6th Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2021
Sometimes life presents us with compelling reasons to make decisions and to follow a certain course of action. If you see an oncoming car crossing into your lane, you immediately swerve for fear of fatal accident. If you are a high school student competing for admission to a university, you are motivated to study hard and to meet all the other qualifications. Or, if you see a new job opportunity that will bring more money home – even if you like your present job – you might well find yourself applying for it.
So, there are a lot of compelling reasons for making decisions both big and small. Sometimes it is fear. Sometimes it is hope of personal fulfillment. Sometimes it is career advancement and economic gain. In and of themselves, such motivations are not at all bad, but experience teaches us that it is not good to be driven solely by fear, ambition, money, or position. People whose lives are ruled by such things generally are not happy. They may accomplish their goals but they often wind up feeling hollow inside.
The most compelling reason for doing something, or not doing it, is, in fact, love. We swerve to avoid the ongoing car because we love our families and want to protect them. We seek to form and educate ourselves, not only for self-fulfillment, but also to make ourselves available to others for some form of service. We apply for a higher paying job to provide for our loved ones and to be more generous to others. I hope you would agree that a life motivated by love is happier than a life motivated by fear, ambition, money, or positon.
“God Is Love”
Happily, today’s Scripture readings also agree. In our second reading from the First Letter of St. John, we come upon three little words that constitute the ultimate motivation for our lives as Catholic Christians, viz., the simple but profound phrase: “God is love”. Let us remind ourselves of what we have just heard in that reading: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever who does not love, does not know God, for God is love.”
In this brief Scripture passage, the author has distilled the whole story of salvation. God created the world not because he needed us but because he loved us. God so loved the world so much that, when we went astray, he redeemed us . . . and he did so, not by issuing a decree of pardon from on high, but by sending us his Son to suffer and to die to rescue us from our sins. It turns out that such utter goodness and generosity on God’s part lays bare the deepest secret of God’s inner life, namely, “God is love.” St. Augustine commented that, “If this were the one and only thing that we heard [in Scripture] from the voice of the Spirit of God, that ‘God is love’, we would not have to look for anything else” (Homilies on 1 John 7:4).
“I Call You Friends”
The phrase ‘God is love’ illuminates today’s Gospel beautifully. On the eve of his death, just before laying down his life for us in love, Jesus said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father.” Being with Jesus, living with Jesus, listening to Jesus, witnessing Jesus’ sacrificial love… in doing all of that the disciples encountered the heart of the God who is love. At first, they did not fully understand what Jesus was saying to them, but in time, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, they came to know and understand that Jesus was inviting them to share in, to participate in, his eternal union of love with his Father in the Holy Spirit.
The subsequent encounter of the Apostles with the Risen Lord and the infusion of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost opened their eyes. The words spoken by the Lord on the night before he died came alive for them. It was, as if they peered into the utter trust, goodness, and beauty of God’s inner life and began to experience and to be possessed by a love that exceeds every other love. This experience had three immediate effects on them, all found in today’s Gospel. First, they no longer found it burdensome to keep the commandments, for they realized that the God who is love would not command anything harmful, nor anything that would repress us, stunt us, or offend against our dignity. On the contrary, what God asks of us, the obedience of love he seeks from us, is not an imposition on our freedom but rather a way of sharing here and now in the union of love that existed from all eternity between the Father and the Son. Second, the disciples also realized that Jesus had asked them not merely to refrain from doing what the commandments forbid, but indeed to love as Jesus loved, with a sacrificial love, a self-giving love, that sort of love which he revealed to the utmost degree on the Cross. It is by keeping the commandments and by loving others as Jesus loved us that we participate—body, mind, and spirit—in the love of Persons of the Trinity. And third, once overtaken by love, once the Spirit poured God’s love into their hearts, the Apostles felt all but compelled to go on mission, preaching the Word of God far and wide, to Jews and to Gentiles, indeed to the ends of the earth . . . bearing witness to Jesus and ultimately laying down their lives, just as he had done. Here is the good fruit Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel: the fruit of charity, the fruit of spreading the Good News that, indeed, God is love!
‘We Cannot Live without Love’
Can it be any different for us? We live in a very different world and at a very different time than did the Apostles, yet we are called, no less than they, to share in God’s inner life and love. We are called to be overtaken by God’s love, to be possessed by it, to fall quite madly in love with God, and to rejoice in God’s love, even as we maintain a healthy fear of losing his friendship through sin. To be evangelized, my friends, means that we make a life-changing and explicit act of faith in the truth of God’s love for us, that we accept it as utterly real, and make it the foundation of our lives. This is not something we do only once but again and again, and only with the help of the Holy Spirit who came upon us first in Baptism, again in Confirmation, and now, every time we share in the Holy Eucharist.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to pour the love of God into our hearts, we too become the friends of Jesus who know the secrets of his heart, friends who are willing to do whatever it is he might ask of us – First, to keep the commandments, not because of servile fear, but out of love. Second, to replicate in some form or fashion Jesus’ self-giving love in our lives, going out of our way for others without counting the cost or seeking our own advantage. Third, if God’s love is truly the foundation and driving force in our lives, that will soon become apparent to those around us – not because we advertise it – but because it will shine forth in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. In a word, we will be the Lord’s friends and messengers in a world where true love, self-giving love seems often to be in short supply.
Pope St. John Paul II once wrote that without love our lives make no sense. We remain incomprehensible to ourselves if we do not receive or give love, and if we do not participate in it. (Cf. Redemptor Hominis, no. 10). So, in these days of Easter joy, let us encounter the Risen Lord and be filled anew with the Holy Spirit, that we may truly profess and believe that “God is love”. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!