The Seven Word Sermon: If you love someone, let them know!
About ten years ago, my grandmother was taken into hospital. It was a difficult time for me and my family – we thought we were going to lose her. Fortunately, she recovered her strength and came home, but it could have gone either way. It made me very conscious of the things I did want to say to her before it was too late. But there was a problem – Nanna had become profoundly deaf, and it was impossible to have a conversation with her. So I did the only thing I could do. I wrote her a letter. On one side, I wrote about my own decision to become a Catholic and why it mattered to me. On the other side, I spoke about how grateful I was for all the things she had done for me – cooking the family meals when I was a child, and knitting the brightly-coloured pullovers which I loved wearing wherever I went. I told her how proud I was, that she was my Nan, and that I loved her.
I’m glad I did that when I did. A few years later, when Nanna was taken into hospital again and didn’t come out, I had the comfort of knowing I had no unfinished business. Mum told me that Nanna had kept that letter in her handbag and it had been unfolded and refolded many times.
About two years ago, a close friend of mine suddenly got engaged. This is always a bitterwseet moment in a true friendship – of course you want someone you care about to find lifelong happiness in marriage, but it also means a change in when and how you can be together as friends. When I went to visit during the engagement, I stayed in her spare room – which of course was also his room before the wedding night, because they were both committed Christians – and there was a little scented heart hanging on the bedpost. A small part of me inwardly sighed and acknowledged that this was a sign of how things would change.
But then a wonderful thing happened. Before I went home, she handed me a little parcel. “We went to a craft fair recently,” she said, “and these are for your bedroom and your guest room.” Two more, identical, scented hearts! For the next six months, as soon as I woke up in the morning, even before I opened my eyes, the first thing I was aware of was a beautiful perfume which reminded me that I had a friend who loved me. Of course, after two years, that scent has rather faded, but I still occasionally catch a momentary aroma and smile inwardly.
“My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” With these words, St John reminds us that love is at the heart of our Christian faith – and not just love, but love-in-action. There are many kinds of love, including charity towards strangers, but today I invite us to focus on the way we show love within our closer relationships.
Who among us has not felt lonely at times?
Who among us has not wished for a token of love from someone we care about?
And yet, although our hearts are crying out to be loved, we are afraid to communicate the love that we feel, to others.
We may be afraid of rejection.
We may be afraid of being carried away by our stronger urges.
We may be afraid of our best intentions backfiring.
To be sure, love can go wrong. I once shared a house with a man who had a bad temper. We weren’t getting along very well, so I decided to make a peace-offering. He loved eating melon for breakfast, so when he went away for a week’s holiday, I made sure there was fresh melon in the fridge for his return. This did not have the desired effect. My gift was rewarded with a small explosion of anger – “That’s not the sort of melon I like, but now I have to eat it!” Truly, no good deed goes unpunished!
But do I regret what I did? Not at all. At the end of time, when all things will be made clear, he will understand that my gesture was meant as a peace offering and an act of love – and I will finally understand the pressures he was under at the time.
Showing love is always risky. Yes, we make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. Yes, we must guard ourselves against doing more than is appropriate in a particular relationship where our passions run high. But plainly and simply, Our Lord commanded us to love one another. The Greek word He used, agape, especially includes pouring out our strength for the good of others, seeking no return. If we give food to the Foodbank or send a donation to Nepal, we have shown the highest form of love. But only within our closest relationships can we touch the heart of another in a way which brings lasting joy. Our motives will always be mixed – even Pope Benedict XVI commented that it was impossible to totally separate selfless agape from our own desires to love and be loved – but that’s OK, because it’s human.
We feel lonely and unloved because others do not prioritise showing us that they care. If we want to be loved, we must make time for others, for love always needs to be communicated, and, like a fading scented heart, refreshed from time to time.
“My vows I will pay before those who fear him,” says the Psalmist. To those of you who are married, I say this: you had made a vow, to God and your spouse, to continue communicating your love. If you have allowed yourself to become too busy to communicate love, you are breaking your vow. Take immediate action!
And to all of us, I ask this: is there someone who is fond of you, who would be touched to receive a phone call, a card, or a visit – someone you are always meaning to contact but never quite get round to? No-one else can affirm them in quite the way you can. So do something this weekend, don’t delay!
Show love, because your love is real.
Show love, because the person you love needs a reminder that they are loved.
Show love, because God asks us to.