On January 13, 1982, a plane taking off in Washington DC crashed into the Potomac River. Camera crews filmed the scene as a helicopter rushed in to throw down a rescue line to lift passengers to safety. As we watched the news that night in our community, Sr Susan Helen said, “Look at that man in the water! He keeps on handing the line to other people so they can be rescued first.” We were all amazed to see a man helping other people before himself. The passenger’s name was Arland D. Williams. He helped save five other people before he himself drowned in the icy water. As we saw him go under and not come up, we were all deeply moved. That heroic image was burned into my memory, a graphic example of Jesus’ words: “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for a friend” (Jn 15:13).
Mr. Williams certainly had agapē—the kind of love Paul speaks about as the first fruit of the Spirit. While I don’t know anything about Williams except his last heroic act, he must have practiced love in countless ordinary ways in his life. People tend to act true to their character in emergency situations.
Greek has several words for love. Agapē is a special kind of love marked by a true gift of one’s self. It has no self-interest about it. It is the kind of love that moves a parent to stay up with a sick child, or a teacher to never give up on a struggling student.
St. Paul uses agapē often in his letters. For him its primary meaning is God’s love for us. For example, Romans 5:8 says: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Knowing and experiencing God’s love for us enables us to then love others. As Paul said earlier in Galatians, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” (5:14) In this letter, Paul clarified the role of the Mosaic law. As Christians we are no longer bound to observe that law, for we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. But Paul goes on to explain that this doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. We are still bound by the law of love, which Jesus taught us in the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love itself. On this first day of the novena for Pentecost, we can ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with an even greater love for God and for others. That is the basis for living a good Christian life.
Today how can I show greater love to those with whom I live and work?
Prayer to the Spirit of Love
Come, Holy Spirit.
Come, Mighty Spirit.
Spirit of love and wisdom.
Spirit of light and power.
You help us in our weakness.
Come, fill our inmost being.
Come, Holy Spirit, come to us.
Transform us so that our hearts may be
a new creation of your love.
Guide us with your wisdom and love,
and let the radiance of your light
renew the face of the earth. Amen.
"In the evening of life we will be judged on love." -- St John of the Cross
Optional Scripture reading:
Optional Scripture reading:
1 Corinthians 13:1-13—the hymn to love