Sixth Sunday of Easter
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
First Reading - Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm - 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Reading - 1 John 4:7-10
Gospel - John 15:9-17
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that well remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."
In our Gospel this morning, Our blessed Lord defines the terms and parameters for the new commandment of love that he gives to His disciples - that is, how to love one another. Jesus begins by telling us that He loves us in the same way that the Father loves Him. We know from the Scriptures that the inner life of the Trinity means that the Father pours Himself out for the Son without condition or reservation and the Son pours Himself out for the Father in the same way. Their love is so intense that it breaths forward a third person - the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus is telling us that in loving us, He is pouring Himself out for us - totally and without hesitation, in the same way the Father has loved Him. It is no coincidence then, that the love between two married persons is intended to be a reflection of this inner life of the Trinity - husband and wife loving each other totally and without hesitation in such an open way that their love generates a third person - a child. That is why when I prepare a couple for marriage, for example, I explain to them that contraception, is a block to that total openness that exists between the Father and the Son. By analogy, if the Father and the Son "contracepted" in the mystical realm, there would be no Holy Spirit - no life breathed forward. Thus, my couples that I prepare for marriage learn that contraception is not only morally illicit; it's more than that - it just isn't Godly - it doesn't reflect who God is in Himself - totally open to love and totally accepting of the other person.
We then learn that in order to remain in our Lord's love, we must keep His commandments. Thus, living in Christ means that we must obey Him. At times, we have a tendency to love God on our own terms. We say that we love God, but only insofar as it's not inconvenient or difficult. We say that we keep His commandments but the reality is that we keep only those commandments which we like or those with which we agree. That is why any Catholic who defies Church teaching whether publicly or privately absents themselves from full communion with the Church and does not receive Holy Communion worthily. In order to be in full communion, one must accept all of the Church's teachings and live by them, thus remaining in Christ's love and making oneself available to express that communion by worthy reception of the Eucharist. That is not to say that this can be a struggle at times or that a person who is committed to Church teaching will have downfalls but a person who struggles and yet remains faithful to the Church's teaching is on a different track than the person who rejects Church teaching outright.
This steadfast desire to remain in Christ brings supernatural joy, a fruit of the Holy Spirit working within us. Thus, it is possible to be joyful even in the midst of the difficulties of following Christ's commandments. Joy is not the same as happiness or giddiness. Joy is tied to hope and it is a sign that we have the trust and confidence that although we may not always understand what the Lord's plan is for us, we nevertheless stay the course and do our best, by His grace, to remain faithful. Hence, persons who suffer greatly are capable of experiencing great joy because they know that they suffer in Christ, who promises salvation to all who remain close to Him. Joy breaks away from merely the emotional happiness that is often mistaken for authentic Christian joy.
Jesus then explicitly states that his new commandment of love means that one must love their neighbor in the same way that the Son loves each of us, even if that means dying for another person. And yet, this new law of love has an interesting twist. Jesus says that we are His friends if we do what He commands us. Our Lord is expanding the notion of friendship here. Normally, when we speak of two friends, the common assumption is that the two friends are somewhat of equals. We all have childhood friends; many of us here have spouses; and certainly all of us have some old classmates or former colleagues that we still consider friends, even if it's been years since we've seen them. But how many of us have friends who place a condition of obedience on the friendship. I don't know about you but I've never told any friend of mine that he is my friend only if he does what I command him.
There is mystery that Jesus introduces here. On the one hand, He now calls us friends and no longer slaves. As friends, we have a closer intimacy with God Himself in the person of Christ Jesus. This is made most evident when we receive the Eucharist and commune with the God of the Universe, present to us in sacramental form. And yet, there's more to it - we can only claim friendship with God if we keep His commandments, which brings out the simultaneous reality that God is still God and He's still in charge. So, while we have close access to God in the person of the Lord Jesus, we also live with the reality that as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, our Lord will return again as judge of the living and the dead.
Moreover, this type of friendship runs in the face of the current, popular notion that a good friend doesn't expect you to change and just "accepts" you for who you are. Does our Lord do that? Not at all. Our Lord is not content with who we are - He is always drawing us closer to perfection in His grace. Yes, our Lord loves us, but love does not mean simply accepting another for who they are; love, rather is willing the good for the other in a posture of self-sacrifice. That ultimate good is salvation. Salvation will never be ours if we don't expect that we have to change our lives; that we somehow don't need conversion. After all, what does Jesus begin His public ministry by saying? He says, "Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Love can be tough at times.
This notion of friendship with God was absolutely astonishing for Jesus' audience. The revelation that our Lord would no longer call us slaves but His friends must have sent shockwaves among the disciples because it totally redefined how they understood themselves in relation to God. For centuries, the Jews lived in an almost servile fear of God. God was in no way "friend material" - God was God; He was in His own category. In fact, when writing out the world Yahweh, the Jews would omit the spelling of the vowels so as to avoid placing the sacred name on paper, as if to claim some familiarity with God Himself. They would spell Yahweh - YHWH.
Therefore, when our Lord's disciples, learn that God Himself, in the person of Jesus, comes to extend friendship toward them, they are mystified by the claim. Of course, this "raises the bar" and it demands so much more of us Catholics. No longer can we choose to remain idle about our status as God's children. Rather, we much commit ourselves to living out the high dignity that we possess as children of the Father and children of the Church.
In the natural order, the highest form of friendship exists between a husband an a wife in sacred matrimony. In the supernatural order, as it relates to humans, the highest form of friendship is vowed or consecrated celibacy and virginity for the sake of the kingdom. Since there is neither giving nor taking in marriage in heaven, those who are vowed or consecrated in celibate chastity for the sake of the kingdom are already living in this world in the very way we will all hopefully live in heaven one day - where there is no giving or taking in marriage. As we know, marriage vows only last until the death of one of the spouses. After all, don't married persons say, "until death do us part?"
Finally, Jesus tells the disciples that it is not we who chose Him, as if we love God by our own power, but rather, it is Christ who choose us. This means that our love for God is only possible because God has first loved us and taught us the very way in which to love Him back; to imitate Christ's example of laying down one's life for one's friends; and the importance of praying and asking God for His grace.
As we conclude this month of May, one of the month's dedicated to our Lady, let us ask for her protection and maternal care. May she help us to love Christ and His Bride, the Church, with greater fervor. May her example of self-sacrificing love be our guide and assurance that we are truly the friends of Jesus when we follow His commandments and hence remain rooted in His love.
Praise be Jesus Christ!