love. Thus, the Trinity is your model for loving as God loves.
This coming Sunday, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi we will celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ present in the Eucharist. Corpus Christi follows the Feast of the Holy Trinity in order to show us the profound connection between the two.
The Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI teaches, is Jesus’ greatest gift to us (Aug 4, 2010). It is a call “to holiness” the Pope says, “and to the gift of oneself to one’s brethren” (June 7, 2007).
Through our continual reception of the Eucharist we are invited to participate more fully in God’s eternal exchange of love—and we are given the grace to do it. The Eucharist nourishes us and helps us to imitate the Father’s love by making a gift of ourselves to others.
Sacred Heart of Jesus
While the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated at the end of the month, the Church dedicates the entire month of June for devotion to the Sacred Heart. This beautiful feast is a reflection on Christ’s infinite love for his Father and all of mankind.
Reflecting God’s love
When we view human love through the lens of divine love, the mystery of love begins to unfold. While we will never fully understand it this side of heaven, we do know that we are created for love. To the extent that our hearts reflect God’s love we will experience the joy for which we have been created—here in this life and for eternity in heaven.
By Debbie Staresinic