We live in a culture where the word “love” is thrown around very casually, but no one ever thinks about what the word means. When we watch TV shows or movies, the characters are often talking about “being in love” with another character, but is this the same type of love that Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel? Is there something more to the love that he wants us to have for the Father, and the Father has for us?
In the Gospel reading, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in His love.” (Jn 15:10) For many guys, myself included for some time, we hear the word “love” and get uncomfortable. After all, love is a mushy emotion that real men don't express publicly, at least that's what the world tells us.
The popular view of love is that it's merely an emotion, an attraction between two people who are interested in each other. There's nothing rational about love, it's something we can't control. You just fall into it, and as the high divorce rate in the United States shows, you fall out of it. You can't even control who you fall in love with, thus the debates over same-sex marriage. If two men or two women are “in love”, meaning have this chemical and emotional attraction for each other, they should be able to get married and live together as spouses. At least that's what the popular culture is telling us.
This is not the meaning of love that Jesus is inviting us to enter into. As English speakers, we have the distinct disadvantage of a terribly imprecise language. Unlike many other languages, many English words can have lots of different meanings, and the word “love” is no exception to this rule. By commanding us to love our neighbors, Our Lord is asking us to have a true and active “concern for the well-being of others.” (Dictionary.com) This concern is not an emotion, like the feelings we might get when we hear about a death in a friend's family. Instead, the concern that we are asked to show to our neighbor is a conscious choice to give of ourselves totally for the well-being of all we meet. The love that Our Lord commands of us is a conscious choice whether or not to have concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in the world.
While it might seem like enough to merely be concerned about those in need and maybe do something about it, Our Lord gives us the ultimate example of how this love should look. He challenges us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (Jn 15:13) This is the ultimate challenge, and the ultimate expression of true concern for well-being.
This total self-giving is the love that God shows for us. St. John tells us in the second reading, “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” (1 Jn 4:9) God is so concerned for our well-being that He was willing to send His own Son to us and allowed Him to die on the Cross to atone for our sins. This is what it truly means to love one another, to wish the well-being of others over ourselves.
This love for our neighbor is not something that we should limit to just those we like, or those who we might agree with. We are called to love all without partiality, as St. Peter describes the love of God in the first reading. This doesn't mean that we will agree with everyone, nor does it mean that we'll particularly like everyone, but we are still called to have this love, this concern for their well-being, for all.
Without St. Peter's new understanding of God's love that occurred at Cornelius' house, it's possible that we would not be Christians today. At first, the early Christians believed that Jesus came only as the savior of the Jewish people. Through God's outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his companions, the Church quickly realized that Our Lord came to save all people and nations. Thus we can now receive the graces of salvation, regardless of ancestry.
God has shown us how to love through the death and resurrection of His Son. We need to take that example and pass on that love, that concern for others' well-being, to the whole world.