When I was starting out in seminary, we all had to first study philosophy before moving on to Theology. Most of our theological concepts are rooted in the western philosophical tradition. Therefore, we studied Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, as well as Descartes, Kant and Kierkegaard. At St. Mary’s Seminary, we had a crazy-brilliant teacher who loved to plant “time bombs” that he said would “explode” at some later date. He often did this at Mass in his homilies as well.
One day, he preached a five-word homily – so I remember it. He said, “Love is not a sandwich.” And then he sat down. I can’t for the life of me remember what the Gospel was that day, but I do remember that.
Later, when guys pressed him to explain his cryptic message, he simply said, “If I have a sandwich, and I give you half, I am left with half a sandwich.”
Are you following this?
Well, here’s that “time bomb” going off. Love is not diminished by sharing it. Paradoxically, it even grows by being given away.
This weekend, we come to the end of our series “Remember.” For the past four weeks, we have been reflecting on four important truths that we should never forget: God loves you; God forgives you; God calls you; and now, God strengthens you. Each of these truths flows from a realization of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, since it is He who shows us God’s human face and reveals us to ourselves.
Today, after reflecting on these important truths of how much God loves us, we are confronted with a pretty significant challenge. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. [and] You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
While loving God and neighbor may not seem like such a challenge, we have to think hard about how good we are at abandoning ourselves to love. Do we trust easily? Do we trust God easily? Love is certainly precious, and we often are reserved when it comes to whom we love and whom we trust. However, Jesus’ reminder of these greatest commandments brings the challenge back in stark reality. Nothing should hold us back from loving God and neighbor.
Can we do this? Or, are we afraid that we will have nothing left if we do so? When we hear God call us, are we reserved in responding because we are worried about losing ourselves? This is not the case with real love – love is not a sandwich!
If we take Jesus up on His invitation today, we will find that we receive far more than we give. Mother Teresa would say, “When you love until it hurts, eventually there is no more hurt – only love.” This is due to this fourth great truth we must remember: God strengthens you.
God strengthens us when we give ourselves over to His will – especially when we feel we have no more strength ourselves. In fact, it was at His most vulnerable moment in His life - on the Cross - that the greatness of God's power was unleashed on the world. St. Paul certainly knew this strength; Paul’s listeners would learn this, as would we, as he writes today, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers.” Abandoning ourselves to God is the true source of the strength of a Christian – and, that is how we gain the strength to share Christ’s love and life with others. It's how we become evangelizers.
There is great joy in following God’s will as He calls us to great things. While there might be fear and hesitation remembering this truth – that God will give you the strength to do what He calls you to – can be a source of great grace and comfort. We become capable of sharing Christ, while at the same time seeing His life grow within us through that very sharing.
Last week, Pope Francis celebrated the beatification of Pope Paul VI. In his homily, he pointed to the blessed pope’s ability to trust God and allow Him to strengthen him. He said,
In his personal journal, [Paul VI] wrote, at the conclusion of [Vatican II]: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and savior” .... In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
None of us, on our own, is fit for God’s service. It is only through the strength provided by God that we can do the things that we are called to do. However, because our God loves us, because He has forgiven us, because He has called us, He is the one who will give that strength. And He promises to do it. It’s a promise that is renewed each time we come here to His table and share this Eucharist.
Love is not a sandwich. It is a challenge. It is a gift – a gift that grows as we share it – a gift that brings us the life and strength of God to become the people we were loved and made to be.