Sixth Sunday of Eastertide
(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)
In the Gospel reading we heard an expansion of what is possibly the most famous, the most appreciated, and surely the least controversial, of all the fundamental statements made in the Bible about God:
God is love. (1 John 4:8,16)
However, many rejoice in those words not because they themselves want to rest in, delight in, their meaning and significance for the spiritual life, but to use them as a dialectical springboard that would enable them to assert that all love is divine, and that all earthly forms of loving, including even the most blatantly sensual, are expressive of, and come from, God – which, most certainly, is not true.
Our difficulty lies in the Greek New Testament use of the word ‘agape’. The original Greek text says that God is agape; the Latin Vulgate, old and new, always translates that with ’God is caritas’; and, for their part, our older English bibles translated that into ’God is charity’. However, when the word, ’charity’ came to take on the unacceptable connotation spread abroad by the saying, ’there is nothing so cold as charity’ -- meaning the charity of Christians who do not really care about the person they are dealing with but are mainly intent on showing off their own supposed virtue -- then our more modern English bibles began to translate ’God is agape, caritas’ with the words ‘God is love‘. As a result we now have the situation where the almost universally used expression for sex between consenting adult men and women, ’making love’, unavoidably resonates in the translation of divine ’agape’ and ’caritas’. Whereas, formerly, although ‘charity’ -- for some -- seemed a somewhat cold and unfeeling word, nevertheless it always carried with it a divine implication; now, ‘love’ in the modern sense, is – unavoidably, and for most people -- a word with implications that are too often sordid and unacceptable; and even though, at its best, it can evoke what is noble and beautiful, hardly ever does it, of itself, suggest what is divine.
There is another, not dissimilar, difficulty connected with our Gospel reading today. Jesus, as you heard said:
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
In our modern society, ‘joy’ is no longer necessarily to be understood in a Christian sense, being frequently mixed up with, understood as, ‘pleasure’. Now, there is no true comparison between those words. In the Christian understanding ’joy’ is spiritual, whereas ’pleasure’ is sensual: one feels pleasure, joy can only be experienced; pleasure can be bought or provided, whereas joy is only to be received as a privilege, an elevating privilege, given – in its most sublime form -- freely from above.
Jesus loved the Father; and before leaving the Upper Room to face His enemies and impending death His final words were:
The world must know that I love the Father, and that I do just as the Father has commanded Me. Get up, let us go. (John 14:31)
He desired above all to lead His disciples to a relationship with the Father like to His own. Jesus’ love for the Father was and is ‘agape’. ‘Agape’ is the Father, ‘God is agape, caritas’ and the Father’s agape causes Him to give His Son for the life of the world; that agape-inspired gift leads His Son to embrace the Cross for love of His Father and become agape Himself in His human form able to pour out that divine agape into our lives by the Gift of His Spirit:
The love of God (‘agape’) has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. (Rom 5:5)
In that way the love which originates with the Father -- God is agape -- comes down to earth:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us (with agape) and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
However, though come down to earth in and through Jesus, agape is never earthly, it remains divine; and, by the inevitability of irresistible love it returns to the Father because the Son is always and eternally -- by agape -- related to, one with, His Father:
(Father) all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine. (John 17:10)
Thus, the whole aim of our Christian life, the whole purpose of Catholic spirituality, is to allow that full tide of agape, given to us by Jesus through His Holy Spirit, to rule in our lives, as St. Paul testifies:
If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you, for the love (agape) of Christ compels us. (2 Cor. 5:13-14)
If agape is allowed to compel us likewise, it will draw all who are one with, and in, Jesus, back to the Father; and that will be for our most sublime joy, for Jesus’ relations with His Father were characterized, as He said, by joy and He wanted that joy to be shared by His disciples too:
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 that your joy might be complete.
Jesus’ essential significance for the world’s salvation is summed up in His revelation of the Father, His bestowal of the promise of the Father -- His own most Holy Spirit -- to His Church at Pentecost, and the bequest He made to her of His own most Precious, Eucharistic, Body and Blood at the Last Supper; from these divine sources spring the sublime peace and joy of Christian hope, and the irresistible life and power of agape:
REJOICE Mary, the Lord is with you.
The angel said, "DO NOT BE AFRAID, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-12)
Peace I leave with you, MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
BE OF GOOD CHEER, I have overcome the world. (John 14:27 and 16:33)
Dear People of God, in order to experience the beautiful truth, the unutterable joy, and the supreme power of the Christian way of life, that is, in order to benefit from the fullness of revelation and grace in Mother Church, we must learn to swim with the tide of divine agape which determines her whole being: sustaining her unwavering hope and faithfulness on earth and preparing her for the eternal joys and glory of the coming Kingdom. We must come to know and love the Father; and, as you are well aware, no one can draw near to the Father except through Jesus, because Jesus alone gives us the Spirit, Who is the bond of agape between Father and Son:
There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these Three are One. (1 John 5:7)
Embrace therefore, People of God, the Gospel proclaimed by Mother Church, that, knowing the Truth and delighting in Jesus, you may receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit Who can fill you with that unique love which is divine Agape. Allow the Holy Spirit of agape to rule your life in Jesus, and He will guide you most surely along the way to the Father, bearing fruit for the Father and experiencing something of Jesus’ own joy and peace here on earth, before ultimately, in heaven, sharing in the eternal blessedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to Whom belong all blessing and honour, glory and power, now and for ever. Amen.