“Love One Another As I Have Loved You” (Fifth Sunday, Year C) , by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

Roy B. Zuck tells us the main reason why so many healings and recoveries happen at the Menninger Clinic, a leading inpatient psychiatric hospital located in Topeka, Kansas, USA. We take note that the well-known Catholic priest, psychologist, spiritual writer Henri Nouwen did a fellowship and studied clinical psychology at the said hospital.

The work of the Menninger Clinic, according to Zuck, is organized around love. Everyone in the clinic – “from the top psychiatrist down to the electricians and caregivers” – must show love. All contacts with patients must manifest love that is unlimited.

At some point in the history of the clinic, hospitalization was cut in half. Zuck shares about a patient who for three years sat in her rocking chair and never said a word to anyone. The patient was brought to the clinic. The doctor called and instructed a nurse, “Mary, I am giving you Mrs. Brown as your patient. All I’m asking you to do is to love her till she gets well.” The nurse tried the instruction with great dedication. “She got a rocking chair of the same kind as Mrs. Brown’s, sat alongside her, and loved her morning, noon and night.” Amazing results began to happen. According to Zuck, “The third day the patient spoke, and in a week she was out of her shell and well.”

Karl Augustus Menninger, an American psychiatrist and a member of the Menninger family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic, loved to say, among others: “Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” “What’s done to children, they will do to society.”

If love is that powerful even from the psychological point of view, we can understand why Jesus preached about love as the greatest commandment. In the end, love, i.e., practical love, does not only release human transforming energies and power; it reflects the very reality of God. God is love, the Scriptures tell us. And someone said, “He who loves touches the face of God.”

One of the most admired saints in the Church is St. Therese of the Child Jesus. St. Therese entered the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux, France at the age of 15 and died at the age of 24, after having lived as a cloistered Carmelite for less than ten years. She never went on foreign missions, never established a religious order, never performed extraordinary works. Her only book, published after her death, was a brief edited version of her journal entitled “Story of a Soul.” But within 28 years of her death, she was canonized saint.

Like all of us, St. Therese struggled to find the meaning and vocation of her life. “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose and meaning of my life?” “What is my vocation in the Church and in this world?” “What does God really want from me?” By the grace of God and through her cooperation with God’s grace, St. Therese was able to discover the meaning and vocation of her life. She said: “Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places…in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it…My vocation is Love!”

St. Therese was expressing what the Church document Lumen Gentium would later on categorically state: “Everyone, by virtue of baptism is called to holiness… and holiness consists in the perfection of charity or love.”

Indeed, holiness, according to the example and spirit of St. Therese, does not necessary consist in doing spectacular things, but in the love with which even very simple things are done. Once she said, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who embodied the spirit of St. Therese, would also say, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?… Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Although sometimes we say, “Love is not enough,’ we can never underestimate the transforming and healing power of love, for to do so is to underestimate God Himself who is love.

In the passage today, we hear a portion of the farewell discourse of Jesus in John. We believe the parting words of a dying man or someone who is about to go to a far place and who may never be seen again are extremely important. They tell us what are most important to the person. They reveal to us what the person desires to be a continuing legacy to be passed on to others or, perhaps, to be handed down even to the next generations.

Jesus says in his farewell discourse, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The commandment to love is actually already found in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus of the Old Testament. Jesus, in the New Testament, summarizes all the commandments and precepts into the love of God and neighbors. So, what does Jesus mean when he says he is giving a new commandment? Why is this commandment called “new”? What is new about it that distinguishes it from the many other places in the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, where people are told to love one another?

There are two features of the commandment that make it new. First, a new and unprecedented model in loving others is given to the disciples. Loving others is no longer just based on the standard of loving others as one loves oneself. The love of Jesus is now the new standard and model. “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”

Jesus loved his disciples to the end, as John also tells us. This “loving to the end” may be translated to “loving to the uttermost.” Jesus loved his disciples with a boundless and unconditional love that was ready to give oneself even to the point of death on the cross. Thus, in Jesus the disciples had a concrete, powerful and authentic expression of what love really is. Love is no longer just a matter of emotions. Love is the giving of oneself for the good of the other no matter what and without counting the costs.

Second, the love of Jesus for his disciples has not only provided a new paradigm or model. It has also inaugurated a new era. Jesus’s coming into the world and his life characterized by sacrificial love has opened up an radically new and different situation, in which eternal life has become not only a future possibility but a concrete reality in the present. Indeed, anyone who loves according to the example of Jesus no longer lives in the dark; he now lives in the true light, which is God who is love.

At the center of this new era is the community established by Jesus on the basis of his love for them and their love for one another in the manner of Jesus. Jesus has established a new community mandated to make Jesus present and recognized by the way they love one another. Jesus will be recognized in our midst if we love as he did. When we love with a Christ-like love, then we make Jesus present in our midst and we are recognized as his real disciples.

The Passionist Biblical scholar and former Catholic Theological Union President Donald Senior says that this new commandment of Jesus, “this deep, faithful and abiding love – love in the manner of Christ’s own infinite love for us” is “the very heart of his teaching” and “the true hallmark of the Christian.”

St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite master of mysticism, said, “At the end of our lives we will be judged on love.” Indeed, in the end, this is what really matters – to truly receive the love of God in our lives and to lead lives of love of God and others in response to this divine love.

May we end with a letter of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Yesterday, after the Anticipated Mass at the Pacific Plaza I saw a letter of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta addressed to our own very active parishioner, parish leader and singer, Tita Babeng Abella or Mrs. Isabel A. Abella. On February 14, 1988, Blessed Mother Teresa wrote a personal and handwritten letter to Tita Babeng in response to her invitation as CWL President to some kind of a gathering here in the parish. With Tita Babeng’s permission, I share Blessed Mother Teresa’s letter with you, which can now be considered a relic. The letter said:

Dear Mrs. Isabel A. Abella:

Thank you very much for your kind letter and invitation. I am very sorry I will not be able to accept your invitation – but I will pray for you and your parish – that you may grow in the love of God through Mary and by loving each other as God loves each of you.

Let us pray.

God bless you,

Sr. Teresa

In 1988, Blessed Mother Teresa made a promise to pray for Tita Babeng and the parish. We can be sure that she continues to do that in heaven – that we may grow in the love of God through Mary and by loving each other as God loves each of us.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

About Fr. Robert and his reflections