5th Week of Easter (F): Acts 15.22-31 and John 15.12-17
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation
How are we freed in Christ? And how do we remain free? Another way to ask these questions: how does Love free us from sin so that we might progress in holiness? We are set free and then we progress in freedom. Chosen, freed, appointed to bear fruit, and ridiculously, abundantly gifted—we are loosed in the world to change the world!
How? First, Jesus says to his disciples: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” We accept our freedom as a gift from Christ. We do not pursue it or ask for it or earn it. He offers; we accept. He chooses us; we step up. Second, Jesus continues: “…[I chose you] and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” Once chosen, once freed, we are appointed, selected out and given a mandate to finish, a task to complete; we are “installed” and empowered to bear fruit, to produce here and now—on Earth—all that we are promised by God there and then—in Heaven. The fruit we bear “remains” because it is a foretaste of the fruit of heaven, enduring to the end. Third, Jesus continues, “[I chose you, appointed you to bear fruit] so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you.” Chosen, appointed to bear enduring fruit, and now: the Whatever You Need of Heaven is opened, the Anything of the Father’s Abundance is released! And because we are doing His work, having been appointed by His Christ, chosen to succeed as his friends, we enjoy infinite progress in holiness, straight to the throne, straight to the Face of Beauty Himself.
Now, here’s the kicker: once chosen, appointed to bear fruit, and given the keys to the heavenly pantry, we are commanded to love. Commanded. We are no longer slaves, Jesus says, but friends. We no longer travel with Christ in the bondage of ignorance, but revel with him in the knowledge of the Father’s will for us. Because there is no greater sacrifice, no greater commitment to holiness than to die for a friend, we are ordered to charity, commanded to love. So, when, in obedience to his commandment to love, we love, we are freed from the slavery of sin.
To be free, we must obey and not merely consent. And so Jesus commands that we love rather than requests that we love. Trust lies in listening and doing even in the face of doubt and fear—perhaps especially in the face of doubt and fear! Filled with the love of the Father and armed with our mandate to bear enduring fruit and ladened with the generous gifts of heaven, there’s no room in the souls of the friends of Christ for fear or mocking doubt or stingy charity. Our freedom and our progress in holiness are anything but private and personal. We are freed to serve. And we abuse our freedom when we serve no one but ourselves.
In his most recent letter to the Church, Sacramentum caritatis, our Holy Father, Benedict, teaches this truly astonishing notion: “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, […] which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(11). Your aim in this Eucharist must focus well beyond your personal devotion. Well beyond the forgiveness of your sins. Well beyond the memorial of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Your aim here is nothing less than an active participation in the transubstantiation of all creation! A radical conversion of this world into a hymn of praise, a work of mercy, a sacrifice worthy of the Cross, a Way and a Truth that brings us all to Love—the Divine Passion that converts us to Christ.
Your personal conversion is good. But your conversion taken into the world as service and made manifest as Love is better. And that Love converting the world is best.