In the opening Collect of today’s Mass, the new Missal translates the Latin literally: “O God…pour out on your servants an increase of the grace you have bestowed”. The older Missal had more of a paraphrase: “Increase your gift of love in us”. But “grace” certainly includes God’s “gift of love”, which is the first gift of the Holy Spirit, and by praying for an increase in this gift, we acknowledge that we cannot grow in love all by ourselves. All we can do is dispose ourselves to grow in love, and even that is a grace which is understood when we ask the Father to increase his gift of love in us.
Jesus speaks in the Gospel of two kinds of love, which are really two forms of the same love: they are love of God, and love of our neighbor. And there is one way to grow in the love of God, and a different way to grow in the love of neighbor, both shown to us by Stephen in the first reading.
To grow in the love of God, we try to know as much as we can about God, who is the One we love. We come to know him better through prayer, by studying his works, and by reading what he has said of himself in scripture. God is infinitely good, and the more we know of him, the more we are drawn to love him. That was Stephen’s experience. He searched the scriptures, and saw that the prophets “foretold the coming of the righteous one”; he came to know that Jesus was the one foretold, “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”, and that therefore Jesus is Lord, someone to whom he could pray with great confidence and love, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”.
To grow in the love of our neighbor, we try to do just the opposite: to know as little as we can about his sins and failures, try to make excuses for him, not going into his weak points, but letting his faults go in one eye and out the other. If we want to grow in our love for him, we should develop a memory like a sieve for the faults of our neighbor. That is because human beings are not perfect, and we can only love one another by seeing one another in God, or God in us. Only when we really do love the sinner, can we begin to think if there’s anything we can do about his sin. In order to get to that point, whenever we become aware of the faults of others, we can pray with Stephen, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.
In this Eucharist, we will receive bread from heaven, the bread of God who is love. Let us open our hearts to him and pray, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and teach me to know you better, so that I may love you more. Do not hold the sins of my brothers against them, and may I also not hold their sins against them. As we all receive you, the bread of life, increase your gift of love in us, so that not one of us may be lost, but that all of us may share together in that perfect love, which has no end”.