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‘Keep working on love’

October 26, 2017
Father Charles Puthota

“Jonathan Livingston Seagull” is Richard Bach’s allegorical story about our search for meaning and perfection. Jonathan is a young seagull-student passionate about flying. His old wise teacher named Chiang has great influence on him. The day comes when Chiang has to go away forever. Jonathan wonders what advice Chiang might have for him. The teacher gives him the parting message, only in four words: “Keep working on love.”

Let us picture Jesus in our imagination as he is ready to return to his father. With the assurance “I’ll be with you always until the end of time,” he sends his disciples out to the whole world to preach the good news. What is the good news? Love. That God loves us in Jesus Christ and that we should love one another. In other words, Jesus wants us to keep working on love.

Isn’t it true that God himself is at work in loving us? God’s perfect love is revealed in all our changing circumstances of life. In our joys and sorrows, in our holiness and sinfulness, in our physical strength and illnesses, in our hope and despair, in our capabilities and helplessness, God’s love shines forth in a dynamic, continuous way. In patience and gentleness, God’s love comes to us through incredible mercy and generosity. God is engaged in our lives – here and now – in an ongoing way, and that is why – and that is how – God keeps working on his everlasting love for us. In creation and redemption, in history and evolution, God is working on love and guiding the destiny of the whole universe.

If God is working on love, what about us his children? Our mission is to keep working on love. Because our love is far from perfect, we are to be engaged wholeheartedly in this mission of love, to see how we can grow in love, to be purified in love, to be consoled in love, and to be sharers of love. Being “rooted and grounded in love” is the call of life for us. 

The word of God calls us to keep working on love. In the time of Jesus, people wanted a summary of “the whole law and the prophets.” Jesus’ summary is done by combining the “shema” of Deuteronomy 6:5 about loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind with the call to love neighbor as in Leviticus 19:18. Jesus forges an intimate and essential connection between love of God and neighbor. One cannot practice one and neglect the other because love of God impels us to love others, and the love of neighbor will lead us to the love of God.

In Exodus reading God anxiously asks us to care for the alien, widow, orphan and the poor. We cannot love God without loving others, especially those on the fringes of society, those who cannot help themselves. God has a preferential love for them and so should we. This is God’s desire and demand. If we want to love God and worship him, as God reminds us through the prophets of the Old Testament, we ought to practice justice, which is a form of love. Without our love for those languishing in peripheries, all our claims of love have to be reviewed and re-evaluated.

John of the Cross says, “In the evening of life we will be judged by how well we loved.” In Matthew 25, in the final judgment, we shall be judged by how well we loved those who are most in need – with whom Jesus identifies. We begin our love with family and friends and extend it to larger circles of those in need. Let’s keep working on love. 

Father Puthota, currently on sabbatical and who filed this reflection from Rome, is pastor of St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco, and director of pastoral ministry for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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