Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday of Easter – Year B – 6 May 2018
When your teenage son or daughter says to you, “If you loved me, you’d let me…” We know that that’s, basically, emotional blackmail. Your job, as a parent, is not to make sure that your children like you, but, because you love them, to guide them in the right path. So, when we hear Jesus say, like He does in today’s Gospel, “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.” What does Jesus mean by that? Does He mean that God will stop loving us if we don’t do what He says? If we keep listening, we hear Jesus say, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” This is the key to understanding what Jesus means, but we’ll get back to that latter.
First, let’s talk about love itself. What the Bible means by love is not what we normally mean when we use the word love. We must often use the word love to refer to things, as in, “I love pizza. I love fishing. I love classical music.” These are all preferences. I prefer pizza to asparagus. I prefer classical music to pop music. But, I don’t always prefer pizza. Sometimes I feel like having bbq, or maybe one day I’ll stop liking pizza entirely. If we bring that concept into our relationships with other people, what happens? We start thinking of love as preference. I prefer you to other people, but people are a lot more challenging than pizza. They’re annoying, aggravating, and demanding. Eventually, you stop preferring that person, so you leave and go find someone that you prefer more, at least, for now. Real love is not in the emotions, it is a choice to consistently work towards the good of another person.
Think about my example from the beginning, when someone says, “If you really loved me, you would…” People fall into this trap of thinking if you love someone, then you have to do whatever they ask, but that’s not real love. Real love seeks the good for the other person. Think of that famous passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. If you’ve ever been to a wedding you’ve probably heard it, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love rejoices with the truth.
In the Old Testament we were given the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Almost every religion and culture in the world has had some version of the Golden Rule. Christ gives us a new Commandment, “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Christ calls us to a higher form of love. We are called to love consistently, to love without counting the cost, and to love with everything we have. We are called to give everything for our beloved, as Christ gave everything for us. He became human, lived among us, suffered for us, and died for us. He’s given us His very body and blood as our food and drink.
Obviously, no one will always live up to that standard of love. That’s why relationships, and especially marriage and family relationships, isn’t 50/50, they’re 100/100. A business partnership is 50/50. If one person doesn’t live up to their part, then the other person is also released from their obligation. Love calls us to give 100% all the time. When the other person is having a bad day, when they mess up, or when they’re just not all their, then we have to step up, take up the slack, and keep going, to forgive and forget, because that’s what Jesus did for us. Just like we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
This is what we celebrate in every Mass, the great act of God’s love for us, the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Every time we eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Most Holy Eucharist we are filled anew with the love of God and strengthened to live in His love. That is what it means that “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.” Just as Christ gave His life for us, we are called to give our lives for one another.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.