“You shall love… whether you like it or not.” This is a line from the beautiful homily given by the priest character in the film To the Wonder. The film’s director Terrence Malick is famous (infamous?) for his artsy movies that have beautiful images but plots that are extremely difficult to follow – some might say they are incomprehensible. Because of this, I won’t recommend the movie to you, but I will recommend the trailer which provides the homily in its entirety. You can find it posted below.
We get this commandment to love in the Gospel for today’s Mass (John 15:9-17). It seems a strange thing, this commandment to love. How can we make ourselves love other people? This would be impossible if love were merely a feeling. As the priest in the film explains: “Emotions, they come and go like clouds. Love is not only a feeling – you shall love.” Consider the promises that a man and woman make at their wedding, among which they say: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” If love depends on feelings, this promise is absurd, since our feelings for someone can change from moment to moment.
The promise to love is possible because love is an act of the will. Our Lord says to His disciples: “Love one another as I love you.” He loves us always, even when we ignore Him or deny Him; even when we are driving the nails into His hands and feet. Somehow, He wants us to love that way too. He makes Holy Matrimony a sacrament to help the spouses love as He loves. St. Augustine defined sacraments as “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” As a sacrament, marriage is intended by the Lord Jesus to make visible His love for the Church through the witness of the love that the spouses have for each other. The exchange of promises at the wedding, sealed in the flesh through the marital act, is a sign of the Incarnation – the eternal and unbreakable bond of Christ’s divinity with His humanity. The gift of children is a sign of the new life in grace that comes from Him. And when spouses persevere in their love, even through disappointment and heartbreak, they manifest something true about the love that Jesus has for us as He hangs on the cross, saving us from our sins.
“You shall love.” He gives it to us as a commandment because, well, we tend not to be so good at it. But He does not abandon us to try to fulfill this command on our own. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.” Jesus shares His love with us as we try to follow Him, that we might love with His heart when we find it difficult to love with ours alone.