Living the Lessons of Love – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 6th Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel for today’s Mass Jesus gives us three lessons on love which are meant to prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They also go a long way towards describing the normal Christian life.

Too many Christians see the Christian Faith more as a set of rules to keep, than a love that transforms, if we accept it. Let’s take a look at the revolutionary life of love and grace that the Lord is offering us in three stages: The POWER of love, the PERSON of love, and the PROOF of love.

1. THE POWER OF LOVE – In the text Jesus says,  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments ……Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.

We must be very careful how we hear this. For it is possible to hear the Lord say, in effect “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commandments.” And this is how many hear it. And thus the text and the Christian faith is reduced to a kind of moralism: Do good, avoid evil and thus prove you love God. Loving God, then, becomes a kind of human achievement.

But understanding this text from the standpoint of grace yields a different, and I would argue, a more proper understanding. For loving God is not a human work, but the gift of God. So the text should be read to mean, in effect, “If you love me, you will, by this love I have given you, keep my commandments.” Thus, the keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love, not the cause of it. Love comes first. And when love is received and experienced, we begin, by the power of that love to keep the commandments. Love is the power by which we keep the commandments.

It is possible to keep the commandments to some extent out of fear and the flesh. But obedience based on fear tends not to last and brings with it many resentments. Further, attempting to keep the commandments by our own flesh power brings, not only exhaustion and frustration, but, also, the prideful delusion that somehow we have placed God in debt to us because we obey.

It is far better to keep the commandments by the grace of God’s love at work in us. Consider the following qualities of love:

A. Love is extravagant –  The flesh is minimalistic and asks, “Do I really have to do this.” But love is extravagant and wants to do more than the minimum. Consider a young man who loves a young woman. It is unlikely he would say, “Your birthday is coming soon and I must engage in the wearisome tradition of buying you a gift. So, what is the cheapest and quickest gift I can get you?” Of course he would not say this. Love does not ask questions like this. Love is extravagant, it goes beyond the minimal requirements and even lavishes gifts on the beloved, eagerly. Love has power to overrule the selfishness of the flesh. No young man would say to his beloved, “What is the least amount of time I have to spend with you?” Love doesn’t talk or think like this. Love wants to spend time with the beloved. Love has the power to transform our desires from selfish ends, toward the beloved.

Now, while these examples might seem obvious, it is apparently not so obvious to many Christians who say they love God but then ask, “Do I have to go to church?” “Do I have pray? How often, how long? Do I have to go to confession? How frequently?” “What’s the least amount I can put in the collection plate or give to the poor  to be in compliance?” Asking for guidelines may not be wrong, but too often the question amounts to a version of “What’s the least I can do…what’s the bare minimum?”

Love is extravagant and excited to do and give, to please the beloved. Love is its own answer, its own power.

B. Love Expands – When we really love someone we learn to love more who and what they love.

I dated a girl in High School who liked square dancing. I first thought it was hokey. But since she liked it, I started to like it, and came even to enjoy it a great deal. Love expanded my horizons.

I have lived, served and loved in Black community for most of my priesthood. In those years I have come to love and respect Gospel music, and the spirituals. I have also come to respect and learn from the Black experience of spirituality, and have done extensive study on the history of the African American experience. This is all because I love the people I serve. And when you love someone you begin to love and appreciate what they do. Love expands our horizons.

And what if we really begin to love God? The more his love takes root in us, the more we love the things and the people he loves. We begin to have God’s priorities and to love justice, mercy, chasity, and all the people he loves, even our enemies. Love expands our hearts.

The saints say, “If God wants it, I want it. If God doesn’t want it, I don’t want it.” Too many Christians say, “How come I can’t have it? It’s not so bad. Everyone else is doing it….” But love does not speak this way.

And as God’s love grows in us it has the power to change our hearts, our minds, our desire and our vision. The more we love God, the more we love his commands and share the vision he offers fro our lives. Love expands our hearts and minds.

C. Love excites – Imagine again, a young man who loves a young woman. Now suppose she asks him to drive her to work one day because her car is in the shop. He does this gladly and sees it as an opportunity to be with her and to help her. He is excited to do so and glad she asked. This is so even if he has to go miles out of his way. Love stirs us to fulfill the wishes and desires of the beloved.

In the first Letter of John we read – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3). Yes, love lightens every load. And as we grow in love for God, we are excited to please him. We keep his commandments, not because he have to, but because we want to. And even if his commandments involve significant changes, we do it with the same kind of gladness as a young man driving miles out of his way to bring his beloved to work. Love excites in us a desire to keep God’s law, to fulfill his wishes for us.

2. THE PERSON OF LOVE – The text says, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.

In this text Jesus tells us that the power to change us is not just an impersonal power, like “The Force” in Star Wars. Rather, what changes us is not a “what” but “who.” The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, living in us, as in a temple will change us and stir us to love. He who is Love, will love God in us. Love is not our work, it is the work of God. We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:10). God the Holy Spirit enables us to love God the Father and God the Son. And this love is the power in us which equips, empowers and enables us to keep God’s law. He, the Holy Spirit, is the one who enables us to love extravagantly, and in a way that expands and excites.

The Lord says, He, the Holy Spirit, remains in us. Are you aware of His presence? Too often our minds and hearts are dulled and distracted by the world and we are unaware of the power of love available to us. The Holy Spirit of Jesus and the Father is gentle and awaits the open doors we provide (cf Rev 3:20). But as we open them, a power from his Person becomes more and more available to us, and we see our lives being transformed. We keep the commandments, become more loving, confident, joyful, chaste, forgiving, merciful, and holy.  I am a witness! Are you? This leads us to the final point.

3. THE PROOF OF GOD’s LOVE – The text says, I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

The key phrases here are: You will live .... and ….. You will realize. For the Lord says that he will not leave us as orphans, that he will come to us and remain with us.

How do you know that these are more than just slogans? Simply put, you and I know because of the new life we are receiving, which causes us to realize that Jesus lives, is in the Father and in us.

To “know” in the Bible is more than intellectual knowing. To know in the Bible is to “have intimate and personal experience of the thing or person known.” I know Jesus is alive, and in me through his Holy Spirit because I am experiencing my life changing. I am seeing sins put to death and graces coming alive! I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). This is what Jesus means when he says, “You will realize that I am in the Father and in you.” To “realize” means to experience something as real.

The proof of God’s love and its power to transform is me! It is my life. In the laboratory of my own life I have tested God’s word, and his promises, and can report to you that they are true. I have come to experience as real (i.e. “realize”) that Jesus lives, that through his Holy Spirit I have a power available to me to keep the commandments and embrace the new life, the new creation, they both describe and offer to me.

I am a witness, are you?

Photo Credit: “The Love of the Father for the Prodigal” from the Josephite collection.

This song says, “He changed my life and now I’m free…”

13 Replies to “Living the Lessons of Love – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 6th Sunday of Easter”

  1. When we love GOD and follow his commandments and are in a state of grace, GOD dosn,t have to come into the garden and say “where are you ?” I love when people give personal witness as you have father. I love the converson stories of others, this is grace upon grace.

  2. Thank you, Msgr. Pope for this Meditation. This is one of the most key concepts in our faith and it took me too long to understand it. You have asked, in the past, how the Church has gotten into the state it is in. I think a lot of it is that many people in the pre-Vatican Church tried to keep the Commandments based on “FEAR” of the consequences rather than on Love – thus, building up, as you say, “resentment” and “exhaustion and frustration”.

    After Vatican II, many of us thought that “God is love” – and that we were free to determine, in our own consciences, what constituted sin for us. Somehow the “God of Love” had become the “god of love” – and yet still keyed off “sin” rather than understanding what Love truly is.

    As I came to grow in love of God, I realized that some sins that I had been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to address had just gone away – effortlessly – and without my even recognizing it until later – and I knew it wasn’t of my doing. Of course,

    Your meditation has served to gladden my heart!

    1. Yes, this is also a favorite of mine as well. However it leads me to a question. The Tallis version simply took from the Scriptures of his day and most older translations do render the text, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Now I ma not a Greek scholar but from looking at the Greek text the verb τηρήσετε (teresete = keep) is a future, active indicative in the second person plural. Now again I am not a Greek Scholar (danger Will Robinson!) but it would thus seem that modern translations are probably better which render the verb: “You (all) will keep” Further the Greek verb for love here is ἀγαπᾶτε (agapate) which is a present active subjunctive in the second person plural. This is harder to render in English but might be rendered most literally, “If you (all) go on loving” And hence the Tallis version, based likely on the KJV and other older English translations have puzzled me since they render the text in the singular (“Ye”) and use the imperative “keep” Perhaps we have resolved manuscript issues here in the Greek text? I don’t know. But in the end, it would seem the most literal rendering of the Greek would be “If you (all) go on loving me, you (all) will keep my commandments.” Which is the way most modern translations render it.

      Maybe some Greek scholars and those who know the history of the change in the modern translations can help here.

      All this from the Tallis “If ye love me”

      1. Hmm…if Tallis were a Southerner maybe it would be “If y’all love me…”

        1. When I lived in the deep south back in the early 70s I noticed that every said “y’all” even to an individual. I finally asked, if “y’all” is singular, what is the plural, the woman looked at me, puzzled, and then said, “I guess, “all-y’all” 🙂

          1. Some years ago I asked a colleague from Alabama whether those of us in the DC area were “Southern.” Her reply: “Y’all’re bunch of YANKEES.”

  3. You really helped me better understand how following the commandments shows love and how to follow out of love, not fear. Wonderful examples! Thank you. I know being a cradle Catholic, I need to re-learn the beauty of our faith constantly. Peace be with you.

  4. We must love God no matter what his followers do to us. I have been abused and neglected by other Catholics and left alone. I am among the poorest of the poor. But I don’t blame it on God; God is my only friend and he is my spouse, since I am an anchorite. I am continually tormented and exposed by the only Catholics around me, and also by Christians. I don’t have the money to move to another location. So, I remember the final Beatitude, and I am consoled because the great prophets went through the same thing. That puts me in great company!

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