“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2: 19b-20)
These verses from this Sunday’s second reading express the core, the heart and soul of our Christian faith.
This core is also beautifully expressed in two Ignatian principles. One, our relationship with Christ is a relationship of “returning love for love.” Two, this love of Christ, as in all authentic love, is a love best expressed in deed.
This same truth of our faith is “dramatized” in the Gospel narrative for this Sunday. The sinful woman had the courage to believe that the guest, the Rabbi in Simon the Pharisee’s house, will forgive her sins.
This belief she expressed in the honor she gave Christ by washing his feet in her tears, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with ointment.
The woman’s actions were referred to by Christ as an expression of great love. This was why her many sins were forgiven.
This Sunday’s readings remind us of the intimate and deep relationship between love and forgiveness.
Not only does Christ forgive the woman, but he also frees her. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” He does not demand anything in return.
Difficult to imagine
Such a love is so difficult to imagine. Perhaps it is best to approximate. Let me share two stories.
Recently, I introduced two new young members of our team to a very dear friend, a real father to me. True to form, this friend welcomed the two young men warmly.
In just a few encounters, the two were overwhelmed by him. They described him as sincere, warm and thoughtful. What struck me most, however, was their description of him as consistently thoughtful.
Recently, the godchildren of this man asked to visit him for the first time in many years. After the visit, the wife sent me a message: “Fr. E, thank you for reconnecting us to ninong. Our ninong is the kindest living soul. It was so good to see him. I felt the warmth of his love coming from the Heart of Jesus. What an experience that was.”
This is probably a good approximation of the love and kindness the sinful woman experienced in Christ’s presence.
Love as conscious choice
Love then is a conscious choice, deliberate in the giving of self to the other—a giving that heals, forgives and gives life because of the self-sacrifice that is freely and deliberately chosen.
The other story of love is about a husband and wife who were together for over 50 years. When they were younger, the husband was the medical director of a major government hospital. He took it upon himself to be on duty during Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. His wife would go to him, bring him food and stay with him on these occasions.
When the husband passed away over a year ago, a priest said in a homily in one of the wake Masses that she, the wife, must not pay heed to other people who tell her that [her situation] is okay. The priest said, “No, it is not okay. It is painful because you loved him, you loved each other so much. You were devoted to each other. Your pain is as deep as the depth of your love for him.”
Similar to this is another story about a husband and wife who were always together. Both were busy with their own concerns, but they managed to be always together. The husband passed away almost 30 years ago, but when the wife tells stories about their life together, it was as if he was still alive.
These two stories I would like to call stories of loving devotion. Devotion is a life-giving love. Again, devotion is a choice, made with freedom and depth, to be present to the beloved.
In these stories, we see this presence, this loving devotion transcending even life itself.
These stories of love give us a hint of how God’s love is the epitome of a thoughtful love freely given and a love that is totally and always present to the beloved.
Christ in the Gospel for this Sunday even ups the ante. His thoughtful love both inspires the sinful woman and challenges Simon the Pharisee. In the woman’s story, the principle of “returning love for love” comes to life, “…her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
This was also a challenge to Simon who did not grant Christ, his invited guest, the customary courtesies accorded a house guest.
It is a challenge to all of us not just to return love for love, but to do so in concrete deeds—small, simple yet expressing the thoughtfulness. Paraphrasing Mother Teresa of Calcutta, it is to do these small, simple deeds with great love.
The story of the sinful woman gives us great hope. One, because it reminds us that we—sinners that we are—will always be forgiven by Christ because his love is a thoughtful love that knows what we desire and struggle with even before we turn to him for forgiveness and love. The trigger point is when we freely turn to him to embrace this love.
Two, the story makes us realize that to love in deed is loving in the ordinary, simple, day-to-day moments. This gives us great hope that it is doable. It shows us that the love of Christ is present in the core of our day-to-day life.
When we leave Mass today and every Mass we attend, may we be loving persons, “returning love for love” in the day-to-day deeds in our life with thoughtfulness and loving devotion toward God and one another.