6th. Sunday of Easter(B)
(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1st. John 4:7-10; John 15:
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
However, many rejoice in those words not because they want to delight in, learn more about, their meaning and significance for their spiritual life in the service of Jesus before the Father, but to use them as a 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 and at times disgusting, are acceptable, and indeed authentic, expressions of God’s true love – which, most certainly, is not true.
Such opponents of Christianity, such searchers for ‘freedom to sin’, latch onto a popular difficulty for the correct doctrinal understanding of those words I have highlighted:
God is love.
The original Greek text in the New Testament 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 clarity of the word, ’charity’ was clouded by the saying, ’there is nothing so cold as charity’ – the charity, that is, of certain Christians who were said not to really care about the persons they were dealing with but were mainly intent on showing off their own supposed virtue -- then our more modern English bibles began to translate ’God is agape, charity’, with ‘God is love’. As a result, we now have the situation where another worldly expression ’making (!) love’ -- being used almost universally for sex between consenting adult men and women, not excluding of course these days’ sex between gays, lesbians, and others -- unavoidably resonates in the English translation of ‘love’ for divine ’agape’ and ’caritas’. Whereas formerly, though the word ‘charity’ -- for some critics of Christianity – was characterised as cold and unfeeling, nevertheless, it always carried with it an aura of divine involvement; now, ‘love’ in the modern translation, inevitably brings with it implications that are both sordid and unchristian; and even though, at its very best, it can occasionally evoke what is noble and beautiful, hardly ever does it suggest what is divine.
There is however, another, not dissimilar, difficulty connected with the popular understanding of 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 modern parlance, ‘joy’ is frequently, indeed normally, mixed up with, understood as, ‘pleasure’ or even ‘excitement’. Now, there is no true comparison between those three words. In the Christian understanding ’joy’ is spiritual, whereas ’pleasure’ is sensual, and excitement can be anything leading to frenetic emotion: one feels pleasure, one is carried-away by excitement, one can only peacefully experience joy. Pleasure can be bought or procured, whereas joy is only to be received as a gift, as a privilege, given – in its most sublime form -- freely from above and evoking such words as, ‘Thanks be to God’.
Jesus loved the Father; and before leaving the Upper Room to face His enemies and impending death His final words were:
That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do; arise, let us go from here. (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 caused Him to send His Son on earth to free mankind from the deadly burden of their sins; and that agape-inspired gift of self-sacrificing love on the Father’s part leads His Son to embrace the Cross and become ‘agape’ Himself in His humanity and thus able to pour out that divine love 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. (Romans 5:5)
In that way the love which originates with the Father 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 unique inevitability characteristic of divine power, it ultimately recalls, brings back, restores, the Son to oneness 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 -- brought and 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 Corinthians 5:13-14)
If agape is allowed to move 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 also:
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.
Notice there, dear People of God, when so much emotional waffle is swilling around in presentations of Catholic faith and true Christian discipleship in a vain search for easy religion and a popular Jesus, that Jesus Himself, in the words quoted from today’s Gospel, associates LOVE – COMMANDMENTS – JOY; where the link-word holding true love, divine love, ‘agape’, and humanly experienced Jesu-joy (My joy), is the word ‘commandments’ and the obedience it calls for.
Jesus’ essential significance for the world’s salvation is summed up in His revelation of the Father and His gift of the Holy Spirit Whom He bequeathed to His Church; from these, spring the joy and fulfilment of Christian life and the irresistible power of Christian agape so definitely witnessed to in the most essential aspects of the Gospel message:
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. (John 14:27)
Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 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 in and along with the tide of divine agape which determines her whole being: sustaining her unwavering hope and preparing her for eternal glory. 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 thus rule your life in Jesus, and He will guide you along the way to the Father, bearing fruit for the Father and experiencing something of Jesus’ own peace and joy here on earth, before ultimately, in heaven, sharing in the eternal blessedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to Whom belong all glory, praise, and honour, now and for ever.
Peter said, ‘God has no partiality: in every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to Him.’
Jesus says, ‘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.’