Saturday, November 18, 2006

Year B 6th Sunday of Easter- What's Love Got To Do with It?

Scott S. Dodge
Homily- Year B 6th Sunday of Easter
The Cathedral of the Madeleine
20-21 May 2006
Readings Acts 10,25-26.34-35.44-48; Ps 98,1-4; 1 Jn 4,7-10; Jn 15,9-17

“God is love,” St. John tells us in today’s second reading. The way God revealed his love to us, John explains, was by sending his only begotten “Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4,10). We acknowledge this truth profoundly during the Eucharistic prayer when the priest intones: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” To which we respond by singing one of several responses, such as: “Dying you destroyed our death and rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” Our Holy Father summed this up well in his Easter proclamation: “Christ is resurrected because God is Love!”

To grasp love, John tells us, we must understand that love does not consist in our decision to love God, but God’s decision, from eternity, to love us. This beautiful truth constitutes, at the very deepest level, the mysterium fidei. For love is constitutive of God’s very being; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence, love is the answer to the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s ontological question, why does something exist rather than nothing?

Left to ourselves, we would be incapable of understanding what love truly is. So, in order to come to knowledge of the truth, we need revelation. Divine love is mysterious because we simply cannot understand a love as deep, true, and faithful as the love who is God and whom we call Father. Because he is the Son of the Father and, by virtue of his incarnation, is also our brother, Jesus Christ loves us. He says as much in today’s Gospel. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (Jn 15,9). For true love is both divine and divinizing. Love is divinizing because to truly love God and neighbor is to be Christ-like. Agapé is the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe our vocation. Agapé, a word used by Jesus seven times in today’s Gospel, “expresses the experience of a love that involves a real discovery of the other.” Agapé is “concern and care for the other.” It is not “self-seeking.” Rather, it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes self-renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice (DCE, 18).

True love always calls us beyond ourselves. This is summed up well in the motto of our Cathedral Choir School, which quotes St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “Caritas Christi Urget nos”- the love of Christ compels, or urges, us. Paul writes in this passage: “For the love of Christ compels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves” (2 Cor 5,14-15a). In today’s Gospel, our Lord gives us a commandment and tells us how to fulfill it. “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you,” he says. Then, he tells us how to live this commandment, when he says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15,12-14).

Our Lord himself gives us an even deeper look into the content of our faith when he tells his disciples: “Remain in my love” (Jn 15,9). Ninety-four times throughout St. John’s Gospel and three letters we encounter the words and expressions that tell us of the necessity of remaining, or abiding, in Christ. Jesuit exegete, Fr. Ignace de la Potterie, points out that most of the time, in the Johannine texts, the verb “remain” means to “remain within”. These formulas, as found in John’s letters, are invitations to the disciples to dwell within him, to remain in his word and to live in his love (30 Days in the Church and in the World, No 3, 1995, pgs 10-12). This need to remain ties directly into the importance of God first loving us, which is the fundamental definition of grace: the unearned and unearnable love God gives each one of us as a free gift.

Because, despite our best efforts, we often fail- which is to say that we sin: sin being nothing more than loving other people, things, or activities more than we love God- we experience the absolute necessity for God’s love to have priority. If God did not love us first, last, and always, our situation would be hopeless. Jesus himself tells his disciples: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15,16 ). What Fr. de la Potterie says of Jesus’ original disciples, applies to Christians always and everywhere: “Remaining is the condition that identifies Jesus’ disciples. They are not the best of men, the most religious or most moral. They are simply the men who remain with him and dwell within him” (30 Days in the Church and in the World, No 3, 1995, pgs 10-12). Our remaining and dwelling in God, through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit is most completely accomplished in and through the eucharist and, flowing from the eucharist, the other six sacraments, not least of which is the sacrament of penance, which restores sanctifying grace, lost through sin, to our wounded and sick souls. Because the Church herself, by virtue of being Christ’s mystical body, is the sacrament of salvation in and for the world, belonging to and participating in this eucharistic fellowship is vital to our remaining and dwelling in Christ.

If the Church is, indeed, the very Body of Christ, into which, by virtue of our baptism, confirmation, and being brought into full communion, we are incorporated as members, then it stands to reason that if we are cut-off from the Church, we will whither and die spiritually. Cut-off from the source of life, we will die just like the branches from last week’s Gospel when severed from the vine. Just as the branches receive the life-giving sap from the vine, we receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Like the cut-off part of the body or separated branch, the individual Christian cannot survive alone. Our Holy Father writes in his recent encyclical: “I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become . . . his own. Communion draws me out of myself toward him, and thus also toward unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body,’ completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself” (DCE, 14).

In Christ Jesus, “the Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power” (Ps 98,2). The late Rich Mullins wrote beautifully of this:

“We didn’t know what love was until He came and He gave love a
face and he gave love a name and gave love away like sky gives the
rain and sun. We were looking for heroes and He came looking for
the lost. We were searching for glory and He showed us the cross. Now we
know what love is because He loved us all the way to kingdom come.”

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