Let me start with a confession: as I prepared this homily, I realized that all three readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter build on last Sunday’s readings by insisting on the vital importance of loving. Very rapidly I became frightened at the thought that life, eternal life to be exact, depends on loving not in word or speech but in deed and truth. (cf. 1 John 3:18)
I became thoroughly scared, with an awful knot in my stomach, because I had a very hard time coming up with evidence of having being begotten by God and of knowing God. (cf. 1 John 4:7) You might want to look it up and see if you get the same feeling I got.
Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. (cf. 1 John 4:7)
The question about life and death can be simplified to this: “whom do I truly love?” Now, this question is not about whom am I supposed to love, or whom do I give people the impression of loving? But whom do I really love? For whom am I ready to do the things I do for myself? Onto whom am I showering the attention, care, time, pampering, protection, reputation shield, worrying, willingness to be inconvenienced, and all the other nice things I do for myself?
Chances are that there might be just one, and that one less than 100%: i.e. partial loving.
But is there such a thing as partial loving under the watchful eyes of the One who is Love? Can we truly expect to fool him? And, if we cannot fool him, what in the world are we going to answer him when we will stand before his throne and he will demand evidence of our loving?
My fellow disciples of Christ, do you see why I am scared? What if I do not love anyone but myself? Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is Love. (cf. 1 John 4:8) As I tried to relieve my anxiety about being self-absorbed, I realized that my priesthood, my piety, my religiosity are potentially very dangerous because I can easily claim that I am about God’s business, that I love and serve him, that I follow his laws, that I am a good priest…
The fact is that any manifestation of piety and religiosity is totally useless without clear evidence that I live by his commandment: love one another as I love you. (cf. John 15:12) If the evidence is not there, my efforts are wasted; I nurture a deadly delusion if I multiply my religious practices instead of drawing from God’s Spirit the inner motivation to put forth the sincerest effort to love as Jesus loves. My efforts are pleasing to God to the extent that they prepare me, day after day, to sacrifice my life “on my cross” for someone, near or far, known or unknown, friend or foe, Catholic or non-Catholic, man or woman, rich or poor.
This latest affirmation underscores the liberating fact that every single one of us is called to be Jesus’ friend: I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. (cf. John 15:15) It reveals his ardent desire to have each one of us know the Father who is love by loving the way he (Jesus) does on his cross.
However, this affirmation unveils also the ominous reality of so many Christians who choose to remain Jesus’ slaves and refuse to be considered his friends. They so choose, at least unwittingly, because they know that true love stems from self-sacrifice; they are cognizant that true love calls for self-immolation. Therefore, for them, the condition of a slave is preferable because a slave does not have to love.
At the same time, those among us who opt for being slaves, reserve the right to pick and choose which teachings of the Gospel to follow and which to ignore. In their own brand of Catholicism, they slave for God.
- They put in long hours in prayer, fasting and a variety of religious practices … to secure their salvation.
- They are quite keen on orthodoxy, on Catholic correctness, on daily duties that must be observed.
- They feel obligated to separate themselves from the mass of so-so Catholics.
- They are prone to judge; they are prone to condemn; and they assume that there will be divine retribution on those who do not do as they do.
- And they endure all this slaving away, of course, for a well-deserved “heavenly paycheck” at the end of their life.
All in all, they live with the disposition that tends to lean towards being miserable, angry, upset in addition to being judgmental by choice, first, and, then, by habit. They do all this because loving to the point of self-immolation implies a freedom that they do not want: the freedom that guarantees that Jesus’ joy may be in them and their joy may be complete.
They overlook that the Gospels are filled with instances of Jesus’ breaking the holiest laws in order to love and to attend to the needs of God’s people. They also fail to notice that the reading from Acts of the Apostles (10:25-48) records another clamorous exception imposed by God on Peter: an outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household. It is Confirmation before Baptism; unheard of!
I submit to you that Peter got the message and learned to focus strictly on the commandment of loving as Jesus loved him because he had interiorized Jesus’ lessons of genuine compassion consistent with God’s absolute sovereignty and he could never forget his hideous sins of denying his master 3 times.
He realized that it was God who loved him and sent his Son as expiation for his sins. (cf. 1 John 4:10)
For those among us (starting with me of course) who are still at the status of slaves or are teetering between slavery and friendship; who do not know, yet, how to love as Jesus does, the way to unwavering friendship with Jesus, the way to complete joy begins, now, with the sorrowful owning up to those sins of ours whose ugliness and deadliness we had refused to face. And it will progress very promisingly if we let ourselves be transported by the Holy Spirit to the spiritual heights that the Lord had intended for us when he told us that he wanted us to be his friends.