The sacrificial love of Jesus and the miraculous crucifix of Limpias

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Most of the songs in the Eurovision Song Contest are about love. In films and soaps we see love portrayed. Is that the type of love Jesus is talking of in today’s Gospel when he says,

“As the Father has loved me
so I have loved you” (John 15:9)

and he says

“This is my commandment:
love one another
as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Jesus is talking of a very special kind of love, love that does not think of oneself but sacrifices for the sake of the other. To make sure we would not confuse this very special type of love with other types of love, which often are more lust than love, the writers of the New Testament used a very special word to describe the love of Jesus for us and the love of God for us. They said Jesus loved us with agape love ἀγάπη (agape). That is love that does not think of oneself but sacrifices for the sake of the other. Jesus is our model for loving with this sacrificial love, agape love, loving the other for their benefit without putting ourselves first. When does Jesus show us that agape love most of all? When he died on the cross for us. That is why in the Gospel today Jesus also says,

“A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Every Mass is a celebration of this special love of Jesus giving himself for us on the cross. From time to time God, in his mercy, reminds us of this love of Jesus who gave himself us. One example is the miraculous crucifix in a church in Limpias, near Santander, in northern Spain. The beautifully painted crucifix is six feet tall and is a meditation on the final moments of Jesus’ agony on the cross.

The first of the miraculous events happened in August 1914 when a monk cleaning the face of the figure observed that the eyes which were turned upwards towards heaven were gradually closing and remained shut for five minutes. He fell from the ladder to floor. He examined the crucifix later and confirmed that there was no hidden mechanism and that the china eyes were firmly fixed and could not be moved.

No further incidents were reported until 1919. There was a mission in the parish in March 1919 and on March 30th two Capuchin priests were hearing confessions when children told them the eyes of Christ had closed. Adults confirmed that the eyes were opening and closing, that Jesus’ gaze turned from side to side, and that perspiration was covering the figure’s neck and chest.

During the first week in August 1919, Fr, Valentin Incio joined a group of pilgrims and reported:

“At first Our Lord appeared to be alive...His eyes were full of life and looked about in different directions....Now came the most touching moment of all. Jesus looked at all of us, but so quietly and kindly, so expressively, so lovingly and divinely, that we fell on our knees and wept and adored Christ.... He moved his lips gently as if he were speaking or praying. At the same time a lady beside me saw Jesus on the cross trying to move his arms and get them loose from the cross.”

Many doctors submitted statements. Dr. Penamaria described the labored breathing caused by contraction of the neck and heart muscles, and the struggle to be free from the cross which showed clearly the agony that the nails caused in his hands at each movement. He described the inhalation of breath like one struggling for air, and the blood which flowed over the lip to Jesus’ quivering tongue and the final moment when his head sank limply on his chest, and he expired. The whole manifestation witnessed by this doctor took over two hours.

On June 18th 1921 people observed “Jesus began to pull at the shoulders, to writhe and bend as a man does when nailed alive to a cross. Everything was in motion, only the hands and feet remained fast....This whole scene of the dying Savior lasted from the Holy Holy of the Mass until after the priest’s communion.”

Pilgrims began to arrive from near and far. Royals visited Limpias, as well as Spanish bishops and Cardinals. Archbishops also arrived from Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Cuba and other foreign nations. I have had the privilege of celebrating Mass in that church for a group of pilgrims (2003). More than 8,000 testimonies to the miraculous events have been made, many sworn on oath. They were made by Religious and lay people, even unbelievers and atheists, from all professions. Apart from the miraculous events, many miraculous cures were reported, estimated at over 1,000 in July 1921. Most of these cures occurred when pilgrims returned home, after their pilgrimages, and made use of pious objects which had been touched to the crucifix. In 1920 the Bishop of Santander officially notified Rome of the events and the following year Rome granted a plenary indulgence for those visiting the crucifix so the Church has recognized the extraordinary events that occurred in Limpias.

In the second reading today, John says,

“let us love one another
since love comes from God.” (1 John 4:7)

John uses the word ἀγάπη (agape) for love; let us love one another with this agape sacrificial love of Jesus because this agape sacrificial love comes from God. Then John says something very challenging. He says,

“Anyone who fails to love can never have known God
because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

If we do not love with this agape sacrificial love we do not know God because God is this agape sacrificial love. We have seen this agape sacrificial love most of all in Jesus on the cross,

“A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

From time to time God in his mercy reminds us of this agape sacrificial love of Jesus as he did in the miraculous crucifix of Limpias. So let us love one another since love comes from God and anyone who fails to love can never have known God because God is love.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More related material for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B

Related Homilies: God’s covenantal love for us 2010

Love of God for us 2009

Bride and Groom - the love of Jesus for us

Loving Others as Jesus Loved Us

on laying down life for friends see St. Damien of Molokai