Do We “Partially Love” God?

Do We “Partially Love” God?

As I prepared this homily, I realized that all three readings are building on last Sunday’s readings by insisting on the vital importance of loving. I became thoroughly scared, with an awful knot in my stomach, because it was difficult for me to come up with verifiable evidence of loving not in word or speech but in deed and truth. (cf. 1 John 3: 18) You might want to check your love level and see if you get the same feeling I got.

Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.

1 John 4:7

This question about eternal life or eternal death can be simplified this way: “whom do I truly love?“ It 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? On to whom am I showering the attention, care, time, protection, reputation-defense, while indulging, worrying, inconveniencing myself, and all the other nice things I do for myself?

Chances are that there might be just one or two of these people, and not even 100%. But that would be partial loving. Hence, 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 stand before his throne, and he will demand evidence of our love?

Do you see now 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 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 decent priest…

The fact is that any manifestation of piety and religiosity is totally useless without clear evidence that you and I live by the Lord’s new commandment: love one another as I love you. (cf. John 15: 12)

In that case, 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, day after day, they prepare me 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 emphasizes 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 does on his cross. However, this affirmation also unveils the ominous reality of so many Christians who choose to remain Jesus’ slaves and refuse to be considered his friends. They make such a sad choice because they know of the implication of being Jesus’ friends: the prerequisite of self-immolation.

The condition of a slave is far preferable to them because a slave does not have to love. And, in this case, those among us who opt for being slaves, reserve the right to pick and choose which commandments to follow and which to ignore. In their own brand of Catholicism, they slave for God by putting in long hours in prayer, fasting and a variety of religious practices. They are quite keen on orthodoxy, on doctrinal accuracy, on daily duties that must be observed. They feel obligated to separate themselves clearly from the mass of so-so Catholics. They are prone to judge; they are inclined to condemn while, at the same time, assuming that there will be divine retribution for those who do not do as they do. And they sustain all this slaving away, of course, expecting a well-deserved “heavenly paycheck” at the end of their life.

All in all, they live a life that tends to lean towards being joyless, angry, upset, judgmental, miserable. All this because loving to the point of self-immolation implies a freedom that they do not want: the freedom which guarantees that Jesus’ joy may be in them, and their joy may be complete.

The Gospels are filled with instances of Jesus’ breaking the holiest laws to love and to attend to the needs of God’s people. On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, our first reading (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 remembered his hideous sins of denying his master three 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 (or close to) the status of slaves, who do not know, yet, how to love as Jesus does on the cross, the way to friendship with him, the way to complete joy begins with the sorrowful owning up to those sins whose ugliness and severity 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.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin