May 11, 2012

6th Easter: God is Love



"This I command you: love one another."  (Jn 15: 17)

The Word for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051312.cfm
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 Jn 4: 7-10
Jn 15: 9-17

Grant, almighty God,
that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion
these days of joy,
which we keep in honor of the risen Lord,
and that what we relive in remembrance
we may always hold to in what we do.
Through our Lord jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

(Collect of Sunday)

The word “love” is mentioned 18 times in our readings this weekend.  We find them all in the second reading and the Gospel, both written by St. John.  It is clear that this Apostle was fixed upon this well-known virtue as the very foundation of the Christian faith. Love is for John not just a virtue but indeed a person.

C.S. Lewis in his work The Four Loves speaks of God’s gift-love.  He writes:  “But Divine Gift-love – Love Himself working in a man – is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved . . .”  (C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves). It seems, according to Lewis, that God has placed this particular attraction to himself within us.  It is pure gift; we did not do anything to earn it or deserve it.  And that seems to be at the heart of what Jesus tells us in the Gospel this Sunday:

“Remain in my love . . . It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain . . .” (Jn 15: 9-17).  This particular love, then, is not only the glue that holds us together as a family of faith but a way in which we live out the very commands of God all of which have love as their root.  Jesus says to his Apostles and to all those who would come to profess faith in him:  “This I command you: love one another.” 

As we come rather soon, just two weeks, to the end of our Easter season we imagine this as a kind of last will and testament of the Lord.  He speaks these words to his Apostles to reassure them, as we heard last Sunday with the image of the vine and branches, that though he may be physically removed from their sight, he still remains among them.  In a fuller way – a spiritual way – not limited by space and time yet very real.  The mark of all believers will be played out not just with the words they profess but even more by the life they live. And that life is ultimately marked by the foundational virtue of Love – or better yet Charity.

As I said earlier, 18 times we hear this word “love” in the readings this weekend.  In our English language we tend to be very direct, no nonsense and right to the point.  But, what do we hear about this quality of love?  What does Jesus desire for us?  We love our homes, our cars, our food, our pets, our money, our clothes, our friends, spouses, and children and a host of many other ways that we express the word love with little qualification.

In the first reading from Acts 10, Peter expresses both amazement and gratitude that the Holy Spirit has been “poured out” on the Gentile believers. He sees that God “shows no partiality.” That the Spirit of Christ’s life and presence is available to anyone who professes faith.  So, he says, let’s baptize them!  This is love in action.  That God pours out his Spirit without favoritism.  It is a gift-love in response to faith. 

Then, in our second reading and Gospel all the love talk begins.  St. John begins: “Let us love one another because love is of God . . . “  (1 Jn 4: 7).  Love John implies, is the fruit of faith and it is received as gift:  “ . . . that he loved us and sent his Son . . .”  The Gospel encourages all who believe to build their lives and human relationships upon this foundation.  Not a human love of emotions and feelings; of affection and infatuation; of hurt feelings and love rejected that may lead to retribution and jealousy. If God is love, as John reminds us, then he dwells in us.  Love is the very presence of God abiding within us.

It seems to me we need to hear these words of Jesus in spite of ourselves.  It is a self-sacrificing love which binds us together and brothers and sisters in the Lord.  It is faith in action through works of human compassion and mercy.  It is a love that is willing to sacrifice one’s own self-interest for the sake of another. A love that is not selective or partial but a love that is rooted in humility. 

It is heroic love indeed and one that Jesus desires us all to aim for.  Jesus never promised his followers would have a life of ease and comfort so the kind of “love” he speaks of is one marked by a certain level of personal sacrifice. Just because we are “good boys and girls “doesn’t mean that we will earn some sort of gold star or medal for our good behavior.  God isn’t going to shower us with riches and prosperity.

Love in the mind of Christ is more acquainted with loyalty and deep conviction. Loyalty to Christ and loyalty to one another.  Conviction about the truths of the Gospel and a willingness to sacrifice in order to live them fully.  It has nothing in particular to do with our feelings but everything to do with the overall direction of our lives and the values and morals we treasure. 

We all know how threatened the fundamental truths of our faith and our religious liberty have become these days.  Likewise, the voice of the Church is largely ignored or held in disdain by the prevailing culture.  Abortion, marriage, birth control, etec.  The list may go farther.  We are even lead by a President who shamelessly professes to be a Christian but clearly holds beliefs that are not based in scripture or Christian truths and seems to be motivated far more by how many votes can be gained. He aligns himself with a deeply controversial position on the nature of marriage, for example,  that is already causing deep division in this Country.

Our gift to the world is to bring a higher form of true Charity to a level that can change the world around us.  That is a very big “command” that Jesus gave his believers.  But if we live our lives in an authentic way, despite the personal cost, then we are certainly on to something great. 

The Eucharist is that time when the Church gathers around the very source of this love and expresses the great unity in diversity where God shows no partiality.  How can we do any less? 

More will come.