Christ calls us to love even when that love is poorly reciprocated or perhaps not even reciprocated at all. In a certain sense, this reality is deeply woven into the vocation of motherhood. It may even be the very heart of this vocation. A mother gives her own body, her whole life, and her whole heart to her children, but her children’s love in return is wholly unequal to her gift.
I remember distinctly the first time that I realized this fact. It was not long after I had my first child. Overwhelmed by the demands of taking care of my first newborn baby, who happened to be very colicky, I told my own mother, “I realize now, at least in part, what your sacrifice was for me. There is no way I can pay you back or return adequately that love.” My mother smiled at me with her kind eyes. She understood exactly what I was saying, and simply replied, “You just do the same for your own children.” God has hidden the pattern of the Paschal mystery into the life of mother and child. First, she gives abundantly and without pay, and when the child receives the riches of a mother’s love, he or she in turn learns how to love. It is God’s own way with us: “You have received without pay, now give without pay” (Mt 10:8).
While giving this kind of love to one’s children is deeply fulfilling, it is at times disheartening! I do sometimes yearn for reciprocation, for acknowledgement, or even for rational companionship. It is hard to give so abundantly and to feel, simultaneously, invisible as a person to the ones I love: “Mom what’s for dinner?” “Mom, where are my socks?” “But I waaaaaaaaaant a cookie! I don’t like you!” (from the toddler). The Gospel tells us to “Give to everyone who asks.” “Sure honey,” I tell my three-year-old who already stuck her finger in the cream cheese, “you can have the other half of my bagel.”
Yet Christ has given us this power to love through the most precious gift of his Eucharist. There, in the mystery of his hiddenness, he gives his love with abundance, yet, like our children toward us, our love in return is wholly unequal to his gift. He is invisible to us, and we often do not notice him or acknowledge him as the person taking care of everything in our lives. Only by awakening to this truth and resting in that love can we find the strength to offer our love again and again.