Three Levels of Love

(Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C)

Bottom line: In today's readings we see three levels of love: emotions, decision and gift.

In the past couple of weeks, St. Paul has spoken about the variety of gifts, for example: teaching, healing, administration, ecstatic prayer and assistance to the poor. These gifts come from the Holy Spirit - and we should treasure each one.

Today, however, St. Paul speaks about the greatest gift. I think you know what it is. St. Paul say, "The greatest of these is love."

What is love? I want to talk to you today about love, but I know I face some obstacles. Many have become cynical about "luv." "Don't talk of love," says a famous song, "I've heard the word before." People use the word to justify all kinds of behavior, some of it, terribly destructive.

In spite of the way people abuse the word, love, we cannot get away from it. It has a deep roots in our tradition. Jesus sums up the entire law with that word. And St. Paul tells us it is God' greatest gift.

So, what is love? I can hardly give a full definition, but we can learn a lot from today's readings. They speak about three levels of love. Love, of course, is pure and simple in itself, but like light passing through a prism, it has many facets. Today we see three levels.

The first is the level of emotions. Bad emotions can get us into trouble, but good emotions can better our relationships. When I was in high school, I learned the secret of a smile. Before opening a door, I try to think of some thing or someone I am grateful for. It brings a smile to my face. Now, I haven't always done that, but I have noticed that a smile not only makes others feel better. It makes me feel better. Likewise St. Paul encourage us to cultivate good emotions and avoid bad ones: jealousy, brooding, quick-temper - and so on.

Love to some degree, depends on good emotions, but love involves a lot more than emotions. Perhaps you have heard the saying: Love is not a feeling; love is a decision. That is the second level of love - to make a decision and follow through.

Dr. Martin Luther King described this second level of love. He spoke about a day when we would judge each other, not by externals, such as hue of complexion, but by content of character. Character means the ability to make a decision and follow through. We grow by making promises and then fulfilling them. I say I will be at a certain place at a certain time, then I do everything possible to fulfill that promise - even if difficulties arise.*

Today's Gospel illustrates the decision to love. Jesus returns to his home town. His old neighbors should have received him enthusiastically. Instead, they turned against him. They got so angry they wanted to toss him over a cliff. How Jesus reacted to this rejection can teach us a lot.

Many people begin some work or ministry with great enthusiasm, but when they meet some put-down or humiliation, they throw in the towel. Not Jesus. He lifted his head, passed through their midst - and went to the next town. On a human level, it must have hurt that the people he spent thirty years with turned against him. But Jesus had received a commission, he had made a decision - and he continued on. That is love. Love is a decision.

Love is a sound decision, sustained by good emotions. But love involves something else we cannot ignore. St. Paul makes it clear that love is a charism, a gift from God. No one can demand love. I cannot say, "Look, I've done everything right. You've got to love me. You owe me your love." No, when all is said and done, love is a gift. Perhaps you have heard of "the humility of a lover." St. Paul says love is "not inflated." Pride, arrogance destroys love. It allows no place for love. Love is a gift - and it takes open hands to receive a present.

So love has three levels: emotions, decision and gift. I would like to apply this to something that will happen in a few weeks. Here in Western Washington people will begin to see "Catholics, Come Home" commercials on television. Through them God will touch many hearts - and some will think about returning to their faith. We want to receive them with love.

We can start with a smile. It may not be so easy - some of those facial muscles haven't been used for years, but with practice, our faces can welcome others.

And we can make a decision - to say hello to someone we have not met or do not know very well. We are a friendly parish and we can make the decision to include every person who walks through door. We have official greeters, but we need everyone - when you see someone new or alone - to say, hello. And to learn at least one new name every weekend. It's not easy - and there will be setbacks - but love is a decision.

And love is a gift. Each person who comes to our parish is a gift. I have no police force. I have no truant officers. I have no way of requiring anyone to come to St. Mary's. Each person who comes is a gift. I hope that we will receive each other in that spirit.

Love is a good emotion, beginning with a smile. Love is a decision - to carry through and to continue in face of discouragement. Love, above all, is a gift. As St. Paul says, "Faith, hope, remain...but the greatest of these is love."


*For sure, a higher need might present itself. I promised to meet with someone at the office, but then I receive a call that a parishioner is dying... I still of course have a duty to the person I made the original appointment with.

General Intercessions for Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Fourth Sunday, Year C):

2016: New Beginning: Living God's Plan
2013: Spiritual Combat
2010: Three Levels of Love
2007: We Are Doing It For Someone
2004: Love is a Decision
2001: Standing Against the Culture
1998: Catholic Schools Week

Other Sunday Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies

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Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")

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