6th. Sunday of Eastertide (B)
(Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1st. John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)
Today we have heard much about fraternal charity in our readings. We know, of course, that Jesus said it was second only to love of God; indeed, He said that it could not be separated from love of God, for when asked:
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40)
Why is it then, that that which is undoubtedly second, is popularly given so much emphasis that monks and nuns who dedicate their whole lives to the worship of God in solitude and seclusion are often said to be wasting their lives, which would be better spent in doing good to people?
The easiest answer is that the God we worship is Spirit, as Jesus said, and He must be worshipped in Spirit and Truth. ‘Doing good’ to our neighbour is something much more easily appreciated, and people generally do like to appreciate themselves and be appreciated by others for the good they do. And that is why Jesus’ words. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” are thought by free-thinkers of a Christian persuasion to be inadequate for the level of perceptible virtue they (!) aspire to.
There can be no doubt, however, that love of the Father was first and foremost in Jesus’ own life on earth and in His heavenly prayer for our well-being. After all, we call the only prayer He gave us the “Our Father”, and in it we pray, first of all, to the Father, for His glory and for the coming of His Kingdom. This is because Jesus wanted above all, to lead us into a personal relationship, in Him, with the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The second part of the prayer He gave us is for God’s family of which we are a part; emphasizing and cementing our oneness with, and appreciation of, our fellow disciples, each and every one of whom is our brother or sister in the Body of Christ and the family of God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us the meaning and purpose of His whole life on earth when He says:
I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
Likewise, willing that our lives as His disciples should have the same meaning and purpose as His, He therefore went on to say:
By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:8)
And the ultimate joy of His life and of ours too -- if we abide in Him -- will be the fact that:
If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)
Love of the Father is indeed the first and the greatest commandment.
What then is the real significance of the great emphasis given, especially in the letters and the Gospel of John, to love of neighbour?
Let us recall what John told us in his letter today:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
It would seem that the whole purpose of John’s singular apostleship was to show that true love, Christian love, caritas, originates with, comes from, God the Father; it is, indeed, God’s very essence, and can only come into our lives as a most wonderful gift from God. And this he learnt from Jesus Who loved John so specially and Who most expressly declared what John alone tells us (15:12-14):
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that One lay down His life for His friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.
And In our readings today John insists -- in the name of Jesus -- that one, decisive, sign of the authenticity of our love from the Father we cannot see, is His love actively leading us to love the neighbour we do see as He would have us do.
Supreme personal love for neighbour can be shown in a committed sexless relationship of Christian friendship when as Jesus said, one lays down his or her life for a friend; and also when, in a sexual context, Christians marry: willingly dedicating themselves to each other, and sacrificing themselves -- sacramentally in Jesus -- for each other’s greater good and God’s supreme glory. This they do by directing the course of their mutual human love along the ways of God’s commandments throughout their lives as one together. That Christian married life is indeed a school of virtue, for such love calls for patience in difficulties and suffering, and perseverance in the giving of self for the good of the beloved; it is a life characterised by humble complementarity, not proud personal assertion; it is a life of faith: human faith, in the enduring worth and beauty of the one definitely chosen as spouse, for better, for worse, till death (God’s will) do us part; and divine faith in God’s sacramental and saving grace in His unfailing love.
But the fact is, that sinful human beings know so very, very little about holiness, so too, they know very little of ourselves. You can see evidence of this every day in the world around us: our ‘respectable’ and ‘politically correct’ society identifies love with sentimentality or emotionalism and passion, with the result that many parents actually harm their children by the ‘love’ they mistakenly show them. Again, the majority of worldly pleasure-seekers proclaim, by the pleasures they indulge in, that love -- for them -- means the shared pleasure of any and every sexual passion, which, being separated from, and independent of, any supreme moral law inevitably brings harm, first of all, to themselves.
Just as the origin and nature of Christian love is divine caritas -- the Father’s love for His Son in the Holy Spirit -- so too its end is divine: we are called to love our neighbour in God. We are not thereby called to manifestations of particular human love and special liking, but we are called to sincerely care for and promote our neighbour’s well-being according to his or her real need of our personal help; to love him or her as -- not more than -- we love ourselves in accordance with the commandments of God our Father Who is the supreme lover of all. So, while we may not have to pat those in need on the back and seek to show ourselves as their special 'buddies', we are, most certainly, never allowed to harm them by, for example, seriously tarnishing their personal reputation, stirring up hatred against their race or creed, or refusing what help we alone can afford in their great need.
As you heard in the first reading:
The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on us and on the Gentiles also;
He is the Spirit of Holiness, given to lead all to holiness of life and love in God. Our supreme mission in life is to let Him lead us and form us in Jesus for the Father: in that way alone do we truly keep the commandments. And in order that He, the Spirit of Jesus, may be able to work in us and form us for Our Father’s heavenly kingdom, let us, therefore, humbly pray, and patiently prepare, for His coming to us as God’s Gift in our reception of Holy Communion at Holy Mass where Jesus leads us in Christianity’s most sublime act of worship of and love for the Father.