6th Sunday of Easter
Preached May 6, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Let us love one another, because love is of God.
“Love” is a much abused word that seems to have the power to turn human minds to jelly. Some people seem to think it is enough to pronounce slogans like ‘love wins’ and all discussion is supposed to be at an end. The person who disagrees with the ‘love’ slogan is dismissed as a hater, an enemy of the human race. Did you know that the early Christians, like St. Peter and St. Paul, were condemned by the Emperor Nero as ‘enemies of the human race’?
To the contrary, the Christian faith contains the true teaching about both humanity and love. Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, reveals man to himself and his high calling of love. The Christian teaching on love is really quite clear and in its clarity and beauty gives us the light to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The ‘love’ slogans usually belong to the world of fantasy.
Last Sunday we also heard from 1st Letter of St. John, Let us love one another not in word or speech, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn 3:18) That is surely a good starting point; we all know that a love that does not go beyond words is empty; it belongs to the realm of fantasy.
Alas, there is a certain sort of teenage girl (and sometimes even young lady) whose imagination is filled with sweet thoughts of love. Let us not be so indiscreet as to ask about her actions, it will be enough to observe that the fantasies themselves are usually pretty self-centered.
Alas, for these girls there is also a certain sort of boy who is skilled with the sweet sounding words of love that are pleasing to that girl’s ear.
Well, romance and sex are certainly not foreign to the realm of love, but unless they are ruled by something higher they will end up in the realm of fantasy, but the fantasy of mind and imagination leaves behind a very real trail of destruction.
Another of the empty phrases of a pretended love is “Who am I to judge?” When love is reduced to non-judgmentalism and tolerance it takes on the characteristics of the permissive parents who let their children do what they please. Parents who truly love their children are often called ‘mean’ by those very children.
In their imaginations the permissive parents think that they love their children and they will profess that love with their words, but it is all an empty fantasy. Their love is a fantasy, but the destructive effect in the lives of their children is all too real.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the standard of real love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus did not talk about throwing away one’s life in some vain enterprise, nor did he speak of exposing oneself to danger in some fit of passion. He said, “To lay down one’s life”: that implies both knowledge and intention. That is what Jesus did when he laid down his life upon the Cross. He said, No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again. (Jn 10:18)
Jesus is speaking of a supreme act of love that by definition can come only at the end of a person’s earthly life, but the knowledge and intention that is required for such an act shows that it is not something that just happens, but is the culmination of a particular type of life. The person who is able at the end, with supreme awareness and intention, to lay down his life is the person who has throughout his life, by intention, continually given of himself for the good of others. Because he has laid down his life continually, in many small ways, he is able to make the supreme gift of his life at the end.
Laying down the whole life comes only at the end, but by way of a promise a person can give his whole life beforehand. This is what a man does when he accepts ordination to the priesthood. This is what a woman or man does when she takes vows in a religious order. This is what takes place when a man and woman commit themselves to each other in marriage: by promising to love and honor each other as husband and wife all the days of their lives, they already give their entire life each to the other. They live that gift out by the little things they do each day for their beloved.
If we consider well the love that lays down its life we see that at the root lies the gift of self for the good of the other. That requires that we learn to die to our own egoism and self-seeking, but it also requires a vision of the true good. Jesus Christ reveals to us the highest human good, union with God, life with God.
Now in relation to God we cannot, properly speaking, do him any good, but we can give him honor and we honor him most of all by giving him ourselves, by intention, without reserve or condition. That is the true meaning of sacrifice, or at least the interior reality that is given expression in the outward act of sacrifice. So the highest love is truly sacrificial.
Sacrificial love, however, is not something that we have within ourselves as human beings. Jesus did not just say, “Love one another; you can do it.” He said, Love one another as I love you. First we must receive his love in order both to love him in return and to love one another. That is why St. John writes, In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation [we could say ‘sacrifice’] for our sins. That is also why Jesus says, It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. We can only love rightly in deed and in truth with the love that comes to us from Christ through the Holy Spirit.
If we expand the words of St. John, we could say, “Beloved, let us love one another with self-giving, sacrificial love, because that is the love that comes from God and that belongs to those who have been begotten by God and who know God.”
That is the love that is nourished by the Holy Eucharist, which is the banquet of love because it is first the sacrifice of love.