The context of the passage from the Gospel of John (14:15-21) possesses echoes of intimacy so intense as to elicit or, rather, to impose sentiments of somber, sacred reverence. They are words spoken in the most atypical setting by One about to give his life for his friends. Thus, they are bound to be etched forever in the memories and hearts of those friends who hear them for the first time and, then, feel compelled to hand them down to future generations in all their preciousness so that we, too, two thousand years later, would keep repeating and reliving Jesus’ gestures of supreme self-immolation.
For us, Eucharistic people, this hallowed setting confirms that whenever the heart speaks it dispenses with any flowery, polished, carefully selected utterances because both Speaker and listeners have already willingly crossed the threshold of formality and refined correctness to enter the room that holds such guarded emotions of the purest love.
Assuredly, awareness of that unmatched love fills the sacred room and commands simplicity of expression and sincerity of intent. Souls are intentionally laid bare as everyone has already decided that absolutely nothing would break the bond that unites all those present. No one would even dream of defiling the sacredness of those expressions with pretensions, aloofness or self-interest. All those present adhere to the silent agreement that every word exchanged there shall be measured exclusively by genuine love.
Today, it is our turn to be in that upper room. As anticipated, also today, the bond of love uniting everyone present is such that all intentions, thoughts, plans, words, actions and reactions are sifted by and reduced to pure love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Could our life be simplified more than that? Of course not! However, if being in the upper room causes us to feel uncomfortable and we were to attempt further simplification of the equation: love for Jesus = obedience to his commandments, we would uncover duplicity of heart. And any objection on our part to its inescapable conclusions would betray the presence of self-interest and indifference, the very opposites of love.
Imagining myself in that upper room after having ignored this inescapable logic countless time, at long last, I am now convinced that whenever I could decide to live by that stringent logic, with God’s grace, I would progress rapidly on the path to holiness. As you join me inside the cenacle and hear these moving words from the lips of Jesus mere hours before the cross; you would have to admit without hesitation that we all sin; that we fail to keep his commandments because our love for Jesus is so weak and spotty that it cannot keep us obedient to his commandments.
And if that were not embarrassing and humbling enough, I shall tell you about yet a most painful deduction that I have reached: we continue to fall into our habitual sins, we refuse to snap out of them because we are not ready or willing or desirous to profess our love for Jesus in a way that passes the honesty test. Certain sins have such a grip on us that they become a very powerful, practically irresistible addiction. We cannot say to Jesus:”I love you” while already seeking another fix through our favorite sin.
From personal experience, St. Paul describes the battles most of which, save for a few exceptions, we have lost and continue to lose:
Romans 7:19-25 “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.”
Yet, we cannot forget that nothing is impossible to God (Matthew 19: 26). With his Body and Blood Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit. Hence, he can say:
John 14:21 Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
This statement is perfectly clear and disarmingly simple; thus, it can brutally challenge our claim of being or of passing for people who love Jesus.
We also cannot overlook the fact that, on this day, these words are uttered by Jesus to us as his lovingly chosen friends in the wake of the displays of his infinite love that transformed the world in irreversible ways. We hear them after he devised in the Eucharistic species a way to be incredibly accessible to us, after his supreme sacrifice on the cross, after his resurrection (the unrepeatable, most earthshaking event in the history of the world) and after the outpouring of his Holy Spirit that continues to renew the face of the earth.
This pause-inducing consideration leaves us with a choice: either we muster enough honesty to admit that we still prefer the enslavement of our habitual sins over loving Jesus in return or that we welcome the help of his Holy Spirit so that, prompted by sincere love, we cooperate with divine grace to overcome those pesky sins. Over time, the easier it is for us to honestly say to Jesus: “I love you” the easier it will become to win our battle over those sins that have enslaved us for the longest time. They have filled us with embarrassment for having put off our declaration of love to our Lord or for having resorted to minimizing their gravity so that we could continue to wallow in the lukewarmness of our sorry love.
For years I failed to wrap my head around a peculiar message lived out by all the saints: i.e. that each disciple of Jesus needs, daily, to convert, to return to him. At long last, it dawned on me that the love of Jesus fills any sacred place where we do Eucharist in memory of him and anywhere else we happen to be since the divine Persons of the Holy Trinity dwell in us and we in them. As promised, Jesus’ love gives us another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth to assist us around the clock and help us to return “home” into the Holy Trinity.
If we are resolute in our daily conversion, the Spirit of truth will expose the emptiness of the allures that enticed us, in a seemingly endless chain of temptations, with promises of released tension and quick pleasure.
The Spirit of truth will slowly convince us of how fleeting, invariably, the prospects of enjoyment have been.
The Spirit of truth will blow on the embers of our love for Jesus so that our daily conversion will become more unwavering with every passing day. As that love burns vigorously it will be nearly impossible for us to return to our former way of life and still mutter to Jesus: “I love you.”
The Spirit of truth will point out to us the beauty of true freedom from the shackles of our former sins and will introduce us to the enjoyable observance of Jesus’ commandments.
The Spirit of truth will enable us to simplify our life by channeling all our energies to the implementation of Jesus’ new commandment (John 13:34).
Finally, the Spirit of truth will ready and alert us to the incessant revelations of Jesus so that we would find in them the motivation to observe his commandments and the joy of experiencing the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in our hearts.