Here is the homily I preached on Friday, June 27 at the closing Mass for the Marten Program of Homiletics and Liturgics at Notre Dame University.
When you discover that someone loves you, it can change your whole outlook on life. You were built to be loved. That is how God created you and genuine love brings out the best in you. Authentic love transforms you.
The theologian of beauty, Hans von Balthasar, in his article, “A Resume of My Thought,” has a wonderful image of this transformation that love brings about. Speaking of the first consciousness of the infant, he says, “Man (the human person) exits only in dialogue with his neighbour. The infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother.” The image is captivating. Picture an infant waking into a new world and seeing at her first sight, the lovely, joyful and tender smile of her mother. The mother’s smile, as Balthasar said, communicates something immeasurable to the child, namely, that existence is true, good and beautiful. A smile is beyond words, and a mother’s smile says everything!
As the infant grows and matures, blessed will she be to experience authentic love in great depth. When someone experiences what we call “falling in love,” it is the smile of the other that lights up her life. Even the verb “falling” conveys a certain unearned, bursting quality to the event … a gratuitous quality …. leading the one loved often to say: “I just don’t deserve you and your love!”
So it was with the Hebrew people in the new promised land of Canaan which is described in our first reading today from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 7. They have been led to this land in some mysterious way … (a journey that took 40 years!)… and now they hear from their God, Yahweh, that they have been chosen, they are sacred to the Lord, they are loved. The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah would later develop the meaning of that loving relationship – a relationship with a God who freely has chosen His people… as today’s reading says not because they are the biggest, the brightest or the best, but because God is in love with them.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary states that “the dominant theme of Deuteronomy is Yahweh’s search for a people among the nations.” Here they thought for 40 years that they were searching for God. It turns out to be the opposite: Their God sought them, found them and is in love with them. Love searches.
Jesus in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 11, reveals the heart that he has for his people. How great is His love. Even Sodom who didn’t respond very well in the Old Testament to God, had they seen what his followers see, would have turned out differently. Genuine love transforms. Through the words and actions of Jesus consistently shines forth that love of the Father in the Holy Spirit. Those He is called to save are so blessed: they are dearly loved by their God.
In today’s second reading from 1 John, the word “love” is used 15 times and the word “remain” six times. When it comes to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we know that Jesus has fallen in love with his people and there is not one person on this earth that He does not claim for Himself! He calls us to remain with Him, that is, to be bathed in the loving smile of God and so be given a promise of eternal love.
I remember growing up with the very attractive devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When someone used the expression, “this person is all heart,” – meaning just brimming with compassion, generosity and joy, it was Jesus whom I always thought of.
I learned the prayer from the Litany of the Sacred Heart early in life. It was so easy to remember: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine.”
We are in the time of the Fortnight for Freedom, those 14 days dedicated to religious freedom and just filled with examples of saints with big and generous hearts… Thomas More and John Fisher.. great saints – people of courage and conviction … whose love became so sacrificial.
Of course, they began as we do, suddenly aware that Jesus has this love for us… a head over heels love… a crucified and risen love … and we see his smile and his willingness to shed his precious blood for us. The genuine smile of love has that way of changing a person in an instance.
How good to be gathered in the Basilica named for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Built in 1870 on the site of the first church some 20 years earlier, this basilica forms the center of the campus of the University of Notre Dame. How good to proclaim the tremendous, saving love of Jesus Christ at the core of this great campus. How good to bathe in His love. How good to be chosen to be his followers … and to love others through his power. “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine.”