6th. Sunday of Easter (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, when asked, He said that it could not be separated from love of God:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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 greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40)
However, fraternal charity is so frequently, easily, and even flippantly, bandied around in our modern society that it is often popularly regarded as the main, characteristic, teaching of the Christian faith, relegating love of God to something vague, unappreciable, and ultimately unimportant; with the result that, as you are well aware, monks and nuns who dedicate their whole lives to the worship of God in solitude and seclusion are often enough said to be wasting their lives, which would be better spent in doing good to people. Contemporary society, being very much influenced by scientific enquiry, consequently likes to think that it can indeed, test, prove, manifest and boast of chosen acts of charity to others in need; but who can show, who can prove, demonstrate, love of God?
Despite such popular misconceptions, however, there can be no doubt that love of the Father is first and foremost in Jesus’ own life and in His will for us; and we, His disciples, must learn to take care in our dialogue with the world and in our zeal to stand up on behalf of, or proselytize for, the Faith, that we do not – so to speak -- joust with people proffering mere arguments, by the use of words made holy by the faith they express; that we do not gradually come to accept the premises on which all the actions, thoughts and words, of our adversaries are based: the scientific reality of this physical world and the exclusive worthwhileness of the hopes and expectations it seems to hold for them.
Our blessed Lord Jesus gave us His disciples -- at their express request -- the prayer we call the “Our Father”. In it we pray, first of all, to the Father, for His glory and for the coming of His Kingdom: the now inchoate, but to-become ultimate spiritual reality for us, on which all our thoughts and aspirations, words and actions, must be based; and to that end Jesus seeks to lead us, first and foremost, into a truly real and personal relationship with the Father. The second part of the prayer He gave us is not directly for the world and our life in it, but for God’s family, of which we have chosen, and are privileged, to be a part, emphasising and cementing our oneness in charity with 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 reading, Jesus tells us the meaning of His life on earth when He says:
I have kept My Father's commandments and remain in His love.
Likewise, He wills that our life as His disciples should have the same meaning and purpose as His, and therefore He says:
By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and become My disciples.
And the ultimate joy of His life, and of ours too if we abide in Him, is the fact of the Father’s love:
The Father loves Me; I have kept (His) commandments, and abide in His love.
Love of the Father is indeed the first and the greatest commandment; it is also the supreme reward and deepest joy of the Christian life of faith even here on earth.
What then is the special significance of the great emphasis given today, especially in the Gospel and letter of John, to love of neighbour? Let us recall part of that letter:
Beloved, we belong to God, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins. (1 John 4: 5, 7-10)
John’s whole aim there is to show that love, true Christian love, originates with, comes from, and must involve, God the Father. Such love is of God’s very essence. Those words teach us that Christian love – caritas -- is only bestowed, exercised and shared, in God, and among those who already belong to Him and/or are open to Him.
John is writing in his letter to fellow Christians when he says, ‘Whoever is without love does not know God’. There he is saying, ‘You who claim to be followers of Christ, Christians, adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ by the Spirit, cannot be such without love, God’s love, caritas, being in you and among you’. And in his Gospel from which our principal reading was taken, the words of Jesus were addressed to His chosen future Apostles at the Last Supper, not to the generality of the Jews or even of His numerous followers. Fraternal love – caritas -- among Christians is a most intimate aspect of their love for and response to God.
The world has gradually taken over those initial words out of their original context and come up with a parasitical likeness, ‘everyone who loves – not, of course, in God’s way, because there is no God – but everyone who “loves” in our emotionally acceptable way, that is, unfettered by any religious considerations demanding our obedience, such a person is truly good in our eyes.’ It is doing the same with other Christian words, especially key words such as ‘marriage’, ‘conscience’, and ‘sin’.
Because it is essentially divine love, caritas-charity can only become part of our lives as a gift -- the very Gift of the Holy Spirit Himself -- from God. The fact is, that just as worldly society knows nothing about divine holiness, so too, of itself, it knows nothing about true love, divine love. Proponents of modern society can and do use words learned from centuries of Christian teaching, but the realities signified by those words are unknown to them, lost by their rejection of God Himself. We can see evidence of this every day 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, as their pleasures show, that love -- for them -- means the shared pleasure of any and every sexual passion; which, being separated from and independent of any moral law, inevitably brings harm, first of all, to themselves.
The Christian revelation, however, teaches us that only God, only Jesus, can tell us what is an authentic expression of our divinely created nature, and of God‘s love being in and acting through us; and John, in our readings today, insists in the name of Jesus, that one, decisive, sign of the authenticity of our love for the Father, is His Spirit of love being active in us, and leading us to love our neighbour as He would have us do. For He is the Spirit of Holiness, given to lead us to holiness of life and love in God, and our supreme mission in life is to let Him lead us and form us in Jesus for the Father: in that way we keep God’s commandments.
And in order that He, the Spirit of Jesus, may be able to thus work in us and form us in the likeness of Jesus, we must humbly and patiently endeavour to:
Love one another, just as He, the Lord, has loved us and commanded us.
However, just as the origin and nature of Christian love is divine caritas, so too its end is divine: we are called to love our neighbour in God, we are called to care for his or her good in and before God. We are not thereby called to publicly acceptable manifestations of human love and liking, but we are called to care for and promote, if possible, our neighbour’s well-being in and before God, that is, according to his or her need and in accordance with the commandments of God our Father Who is the supreme lover of all. Such being the case, just as there is never a time when, never any circumstances where, we can absolve ourselves from loving the Father, so too, there can never be any people, with regard to whom, we can absolve ourselves from the obligation of such fraternal charity.
People of God, we can never be sure of the authenticity of our own personal love for God, nor can we ever be sure of the true nature of our love for our neighbour: we like to think we know ourselves, but we are aware that people are not always either able or willing to recognize the deep desires that motivate their actions or attitudes, and we must also acknowledge and confess our own personal weaknesses and ignorance. That is why some commands from God are necessary for us, being totally independent of our own selves and selfishness. And here today we know that we can be sure of the authenticity of our love for God, if, and to the extent that, we try by the Spirit to love our neighbour as Jesus wills, for the greater glory of the God and Father Who calls us to become His adopted and beloved children.