One of the Eucharistic prayers at Mass includes the beautiful words, “…though we once were lost and could not approach you, you loved us with the greatest love….” (Roman Missal, 3d ed., Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I). Although this prayer is commonly used during Lent, those words resonate for me here in this third week of the Advent season. With Adam and Eve’s decision to defy God and separate themselves from Him, the fate of all humanity was sealed: Lost in sin, we could not approach God on our own any more; we could not feel the fullness of His great love.
What’s it like to be loved with the greatest love? The prayer goes on to remember how God’s love resulted in His giving His only Son over to death on the cross for our redemption. It is actually painful to contemplate what this really meant. The mere thought of one of our own children being hurt makes the soul cringe and gets the adrenaline pumping; that such hurt might be deliberately caused by others does not bear thinking of for us in our human state. And yet God went that far for us, giving His Son. Jesus went that far for us, giving Himself. All this, not to preserve Himself as God. Not to glorify His Son – not yet. All this, so that we could once again approach Him. All this, so that we could be His children.
For this kind of redemption to happen, the Son of God first had to come into the world. God chose the humblest of beginnings, the simplest of human existences, for His Son – all so that He could bring about the greatest love. We can get lost during Advent, though. We like to wander happily through the sweetness and emotion of celebrating Jesus’ birthday, and enjoy the way it translates into happy family gatherings and gift-giving; for some of us, the season brings sadness or anger over estrangements or memories of loved ones no longer with us.
I think it is important, during Advent, to live and reflect in a larger and perhaps somewhat abstract perspective: That both the Birth and the Cross, together, represent what it means to be “loved with the greatest love.” And maybe at first, it’s enough to come away with the warm and sort of glow-y feeling of knowing that God loves us this much, that His Son loves us this much, and of knowing that He wants us for His own.
Maybe at first.
And then the soul wants to go deeper. The heart wants to know more. The self, the very self that God created in us and that Jesus wants to occupy when He dwells in us, wants to experience more directly what it is like to be loved with the greatest love.
How does someone behave who is loved in this way? How does someone who is loved like this encounter the world and the other people in it?
Better yet, how would we behave toward others if we saw them as people who are “loved with the greatest love”? Perhaps it helps, in thinking about this, to consider an analogy. Think about someone you greatly admire and respect, someone you love and feel certain loves you. Now imagine that person bringing someone new to meet you. How is your first impression of that new person affected by your relationship with your loved one? Almost certainly, you are predisposed to think well of the new person; at the very least, you will have an open mind toward seeing this new person in a good light. And even if there is something off-putting about this new person, you are probably inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, based on your relationship with the loved one who introduced you.
And so it is when we encounter others along the path of life. God has put them in our path. If we believe that He loves us “with the greatest love,” then we must necessarily believe the same of those we encounter. They are beloved of God, and He has brought them to us. Thinking of others in this way creates a predisposition to kindness and compassion and leads us away from judgment and ill will.
One of our parish priests, in a recent homily, reminded us that we are called daily to compassion, mercy, and kindness. Being thus called, how do we find ways to answer the call? When we make the choice to see others as beloved children of the Lord, we find ourselves kindly disposed toward them. When we choose to treat others as we would treat people who are valued in the same way we are valued, we will be an open spring of compassion, mercy, and kindness. It will start with an open smile that reflects our joy; it may continue in a kind word, an offer of help, a handshake, or sometimes simply in a prayer for that person’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. It will involve the complete suspension of any judgment as to their path, their intentions, their aspirations, their worthiness, or their need, as we simply trust God to lead us in the encounters He places before us.
It’s as simple as making the choice to think this way – a choice that surely will be led by the Holy Spirit, a choice that arises from being loved with the greatest love.
We live from Advent into Christmas, and we celebrate. The Cross inevitably follows, as it did in the life of Jesus. We need both if we are to truly embrace, in faith, our God and our neighbor.
Spirit of God, make Your place in my heart and in my mind, and dwell there so that by Your working and inspiration I may see myself and all those I meet as beloved children of the Father, beloved sinners whose redemption by Jesus on the Cross began with His birth in the stable, beloved souls embraced by You as they walk their own path in this world. Use me as a means to reflect Your love, so that my own sinful nature becomes powerless in the face of such love. Through Jesus, my Redeemer, I pray. Amen.
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