As a Children’s Protective Services Worker, I had the opportunity to get to know a myriad of foster parents. Like any group of people, there was the good and the bad. But as I think back over my years with the department, the one foster mother that always stood out above the others was a woman named Louise.
Louise stood at most five foot two and may have weighed a hundred pounds dripping wet. And, whenever you were with her, you just knew being a foster mother was her divine calling and one she joyously fulfilled. When I met her she was already in her sixties, had grown children of her own and had provided foster care to well over five-hundred children during the thirty years she had provided foster care for the State of Connecticut. She had also adopted at least twenty or more, most of who had grown into becoming successful adults.
During the couple of years I worked with Louise, there were always at least five children in her home ranging from toddlers to pre-teens. And you would think with that many children in the home there would be bedlam. But there wasn’t. Whenever I walked into her home, the house was spotless as the older ones had left for school, the younger ones were napping and those some where in between were either watching television or on Louise’s lap cutting out pictures for his or her memory book.
Yes, Louise’s home was always an oasis of calm, usually with supper simmering on the stove while she lovingly guided her young wards through their day. And from my perspective, Louise appeared to be tireless and filled with a never ending ability to love and accept any child, disheveled parent or social worker who walked through her door.
One day curiosity got the best of me, and during a meeting I had to ask her how she did it. How she was so able to love so many and to continue caring for so many more children when most women her age were able to sit back and enjoy the luxury of loving their grandchildren from afar.
“Craig,”she said, “it’s easy. Ever since she was a young girl I enjoyed taking care of children.” And, she told me, she was blessed with wonderful parents who loved her a great deal and a husband who loved and supported her. It was because of their love for her, that she was able to give love to so many children.
In the portion of the first letter of John that we heard this morning, the writer tells us that we love because God first loved us. In essence, it is only through our ability to accept the love of God through the cross, that we have the capacity to love others. And St. John is not the only one to teach this. St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth writes that if we do not have the love of God, we are nothing and basically states that no matter what good we choose to do in the world, it is meaningless if we do not abide in God’s love first.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites his followers to abide or live in him. In this wonderful discourse from the Johanine Gospel, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine. Believe it of not, every vine has a beginning point from where it takes root in the ground, and from there it spreads out as it develops a multitude of branches that twist and turn upon itself. These branches he tells us are you and me and our life source is the love of God itself. As water and air are essential to maintaining any source of life, the love of God is the primary source of love in each of us.
In Louise’s case there was no doubt that the love of God was present throughout her home. In subtle ways, her love of God was visible throughout her home in the form of the traditional statues and other articles of faith that were so much a part of her Italian heritage. However, Louise’s relationship and connection with God went far deeper than statues and rosaries. And it was one she not only faithfully shared with her family and foster children but lived as well.
Just two months after I placed the infant Antonio in her home and just a couple of days before Christmas, Antonio became gravely ill and needed to be hospitalized for severe respiratory distress. For days the baby had to be kept in an oxygen tent at Yale -New Haven Hospital. Despite the holiday being so close at hand, either Louise or her husband remained with Antonio while the other slept at home as their adult children took over the running of the home. So moved by their devotion to Antonio, I offered to provide them with respite so they could be with their family for Christmas. To this Louise reminded me, Christmas is a day on the calendar that can be celebrated on any day. Antonio needs us with him for now and besides, she told me, all have agreed that Christmas can wait until Antonio comes home.
As I left her house that cold December afternoon, I realized Louise’s immense capacity to love was not from her mother, not from the bond she shared with her husband, but directly from abiding in the incarnate love of God, Jesus. At the core of her being, the divine love of God was truly her life’s source, truly what bonded her with her husband, and allowed her to foster the hundreds of children throughout the years without ever experiencing the frustration of burn out.
As I look around this room this morning, I am acutely aware of the depth of compassion that flows from each and everyone of you. But if the source of that compassion is not rooted in the love of God, then like a plant that is left untended and without water, our desire to be compassionate will dry up and wither. If , however, our desire to love is rooted in the love of God, then we will find an ability to love without ceasing, because as St. John writes, “all love is from God” and God’s love is limitless.