May I take this opportunity to thank everyone who offered a prayer for me when I was in hospital a few weeks ago. To see me now you wouldn’t think it was touch and go for a while, but prayer, the Sacrament of the Sick, and the skill of the medical staff all contributed to, what some are calling, a miraculous recovery. While I was in hospital I was checked over by two student doctors who told me they were both to be interviewed for the same job later in the day. The young lady doctor was dressed immaculately and looked the part. The young man looked a bit rough and when I advised him to, at least, have a shave before the interview he looked a bit taken aback. It’s interesting that in my hospital notes the nursing staff made comments about my own grooming and personal hygiene; so even in the 21st century the external image we present to other people is still important.
I may be an old fogey but I would like to think that most people, before they go for a job interview, would smarten themselves up; have a shave, comb their hair and then perhaps check with their family or friends to see if they look alright. Minor adjustments are made; assurances of “not to worry” are given. And on the way to the interview the hopefuls might even whisper a prayer to Saint Jude, the traditional patron of hopeless cases! CV’s have already been sent on ahead, advance notice of past accomplishments have been supported by the all-important references. The gaps have been covered as well as could be truthfully managed. All these reports now lie on the table in the interview room. Dry throats are watered, moist palms are rubbed, and nervousness is covered with a ready and confident smile. The interview begins. And the agenda is oneself.
People have to go through all this anxiety and strain in the hope that they will be selected for the job. The outcome is never certain, and the prospect of failure and rejection is real, but the hope of being chosen gives them courage to face the probing questions of the recruitment and selection process. To be chosen is to be picked out, opted for, preferred, taken on. And all this makes the risk of refusal worthwhile. And it is only when applicants are chosen for a job that they are free to take it or leave it. Before acceptance they are in no position to choose the job that is advertised. In applying for the job they declare that they want the position; but wishes are not choices. Only after acceptance have they the actual power to choose the job or not. That’s why people forced by circumstances into a difficult course of action always say: “But I had no choice in the matter.” The point I am trying to make is that real choice presupposes the freedom and the power to commit oneself.
When Saint John talks about the love of God, he is clear about what he means: “this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us.” The same message is underlined in the Gospel by Our Lord: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you.” We don’t have to turn up at an interview to discover if God will choose us or not: God has already made an everlasting decision to love us.
And so God has opted for us, he has declared his choice, he has selected us, he has taken us on. It is a decisive movement of love that began with the Father: “As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Remain in my love.” The hope is expressed that we can come to appreciate God’s choice of us. It is such good news that Saint John is anxious to get the message through to us, simply and clearly. Can we remain in the love that chooses us?
God’s love is based on choice: he loves us because he chooses to love us. And the supreme example of that is in his Word, his own Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If the supreme act of love is to lay down your life for the sake of others, Our Lord shows that he could have no greater love. His love for us takes him to the Cross, just as the Father’s love raises him up. Our Lord spends himself; he gives of himself until there is nothing left to give. He empties himself for us.
In everything that he did Our Lord kept on choosing to love and it drained him. That self-giving quality of divine love can be seen in the lives of many people.
I have a friend who became a doctor and he told me how, as a medical student at a well-known London hospital he witnessed a famous surgeon carry out a brain operation that had never before been attempted. The outcome of the surgery was a total success: but it involved seven hours of intense and uninterrupted concentration on the part of the surgeon. When it was over, one of the nurses had to take him by the hand, and lead him from the operating theatre like a blind man or a little child. He was so drained.
That kind of self-giving and concentration on the needs of another reflect something of the quality of God’s love in his Son. Our Lord hopes that we will choose to keep on giving ourselves in love, even when the giving hurts; even when we feel we have nothing left to give but our exhausted presence. But it’s that kind of love that mirrors God’s love. As Our Lord said himself, the love that costs nothing can be managed by anyone, for everything is on credit. The bill for authentic love is the giving of the self, the communication of the self, the handing over of the self.
We have to admit that few of us have the freedom or the power to accomplish this. We can only choose to try, confident that our struggle is backed by God’s energetic love. Somewhere in the struggle, if we keep our ears open, we can hear God’s voice cheering us on.