Everyone knows that true love can neither be bought nor sold. In fact, it is the one thing we all want and need and can never get by paying for it, no matter how much we spend.

Why? Because the nature of love is that it is always free -- freely given, that is. It can never be forced. But, oh, how it costs! Anyone who chooses love will always pay a price.

In what sense, if love must be free, can we speak of "the price of love?"

The fact is that love costs everything! The one who really wants to love must be prepared to give and give up everything. To hold back something that is good from the beloved is to really call into question the authenticity of that love -- to add a limit or a condition. True love knows no boundaries in terms of what it will give or sacrifice for the beloved.

If all this seems theoretical or too philosophical, then we have an excellent concrete example that makes the point very well. Just look at the cross this week: the price Christ paid because He loved us!

At the beginning of the week, on Palm Sunday, we see how Christ was the crowd's delight. His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (where He knew that He was going in order to die) was a huge affirmation of the success of His mission by any human standard.

But this was not the standard by which God's glory would be revealed. Nothing that happened on Palm Sunday would bring the world the love it was looking for. The crowd's "love" would vanish on Good Friday, just as surely as the next Ash Wednesday's ashes will be made out of the cinders of this year's palms. "Sic transit gloria mundi," as the Latin phrase goes: "See how the glory of this world passes away!"

The price Christ would have to pay was to lose everything -- and no one could lose more than a God who had everything. On Good Friday, Christ emptied Himself completely, refusing to cling to His divinity, as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2: "[He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross."

No one ever had more to lose nor gave more than Christ. No one could! On the cross, Christ abandoned the feelings of intimacy He had for all eternity with the Father, as the second person of the Blessed Trinity. He did not feel that warm presence.

He cried, "Eli, Eli, lama sachacthani?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). This is from Psalm 22, cited in Mark and Matthew. This is a powerful lesson for us to draw life from when we feel as if loving someone has left us feeling completely depleted of strength, power, resources and even tears.

True love is not just about physical or even emotional nakedness and vulnerability, but being stripped to the bone of every last ounce of personal "territory." It is not a bargaining game, but a complete and unreserved "giveaway." That is what Christ showed us about love -- and He should know, since love is the essence of God!

The reason that our "loves" always seem to fall short of this is that we attach too many strings to our attempts at loving. Our loves are like "I will love you if...," "provided that...," "when...," "so long as...," because...."

The only love that really matters is one that is eternal. It will not stop giving or forgiving, not even in the face of total rejection, disrespect, indifference or even death itself. Yet -- we must admit it -- that is the love all of us look for. And that is the love that Christ gives us, here and now, as Holy Week draws us in to experience.

He is the love we are looking for and the love that can really set us free to love. When we bathe ourselves in the blood of Christ crucified, we are finally free to lose all that we cling to, which really holds us back from loving, and to gain all that we are really desiring.

This Holy Week is a wonderful invitation to allow ourselves to be purified of false "loves" that do not go deep enough; of attachments, misguided motives and entitlements that may be strangling our capacity to really love.

Many churches throughout our Diocese are offering, throughout these days, invitations to find the welcoming forgiveness of Christ in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation -- some, even for periods of 24 hours without interruption (see story on page 1). It is a graced time to let ourselves be cleansed of our addictions, perversions, obsessions, bad habits, attitudes or whatever name one wishes to give to our sinful patterns of looking for love in all the wrong places, and to be washed in the mercy of a God who paid the ultimate price of love: dying the death we deserved (for our sins) so that we might have the life that He deserves for His goodness and holiness.

Hang onto the cross and discover true love, the love that lasts -- maybe even for the first time.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)