For Sunday, April 24, 2016, 5th Sunday of Easter
For those old enough to remember, there is a popular Beatles song released in 1967 called “All You Need Is Love.” The song quickly became popular and still holds some measure of popularity even today. The point of the song is as clear as its title suggests, all you need is love. The message is attractive and is often pointed to by many as an easy way to make the complicated, simple. If everyone would just love one another, what a different world this would be. Even those seeking a more Christian spiritual approach can add that “God is love” and that Jesus’ great commandment is focused around love of God, neighbor, and self. So, how wrong can we go in adopting this type of philosophy? It is really that straightforward; or, is it?
John’s Gospel this weekend even appears to reinforce the simplicity of this argument by alluding to Jesus’ new commandment. St. John tells us: “I [Jesus] give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There you have it. John Lennon, St. John, the early Christian community, and Jesus all had the same idea in mind: all you need is love. If that is all that is really required, then why bother with the often complicated and weakly human institution of the church, sacraments, prayer, Sunday worship, and other practices?
If we carefully read what St. John wrote, there is a brief but often overlooked piece of Jesus’ teaching that turns the tables a bit. Jesus tells his disciples, “As I have loved you, so you should also love one another” [emphasis added]. Jesus points us and his followers to a particular type of love. We are called to love as Jesus loved. In theory and practice this is far different than many of our ways of “loving.” At its core, Jesus’ love is rooted in his relationship with his Father. Jesus’ love mirrors the love that the Father has for his children, which overflows with compassion and mercy. To love as Jesus loves means that I must work at establishing for myself the same type of relationship Jesus had with his Father. In fact, through baptism we all share in that very same relationship. I must also be willing to allow myself to be transformed into the very same divine image that consumed Jesus’ being. Therefore, Christian love is not just love in all of its forms. It is a particular type of agape love that abandons itself of self-interest and concern and focuses on the needs of the other. This higher love is not found every day and it is not easy to do. It is loving myself and others as God loves.
The world can distract us and color how we love. Sometimes our attempts at loving are really nothing more than backdoor attempts to legitimize our need to placate ourselves. In short, I love you not purely for your own benefit but for some benefit that can come back to me. While seemingly justifiable on the surface and not immediately harmful, it is not loving as Jesus loves. It is easy to get distracted from this type of love and become discouraged. The early Christians found this out as well. Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows Paul and Barnabas had to offer support to the disciples who were finding the road of true love difficult to tread. “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” In short, we need the support of the Christian community to do the work of the Gospel, to love as Jesus loves us. We cannot accomplish this work on our own. Inevitably, we will be blinded by our own concerns, needs, and biases and our ability to love as Jesus loves will be compromised.
In order to develop the same kind of relationship Jesus had with his Father that allows us to love as he loves, we need our Christian community. We need our leaders, the sacraments, and the greater institution of the Church (however imperfect), prayer, Sunday worship, and a deep spiritual life. We cannot do this on our own! The type of love required carries a divine power and is guided by Someone much greater than ourselves! This is why it is more imperative today than in days past to have local and global leaders who are not just administrators of the business of the Church and guardians of the faith and orthodoxy but also examples of what it means to love as Jesus loves. It is no wonder that Pope Francis insists that leaders leave their chanceries and rectories and go out and get dirty. We cannot expect people to come to us to receive the Gospel; the Gospel must be brought to them! We need to see in our leaders and indeed in the entire Christian community people who are striving to model Jesus’ relationship with the Father and seeking to be transformed into the very image of God. After all, is not the Eucharist meant to transform us into what we consume (St. Augustine, Confessions, VII, 10, 18)?
I believe that a profound understanding and embrace of this truth gave Pope Francis the impetus to have a frank conversation with Andrea Tornielli who penned the wonderful book, The Name of God Is Mercy, and then for Pope Francis to produce his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
To love as Jesus loves requires much more than what popular songs and notions, romantic feelings or even common humanitarian bonds with our brothers and sisters suggest. It is a radical and true self-emptying that lives by a different and sometimes illusive logic than what makes worldly sense. It permeates not only how we treat each other in our daily affairs but how we respond to issues such as euthanasia, abortion, assisted suicide, immigration, and family life. In short, it motivates us beyond what we may want to do to what we are called to do. Following a call requires sacrifice.
Prayer and reflection are powerful tools that can help us love as Jesus loves. While our own needs and desires, concerns and anxieties certainly have a place in our approach to God, contemplating God for the sake of God and offering praise places our focus on him, lifts us from distractions, and helps us love as Jesus loves. Our psalm says it so beautifully. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works… Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, and your dominion endures through all generations.”
We must remember that God not only created all that we see but recreates it as well. All is destined to one day be in Christ. The Book of Revelation reminds us: “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’ The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” Loving as Jesus loves positions us to be ministers or helpers in God’s reconciliation or recreation of the world. It calls us and those who witness what we do to see that something greater is yet to come, that the wisdom of the world is not rooted in God.
We need each other and we need the Gospel if we are going to love well. Even more, we need to share in that same relationship between Jesus and his Father and draw from that intimate wellspring of love and mercy. “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God” are words that can be found on our lips today and remain there for all eternity.
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.
All your works give you thanks, LORD
and your faithful bless you.
They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your mighty works,
Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts,
the majestic glory of your rule.
Your reign is a reign for all ages,
your dominion for all generations.
The LORD is trustworthy in all his words,
and loving in all his works.
—Psalm 145:8-13. Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
LITURGICAL NOTE—Vigil of the Ascension
The revised Roman Missal contains a vigil Mass for the Ascension that can be used for evening Masses preceding the feast. This applies to both Wednesday, May 4 (for dioceses in which the Ascension is observed on Thursday as a holy day of obligation), and to Saturday, May 7 (most dioceses in the United States).
POPE’S MESSAGE FOR WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY [May 8]
Pope Francis’ message for the 50th World Day of Communications—“Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter”—was released on January 24, the memorial of St. Francis of Sales, patron saint of communicators. The full text of the message can be viewed at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20160124_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html.
ICSC REGIONAL STEWARDSHIP CONFERENCE, April 30
The annual ICSC Atlanta Province Regional Stewardship Conference will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place in Charlotte, NC. For more information and to register, visit http://sestewardship.weconnect.com.