Image: The Annunciation (c. 1440-1445) is an Early Renaissance fresco by Fra Angelico in the Convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy. When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the convent, he commissioned Fra Angelico to decorate the walls with intricate frescos. This included the altarpiece, the inside of the monk’s cells, the friar’s cloister, the chapter house, and inside the corridors; around 50 pieces in total. All of the paintings were done by Angelico himself or under his direct supervision. Of all the frescos at the convent, the Annunciation is the most well known in the art world.
‘Reflections on love’
Advent 4, Year B
Psalm 89; Luke 1:26-38
Today we are reflecting on love. It is the fourth Sunday and the last Sunday in the season of Advent.
Luke 1:26-38 is a passage from the Gospel of Luke that tells the story of how God sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. This is one of the most well-known and celebrated events in salvation history.
The Bible says that “God is love” and that humans crave love from the moment of existence. But the word love describes an emotion with differing degrees of intensity.
Four unique forms of love are found in Scripture. They are communicated through four Greek words (Eros, Storge, Philia and Agape) and are characterised by romantic love, family love, brotherly/sisterly love, and divine love.
Eros is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love. The term originated from the mythological Greek god of love, sexual desire, physical attraction, and physical love, Eros, whose Roman counterpart was Cupid. Love in the form of Eros seeks its own interest and satisfaction – to possess the object of love … Within marriage/committed relationship, eros love is to be celebrated and enjoyed as a beautiful blessing from God (Proverbs 5:18-19; see also Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 7:5; Ecclesiastes 9:9). In the Old Testament, the Song of Solomon vividly portrays the passion of erotic love …
Storge is a term for love in the Bible that you may not be familiar with. This Greek word describes family love, the affectionate bond that develops naturally between parents and children, and brothers and sisters. Many examples of family love are found in Scripture, such as the love of Jacob for his children, and the strong love the sisters Martha and Mary had for their brother Lazarus. An interesting compound word, “philostorgos”, is found in Romans 12:10, which commands believers to “be devoted” to one another.
Christians are members of God’s family. Our lives are knit together by something stronger than physical ties – the bonds of the Spirit … God calls us to love each other with the deep affection of storge love.
Philia is the type of intimate love in the Bible that most Christians practise toward each other. This Greek term describes the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships. Philia, from the Greek term philos, a noun meaning “beloved, dear … a friend; someone dearly loved (prized) in a personal, intimate way; a trusted close bond of personal affection”. Philia expresses experience-based love. Jesus said philia would be an identifier of his followers: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Agape is the highest of the four types of love. This term defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for creation. It is the divine love that comes from God. Jesus demonstrated this kind of divine love toward his Abba and to all humanity in the way he lived and died: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Following his resurrection, Jesus asked the apostle Peter if he loved him. Peter replied three times that he did, but the word he used was phileo (John 21:15-19). Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; he was incapable of agape love. But after Pentecost, Peter was so full of God’s love that he spoke from his heart and 3,000 people were converted …
Mary Helen MacKillop RSJ, religious name Mary of the Cross, was an Australian religious sister of Scottish descent who has been declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Mary was a nun, an educator and founder of the sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Australia. She is widely regarded a national icon.
Mary had a real love for the poor. Her love of God led her to reach out to the most deprived and despised in the colony in her time.
Mary’s greatest concern was for the marginalised in society. Her deep care led her and the early sisters to set up places for older women, especially those who were frail. She demonstrated support for young women recently released from prison by giving them shelter, and she set up an orphanage for neglected children.
Mary was provided monetary assistance and support for the sisters. While not all sharing the same faith, they shared friendship and a deep respect for each other.
Mary believed the Sacred Heart was a heart of unbounded love, calling all of us to follow Christ’s example of being with and supporting the needy and neglected. Sometimes these people are very close to us. At other times we avoid situations where the rejected and dejected are right there in front of us, seeking at least a smile or a kind word. Mary says: “Let us show this love (‘ofa) in our acts, bearing one another, forgiving and forgetting” (Mary MacKillop, 1890).
Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that Mary of Nazareth has a special place in God’s plan of salvation. Mary is presented as the true, first disciple who does the will of God. Her yes to God leads to Jesus’ presence among us.
In choosing Mary to be the mother of Jesus, God selects not a rich person, not a princess or queen but a poor young person open to the action of the Holy Spirit in her life. We can see God’s preference for the poor and the little ones here. It is some kind of love. A love full of grace for all.
Let us ask ourselves how we can make a difference in the life of a needy person – in a small way or in a bigger outreach.
Wishing that we will all receive God’s blessings at Christmastime. May God give you Hope/Amanaki, Peace/Melino, Joy/Fiefia, and Love/‘Ofa.
Malo ‘aupito. Emeni.