In Jeanette Winterson’s remarkable little novel, The Passion, the main character, Henri, who had been personal chef to Bonaparte, sits alone after an array of adventures, reflecting on what it means to be truly free. “Bonaparte,” he muses, “taught us that freedom lay in our fighting arm, but in the legends of the Holy Grail no one won it by force . . . I think now that being free is not being powerful or rich or well regarded without obligations but being able to love. To love someone else enough to forget about yourself even for a moment is to be free.”
To love someone else enough to forget about yourself even for a moment is to be free. In other words, we don’t find freedom simply in our self. Paradoxically we don’t find freedom without a sense of obligation to another. We find freedom when we are taken outside of ourselves.
Love one another, says Jesus, This is my commandment. In other words, love more than yourself, your own ideas, your own way of doing things. Love that which is not you, other than you, different from you. Love an other. Then you will know freedom.
This was the genius of St. Paul, in the first reading, which persuaded Peter to be open to the possibility of moving beyond Jewish circles in the proclamation of the gospel. Many in the early Church were afraid of facing the Gentile world: they wanted Christian faith to remain within the Jewish world – to maintain it in all that was familiar. But Paul resisted this. His missionary endeavour took him into the vast ‘otherness’ of Greek and Roman culture, where of course, Christianity began to take on a new life and character.
Love demands that we respect another’s difference and otherness from ourselves. Perhaps the reason why we find it difficult to love at times, or why love seems to fail, is because we don’t respect another’s difference and otherness fully enough. We try to construct our world as simply an extension of ourselves, to make others into simply more of me. Unable to love fully, it’s not surprising that we also feel then without freedom. Only in facing that which is different from ourselves, do we truly begin to grow. We let go, we let be.
As a priest I have always been fascinated by a beautiful quote by the late Celtic write, John O’Donohue who once wrote, “The priest [is the one who] attempts to find new words that arise from the hunger, pathos, contradiction, and complexity of people’s lived experience. Rather than strining to fix the label ‘spiritual’ onto everything, the priest practices reverence befroe the icon of otherness and attempts to show the luminosity of the spiritual as it quitely emerges.” For me, this is an invitation of immense significance as I take up my service of leadership for you as a parish community.
The great paradox of Jesus’ message to us is that only in giving ourselves to another, in all their difference, do we find ourself. Henri, in Winterson’s novel, goes on to say that “some say love enslaves, and passion is a demon and many have been lost for love. But I know that without love we grope the tunnels of our lives and never see the sun. . . . when I fell in love it was as though I looked into a mirror for the first time and saw myself. I lifted my hand in wonderment and felt my cheeks, my neck. This was me . . .”
In love, we discover ourselves with our deepest freedom. We also discover God. As the musical rightly echoes the thought of our second reading, “to have loved another person is to have seen the face of God.” To know what love is, is to know what God is like. It is not surprising that Jesus gives us as the one commandment: Love one another, as I have loved you. This is the greatest sign of his Risen life in our midst.
This day let us give thanks for love in our life, let us be mindful of those we are joined to in love, especially our mothers on this Mother’s Day. And let us delight in the freedom that the experience of love, love of others, and love of God, gives our life.
 John O’Donohue, “The Priestliness of the Human Heart” The Way Supplement 83 (1995), 50.
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