We have a small ring of cards on our kitchen table that prompts family conversations during meal time. One of these cards asks, "what is love?" While Valentine's Day may be over, this is a good topic to address. What is love? Is it an action? Is it a feeling? Is it a gift?
My 1st grade son says that an example of love is when someone else gets the classroom job that you want and that you are happy for the other student. Let's examine this statement. In essence, it is a statement of self-denial; putting others before yourself.
In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us to be like little children. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus says, "let the children come to me." Children and their prayer intentions are very near and dear to Christ's heart. Why? Because they love simply. They are unconcerned with political consequences. They will express their feelings of love before worrying about what others may think. Adults tend to do the opposite. Adults will think of how they will be perceived and then act; especially, if it is perceived that their action will be favorably welcomed. In other words, adults will over-complicate a simple act of love by putting their head before their heart. Jesus wants us to follow our hearts. For it is within our hearts that Jesus resides.
Yes, discernment is critically important and requires both head and heart. It is when these two vital parts move as one that we can discern what is God's will for our life, or for a particular situation. I'm not telling you to think with your heart and forget about your head. I'm challenging you to use both- equally. Don't over complicate a situation. Pray about it. Discern. Use your head and your heart together. Make your decision based on the love of Christ.
My 3 year old daughter showed me an action of love yesterday. On Friday afternoons, I'm exhausted. Each Friday, we unwind with pizza and family movie night. Yesterday, I woke at 3:45am. By 5:00pm and after a full day of work with my favorite 3rd graders, I was done. (By the way, ALL of my students are my favorite!) Before we could relax for family movie night, my daughter absolutely INSISTED that we bring flowers to our elderly neighbor next door.
These "flowers" were nothing more than weeds. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't want to go. I was afraid that these "flowers" were not good enough to give as a gift. The gift, however, was not the "flowers." I stood at the end of my neighbors driveway, while my beautiful daughter delivered her gift. The gift wasn't just flowering weeds, it was her smile. By ringing our neighbors doorbell, she let him know that she was thinking about him. That alone is gift enough. It was a pure and simple gift of love from one person to another. The smile that my neighbor returned when he opened his door to see a little girl with pigtails and flowering weeds clutched in her small hand to offer to him as a gift - was priceless.
So, what is love? My definition of love is Jesus Christ crucified. Christ offered Himself completely, thus providing for forgiveness of sins and opening the gates of Heaven. His love is that of the ultimate self-denial. Jesus uses the word, "love" over 500 times in the New Testament. Therefore, love must be important. It is after all, the central reason why God gave His son to humanity. Love is an act of self-denial and serving others. For this is what Christ taught us. Love is living your life for God. Love is serving others for the love of God. Love is placing others before yourself.
Self-denial doesn't have to be a miserable existence. Instead, serving others brings us a sense of joy and peace. Think about it, when was the last selfless action that you performed? Did you feel a lightening of your heart? Did your heart skip a beat because you felt a sense of joy at making another person happy? Self-denial, when applied in a manner that serves Christ, is the greatest form of love.
We will enter into Lent next week with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. As Catholics, we receive the ashes on our foreheads within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A priest or other minister places the ashes on our foreheads saying, "remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return." Or, he says, "repent and believe in the Gospel." Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. It is to remind us that life will pass us by very quickly and that we should live each day for the love of Christ. What better time to reflect on love and self-denial than during this holy time of Lent? Lent spans from Ash Wednesday until sundown of Holy Thursday. Let us prepare ourselves to receive the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday by spending the days of Lent in acts of love- love for others because of our love for Christ.