Once upon a time, a daughter calls her mother in Florida on Mother’s Day. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. How are you?” Silence. “Not too good!” says the mother. “I’ve been very weak.” The daughter says, “Why are you so weak?” Mom says, “Because I haven’t eaten for 38 days.” The daughter says, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten for 38 days?” The mother answers: “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”
Today, still in the Easter season, we learn about a word called- agape. The word is so rare that it cannot be found outside the New Testament. Some translate agape as “unconditional love.” But agape really means, “the love which springs from admiration and veneration;” or, love as “a self-denying and compassionate devotion.” Think of agape as “love without limits.”
Love without limits compelled the Apostles to admit the Gentiles into the Church. Many Jewish Christians believed that Christ died and rose just for them. But it was the decision of the Holy Spirit that what rules peoples’ hearts is love without limits. The Holy Spirit is so adamant about this love, that when the house of Cornelius hears Peter’s preaching, the gifts of the Holy Spirit fall upon them without baptism.
Love without limits belongs to God because God is love. But you know something. Sometimes, I wonder if we really know what loves means. First of all, Jesus tells us to love in the context of the Last Supper, after he washes feet. Do I like washing feet? No. Then, St. Peter has a point. God knows no partiality but, wow, we sure know how to be partial. It is not a matter of: God loves me and hates you. God loves Americans and hates ISIS. God loves Catholics but hates Muslims. God loves straight people but hates gay people. It is not that at all. You may disagree with me—if so, show me the data for your opinion in the Bible.
As the Father loves his Son without limits, so in turn, the Son of God loves us without limits. And because of this unconditional love, there is only one thing we disciples must do to claim that we are the followers of Christ. We must love one another without limits. In the words of Hamlet, “…Ay, there’s the rub.”
It is no coincidence that we discuss unconditional love on Mother’s Day today. I often hesitate to discuss moms and love on Mother’s Day. It is not universal that every single mother loved a child with admiration, affection and attention. Yet when I reflect on Christ’s command to love unconditionally I know that this virtue comes from my upbringing. In the words of Frank Bruni of the New York Times a few years ago, “We had a mother who held us in esteem and held us to account; told us we were magnificent and told us we were miserable; exhorted us to please her but found ways to forgive us when, all too frequently, we didn’t; and made certain that we knew she was there for us until, unimaginably, she wasn’t.” “Remain in my love, “ says Jesus, that is, “abide,” “stay,” make a dwelling” and “live deeply” in my love that has no borders.
God strengthens us in Holy Communion so that I can love you without limits. There are many things that my mother told me to protect me even though I thought as a child she was crazy. But she was right. She often told me that when she is gone I would remember these things. She is right. There is one thing that Christ tells us that will sound and look very trite: wash feet and do not be partial. That is love. Do not take 38 days to do it!
Once upon a time, someone asked the Risen Lord how much he loved humanity. He rose from his place in heaven. He spread out his arms in the shape of the cross and declared, “This much.” My mother did the same for me, everyday. Happy Mother’s Day!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.