In the Gospel today (Thursday of the 5th Week of Easter), Jesus cuts right through the modern Western tendency to set law in opposition to both love and joy. He joins all three concepts and summons us to a new attitude.
Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
To remain, to habitually abide in God’s love, has this effect: we keep the commandments. Love and law are connected as cause and effect. This is not our usual thinking. The best that Western culture will admit of law is that it is a necessary evil. While this is the best assessment of it, the more routine assessment is that law is somehow an unloving imposition by the powerful on the weak, the hierarchy on the laity, the (evil, oppressive, Pharisaical—you fill in the adjective) Church on decent people. Law is something that restrains, not something through which we experience love or joy.
Whereas the modern world disconnects law from love, Jesus links them. Jesus says that we both experience love and show it by keeping the commandments. The keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love! Jesus sets forth a vision whereby we, having experienced God’s love, desire and rejoice in His commands.
As we love God, we begin to love what and whom He loves. We love justice and mercy, generosity, chastity, and truth. We love our neighbor and even our enemy. We do this as the fruit of love. Having experienced God’s love, we see our hearts change; our desires and priorities become more like God’s and less like those of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Our obedience and joyful adherence to His commands comes from remaining or abiding in God’s love. It also points back to it, because our obedience is an act of love for the Lord.
The “loving” God, according to the world, has few or no rules; He affirms, encourages, accepts, and includes—or so goes the thinking. The real Jesus, however, is far more complex. He is surely loving, especially of sinners. He encourages; He includes the outcast; but He also speaks of sin and rebukes it. He embraces the sinner but directs him to “Sin no more.” He sets forth a demanding moral vision, even as He shows mercy. In this Gospel, Jesus joins love and the law, and then adds that the law brings joy!
Of this, I am a witness. God’s law gives joy to my heart. As a priest, I live as a celibate (like Jesus) and my life is very fulfilling. I have been faithful to my celibate commitment without fail. I have not strayed from proper boundaries. I stay away from pornography. I am not in any way sexually active with women or anyone else. In all this I do not feel “repressed.” I am not sad or lonely. In fact, my life is joyful. I am fulfilled and see my celibacy as a gift.
To those who cannot marry, whether because they are too young, have not met the right person, or have same-sex attraction, I say that God can and still does bless you. Living celibately is fulfilling and joyful for those who are temporarily and/or permanently called to it.
The Church cannot and will not affirm or call good what God calls sin, whether it is greed, violence, illicit heterosexual acts, or (more controversially) homosexual acts. In so doing we are not any more unloving, repressed, or sad than Jesus is—and He is none of these things. Neither can we affirm any other acts or attitudes that the Bible calls sinful. These things are all taught in love and they bring joy to those who will accept them.
The Lord is no liar and He promises that love, joy, and His commandments are all interrelated. I am a witness that this is true.
The law is an expression of God’s love, not some terrible imposition. If we have been loved by God, we will keep his law by that very love. Our obedience itself is love, not grudging fear. And oh, the joy of living in God’s truth and experiencing the effects of His love as we see sins put to death and our very desires increasingly transformed!
Beware of those who would say that a loving God doesn’t mind what we do. Of course He does! He knows what sin does to us and how it harms us and others. Therefore, in His love, He commands. If we know His love and remain in it, we will keep the commandments joyfully, because we want to, not merely because we have to.
Law, love, and joy are connected. We ought not to separate what God has joined. We will hear more about this in Sunday’s Gospel.
Consider this song as directed to God, and see that His love changes everything: